UAE bloggers on trial for speaking out online

Article originally published in 10 October 2011 on Al-Jazeera English.

UAE authorities arrested five bloggers in April on charges of attempting to undermine public order and opposing the government. The bloggers were among 133 who signed an online petition calling for democratic reforms in the country, including the Federal National Council (FNC). The five accused are also blamed for criticising the government on Emirati websites.

The trial has been postponed until October 23 after the five defendants failed to appear in court. They allege that they have been mistreated in prison.

Most of the proceedings have taken place behind closed doors. Authorities did agree to some open hearings at the request of defence attorneys, but Human Rights Watch dismissed them as more a political theatre than a trial. The defendants lawyers say they have not been able to adequately cross-examine witnesses.

The five bloggers include four Emiratis—Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, and Hassan al-Khamis—and one man, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq Ahmad, who does not have identification papers.

Supporters of the bloggers characterise their online commentary as constructive criticism of government policies.

UAE authorities have recently taken some steps to institute democratic reforms. The first indirect elections to the FNC were held in 2006, and the number of appointed voters was increased for September 2011 elections. The government have promised that all Emiratis will be able to vote by 2019.

The government has also announced new infrastructure projects, apparently in response to pro-reform activists in the country. UAE is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and 80 percent of its residents are expatriates.

The Stream spoke with Dr. Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, professor of political science at Emirates University, and Thabet Al-Qaissieh, an Emirati blogger.

What do you think? Why hasn’t the Arab Spring come to the UAE? Tweet your comments using the hashtag #AJStream.

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