During the ten month old Arab Spring, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed its opposition to the trial of Egyptian former president Hosni Mubarak and sent troops, as part of the “Shield of the Arabian Peninsula,” to oppress the Bahraini uprising, and arrested several activists who demanded reform. The arrests started with blogger Ahmed Mansour, the other four detainees are Nasser Bin Ghaith, Fahad Al-Sihhi, Hassan Ali Al Khamis, and Ahmed Abdulhaleq Ahmed. All five are accused of publicly “insulting” the country's president and top officials.
Reactions to arrests
Bin Ghaith seems to have gained a lot of attention from western media lately as he doesn't represent the typical image of an opposition figure; he has served the government as a consultant in the army besides being a war veteran, a columnist, a lecturer, a decorated pilot, and the son of a wealthy family.
The other name that media cared least about is Ahmed Abdulhaleq Ahmed who happens to be one of the stateless people of the UAE, a cause that has always been neglected as the wealthy Gulf state continues to deprive the stateless people of their rights and block any effort to unveil their struggle.
Netizens did not have much to say except share the few news pieces about the refusal of the five activists to show up in court as they spent six months in jail waiting to be prosecuted by a court that will not allow them to appeal the final decision and will most probably sentence them to long periods in jail as it is specialized in cases of anti-regime acts and terrorism.
Among the reactions found on Twitter was Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) the Qatar-based editor of Foreign Policy who commented on Bin Ghaith's case saying:
@blakehounshell: The case against UAE political prisoner Nasser bin Ghaith appears to be complete garbage.
One of the few famous UAE tweeps Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi) tweeted some news relevant to the activists’ trial:
@SultanAlQassemi: UAE authorities have allowed access to the trial. Four rights groups are sending two independent legal observers to monitor today's hearings.
Cecily Hilleary (@VOAHilleary) from Voice of America asked a question about the Arab Spring and the Gulf region:
@VOAHilleary: Why doesn't spring reach the Gulf? Activists on trial in UAE, the quelled uprising in Bahrain, why is dissent always viewed as insult?
Kuwaiti Columnist Nasser Al-Abdily (@bmckwt) [ar] wrote some relevant news about the status of human rights in the UAE:
Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth), wrote saying:
@KenRoth: If prominent #Emirate, decorated pilot & Sorbonne lecturer can be prosecuted on trumped-up charges in #UAE, any can be.
Human Rights Watch was typically attacked online by a lot of pro-regime Emiratis who kept referring to the five activists as traitors.
One of them (@UAEVIP100) [ar] called for protests in front of the court against the activists:
UAE blogger Khalifa Alnuaimi (@Alnuaimi_k) published a post that had a statement from Dr Nasser Bin Ghaith two days ago saying that he had been mistreated and denied his basic rights while in detention. This, he said, made him face the reality of his country which will be prosecuting him despite his love and loyalty and for opinions he wrote in online forums.
Another post published by the same blogger talked about how the UAE authorities played a game with the international community, organizations, and media by saying that the trial will be public. AlNuaimi says authorities manipulated what to pass and what to block of the trial's information.
The next hearing is scheduled for October 9. According to human rights organisations, the activists could face a five year prison sentence if convicted.