At least 30 Emiratis and Egyptian nationals have gone on trial accused of setting up an illegal branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the United Arab Emirates.
The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi adjourned the case, which is viewed as an attempt to stamp out what the UAE says is a threat from political Islam, until November 12.
Prosecutor Ahmed al-Dhanhani accused the group on Tuesday of having “established and managed a branch for… the international organisation of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, without a permit”.
Twenty Egyptians, six of whom are being tried in absentia, and 10 Emiratis are also charged for stealing and airing state security secrets and collecting funds illegally, activists said.
The 24 defendants, including doctors, engineers and university professors, attended the hearing along with family members, civil society representatives and the media, the WAM state news agency reported.
The defendants denied all the charges, a family member of one of the detainees who attended the trial told Reuters, adding that some of the Egyptians had said they were physically abused in custody and their confessions were obtained under coercion.
Rights groups concerned
New York-based Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about Tuesday’s trial and questioned the ability of the UAE judicial system to uphold basic rights of free speech and peaceful association.
“The court’s judgment exposes the rank injustice of the convictions,” said Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director.
The conservative monarchies of the Gulf have long viewed the Brotherhood, a grass-roots movement founded in Egypt more than 80 years ago, as a threat because of its political activism and advocacy for Islamic governance.
The Gulf states have grown increasingly concerned about the Brotherhood following its prominent role in the Arab Spring uprisings sweeping the region.
The group is banned in much of the region, and the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia pledged billions of dollars in aid to Egypt after the military overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.
The UAE has not seen any of the widespread pro-reform protests that have swept other Arab states. However, authorities have cracked down hard on dissent and calls for democratic reform.
The 10 Emiratis who went on trial on Tuesday are among 61 Islamists convicted by a UAE court in July of plotting to overthrow the government, activists said.
Many of the jailed Islamists are members of the al-Islah group, which the UAE says has links to Egypt’s Brotherhood. Al-Islah denies any organisational links to the group.