ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Five political activists convicted on Sunday of insulting the leaders of the United Arab Emirates were sentenced to between two and three years in jail.
The five-month-long trial of the activists has been seen as a gauge of how the Gulf state — the world’s third biggest oil exporter, with no tradition of organised political protest — responds to hints of political dissidence in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings.
“The court pronounces publicly the following sentence: the accused Ahmed Mansoor will be punished with imprisonment for three years for the charges against him,” said a Federal Supreme Court judge.
Mansoor, a communications engineer and poet whose works were published by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), was the main defendant and accused of running a website that provided a platform for the other defendants to express alleged anti-government views.
“The website included insults that diminished the standing of His Highness the president and His Highness the vice president,” the state prosecutor said in October when he presented his case, without specifying the insults.
The other four — Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq — were sentenced to two years in prison.
The court also ordered the closure of the website. The five, who were arrested in April for urging public protest and disrupting public order, had been on trial since June.
The UAE has seen none of the public protests that have swept Arab countries over the last 10 months, thanks in part to cradle-to-grave benefits bestowed on its citizens.
One of the defendants had written an essay describing that approach as buying off citizens to avoid political reform.
Prosecutors also said in October one of the activists published a petition urging a boycott of elections in September for half of a 40-seat consultative council, and that they had evidence the defendants incited citizens to “breach public order and stage demonstrations against the state.”
Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Sophie Hares