Middle East

UAE sentences prominent activist to decade in jail: media

An Emirati court has sentenced an award-winning human rights activist to 10 years in prison for insulting the "status and prestige of the UAE and its symbols", pro-government media reported on Thursday.

The Abu Dhabi court also imposed a fine of a million dirhams ($275,000) and ordered Ahmed Mansoor be placed under surveillance for three years after his release, the National and Gulf News reported.

The 48-year-old was convicted of attempting to harm his country's relations with its neighbours by spreading misinformation on social media, the National said.

Foreign journalists are not allowed to attend such trials in the United Arab Emirates, whose ruling families rarely tolerate opposition.

Mansoor was cleared of conspiring with a "terrorist organisation".

His court-appointed lawyer, Tariq al-Shamsi, had told an earlier hearing that Mansoor should be cleared of all charges.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch's Middle East chief, decried the sentence.

“A 10-year sentence for defaming the UAE is all you need to know about the brutality and repression beneath the Emirates gilded facade," she told AP.

Mansoor's arrest in March 2017 triggered an international outcry led by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Mansoor, a father of four, won the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015 for his efforts to introduce greater political and civil rights in the UAE.

During his detention, the prosecutor accused him of using social media to "publish false information and rumours, spread tendentious ideas that would sow sedition, sectarianism and hatred", state news agency WAM reported.

He was also accused of harming "national unity and social peace" and "the state's reputation".

Mansoor was part of a group of activists known as the UAE Five, who were arrested in April 2011 and released later that year by a presidential pardon, although authorities confiscated his passport and banned him from leaving the country.

He was re-arrested in March 2017 under the Gulf state's cyber-crime law.

Amnesty International decried his arrest at the time, and the rights group's regional director of research, Lynn Maalouf, called Mansoor "a courageous and prominent human rights defender".

"We believe Ahmed Mansoor was detained for the peaceful expression of his conscientiously held beliefs," Maalouf added in a statement.

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