- Ruler of the United Arab Emirates orders all five detainees freed
- They were sentenced to prison on charges of public insult to officials
- Human rights groups support the activists
The ruler of the United Arab Emirates has pardoned five political activists who were sentenced to prison, the government announced Monday.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan ordered the release of the five detainees as part of a decree marking the upcoming 40th National Day of the UAE, state news agency WAM reported.
On Sunday, the country's supreme court sentenced Ahmed Mansour to three years in prison. Four other defendants -- Nasser Bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali Al Khamis -- were each sentenced to two years.
The five men, whom police detained in April, faced charges of public insult against the president of the UAE and other top officials, according to human rights groups. They were also charged with undermining the public order and opposing the government system.
Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch called the trial and sentences "a complete mockery of justice."
But pro-government demonstrators outside the courthouse Sunday voiced their support for the verdict.
"I'm happy that this situation is finished," Abelkarim Maatouq said. "Maybe it will be (that) everybody knows that in the future, there is a limit to the opinions ... there are limits to how you (say) your opinion."
Earlier this year, Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Watch all called for the activists' charges to be dropped.
According to a statement from Amnesty International, the men posted statements on the Internet forum UAEHewar.
"None of the messages allegedly posted by the accused to the banned site did more than criticize government policy or political leaders," according to seven human rights groups that have reviewed the posts, Amnesty said.
Mansour is a "leading human rights activist who had publicly called for political freedoms and an elected parliament," Human Rights Watch has said. Mansour has served as a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee.
United Arab Emirates officials have repeatedly declined requests from CNN for comment about the case.