UAE pardons activists sentenced for insulting leaders

DUBAI Mon Nov 28, 2011 7:55am EST

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DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates on Monday pardoned five activists on who were convicted a day earlier for insulting UAE leaders and had been on hunger strike for two weeks ahead of their convictions, a lawyer defending the group said.

The case against the five had been read as a gauge of how the oil-rich Gulf state, which has no tradition of organized political protest, responds to hints of political dissidence after uprisings that have toppled Arab leaders elsewhere.

The five were arrested in April on charges of disrupting public order and calling for protests, and had been on trial since June. Their sentences were up to three years in prison.

"The president issued a decree pardoning all of them," Mohammed al-Roken told Reuters, adding that he was told about the decree by the UAE public prosecutors. "I hope they will be released before the end of the day."

Ahmed Mansoor, a communications engineer, was accused of running a website that gave Nasser bin Ghaith and three other defendants a venue to express anti-government views. The court ordered the website closed.

Human rights groups said last week that the five activists had been the target of what they described as a campaign of death threats, slander and intimidation.

"I hope the case is completely closed now so that they can go back and serve their nation," Roken said.

The UAE president also pardoned over 550 people, jailed mostly for cheque-related offences, ahead of the holiday marking the foundation of the country.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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