World News

Human Rights Watch urges UAE to ensure fair trial for eight over Hezbollah links

DUBAI (Reuters) - New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the United Arab Emirates to ensure a fair trial for eight Lebanese nationals accused of setting up a “terrorist cell” with links to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The defendants, all of whom are Shi’ite Muslims and have lived and worked in the UAE for more than 15 years, were arrested in late 2017 and early 2018. They were charged last month with establishing a cell linked to the Iran-allied Shi’ite Hezbollah.

They remained for more than a year in solitary confinement without charge and some were mistreated according to members of the families, HRW said in a statement. They were denied access to their families, lawyers and evidences against them, it added.

“The UAE authorities reveal in their treatment of these men just how unwilling they are to reform their unjust state security apparatus,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement. “These men deserve, at the very least, to be treated humanely and to receive a fair trial.”

The Emirati government did not respond immediately to a Reuters request for comment.

UAE media reported last month that the trial of 11 Arab men, including three “fugitives”, had begun. The group were accused of plotting to bomb a “vital facility” in the oil-exporting Gulf state under Hezbollah orders, they said.

The next hearing is set for March 27.

In 2016, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait - all U.S.-allied Sunni Muslim states - declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization and warned any citizen or expatriate against any links to it.

Later that year, a UAE court sentenced seven people to up to life in prison for setting up a Hezbollah-linked cell.

The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but tolerates little public criticism of its monarchy or policies and has been waging a war against political Islam.

Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Mark Heinrich