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January 28, 2013 6:15 am
The United Arab Emirates has referred 94 nationals to court on charges of plotting to seize power in the oil-rich Gulf state, saying they sought financial aid from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Salem Saeed Kubaish, the UAE’s attorney-general, sent the suspects to the seven-member federation’s supreme court, the official state news agency reported. Formal charges are expected to be made once the hearings are convened.
The accused were detained in a wave of arrests that began nine months ago and continued throughout last year, sparking widespread criticism by human rights groups about due process in the western ally.
Unlike many other Middle Eastern states, the UAE has not faced street protests since uprisings broke out around the region two years ago. But it has cracked down on online dissent in the aftermath of the revolts.
Analysts and some officials have described the crackdown as an overreaction to minor levels of dissent within the region’s commercial hub. But others say the government is responding to the threat posed by Islamist politics to the traditional form of tribal governance in this conservative society.
In 2011, five pro-democracy activists were found guilty of insulting the leadership and later pardoned.
Since then, the security forces have launched a clampdown on members of the Al-Islah party, an Islamist group that says it is seeking reform, including greater distribution of wealth and opportunity across all seven members of the UAE. The group denies that it is trying to overthrow the government.
In the context of these arrests, UAE officials have criticised Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for interfering in the Gulf, straining diplomatic relations with Cairo.
The state news agency, which did not explicitly refer to Al-Islah, said the 94 detainees had established a “secret organisation” seeking to oppose the basic principles of the UAE system.
“The organisation . . . announced its declared principles as calling on society to observe the teaching and virtues of Islam, while their undeclared aims were, in fact, to seek to seize power,” the statement said.
It went on to accuse the group’s members of meeting secretly in “their homes and farms”, and of aiming to “turn public opinion against the government” by “disseminating fabrications” in the media and on social networking sites.
Activists say the announcement is timed to coincide with meetings due to take place on Monday in Geneva, where the UN human rights council is to begin a review of the UAE’s human rights record.
Rights groups have criticised the UAE’s handling of the Islamist detainees, some of whom have had their citizenship revoked.
“Some of the detainees have been kept for around a year,” said activist Ahmed Mansoor, one of the five activists prosecuted in 2011. “This would be a major subject [at the UN periodic review.]”
Responding to international censure, the government has denied allegations of repression and argued that the detainees, who say their incarceration has lacked due process, are criminals who will be tried in court.
The government’s statement accused the group of having penetrated “all sectors of the state and its organisations” and said its members had used “social bodies as a front to conceal their actions”.
Al-Islah has been active in the UAE for decades, initially drawing its inspiration from Muslim Brotherhood members who came to the Gulf in the 1960s.
Since the attacks of September 11 2001 the authorities have become increasingly suspicious of the group’s intentions, seeking to purge Al-Islah members from the ranks of teachers, professors and the judiciary.
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