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Man faces 10 months jail for tweets about trial in UAE

By Ben Brumfield. Caroline Faraj and Saad Abedine, CNN
April 11, 2013 -- Updated 1047 GMT (1847 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The son of a man on trial tweeted distortions of proceedings, a court ruled
  • Rights activists say his treatment reflects how the government is attempting to hide the trial
  • 94 dissidents are accused of being Muslim extremists trying to overthrow the government
  • Human Rights Watch says the dissidents are critics of a greatly unelected government

(CNN) -- Comments posted to his Twitter account about an ongoing trial have landed an Abu Dhabi man in jail for 10 months, according to a state news agency.

Abdulla al-Hadidi's father is one of 94 dissidents facing legal proceedings that began in early March in the United Arab Emirates.

Prosecutors accuse the dissidents of trying to overthrow the government and being connected to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in the UAE. But human rights activists say the defendants are government critics and accuse the court of hiding the trial from unbiased international observers and journalists.

According to the state news agency WAM, a misdemeanor court ruled that al-Hadidi lied about the proceedings in his writings on social media.

"He published arguments about court proceedings and circumstances surrounding the arrest of the accused with dishonesty and bad faith," the agency reported, citing the justice department.

Trial on the down-low?

But Human Right Watch has said al-Hadidi's treatment at the hands of the legal system highlights government attempts to keep the mass trial of those who challenge the authority of a greatly unelected government, which is headed by immensely rich royal families, out of public view.

This includes banning the handful of relatives, who had previously been allowed to watch the trial, from the courtroom, Human Rights Watch said.

"The day before his detention, officials from the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi informed al-Hadidi and several other relatives of the defendants that the authorities would no longer allow family members to attend the trial," the human rights group said.

The court has admitted only local media to cover the trial. Only two members from each detainee's family were allowed in.

Royal rulers and opposition

Royal leaders have control over the executive branch of government and over half of the legislative branch, known as the Federal National Council, according to the CIA World Factbook. The other half of the council is democratically elected.

Human Rights Watch claimed in March that 64 of the detainees had been held at undisclosed locations for up to a year and denied access to lawyers until February.

The group said that two prominent human rights lawyers, Mohammed al-Roken and Mohammed al-Mansoori, are among them, as well as judges, teachers and student leaders.

According the charges, "they launched, established and ran an organisation seeking to oppose the basic principles of the UAE system of governance and to seize power."

Many believe UAE authorities are clamping down on freedom of expression since the Arab Spring swept across the Middle East staring in early 2011.

Unelected ruling families in oil-rich Gulf countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have sought to prevent popular uprisings. Bahrain has also been criticized for its heavy-handed use of force.

Political parties and demonstrations are banned in the UAE, and recently an academic from the London School of Economics and Political Science was barred entry to the country.

The academic was set to speak at a conference on the political situation in Bahrain.

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