ABU DHABI (Reuters) - A United Arab Emirates court on Tuesday convicted and jailed most of 94 Emiratis accused of plotting a coup, Abu Dhabi television said, at the end of trial analysts said reflected official mistrust of Islamist groups following the Arab Spring.
The television said that the Federal Supreme Court sentenced 56 suspects to prison sentences ranging between three and 10 years. Eight suspects were sentenced in absentia to 15 years in jail and another 26 were acquitted.
The television did not elaborate. The official verdict was expected to be published on the state news agency shortly.
Witnesses said that police blocked roads outside the court in Abu Dhabi and kept reporters away from the building.
Dozens of people have been detained in a crackdown on Islamists in the past year amid heightened worries among officials about a spillover of unrest in other Arab countries.
The trial, which human rights groups say has included “flagrant flaws” in procedure, is widely seen as an attempt by the Gulf Arab state to address what it says is a threat from the banned Muslim Brotherhood.
The defendants had denied the charges, and some said they had been abused in detention, an accusation the state denies.
Many of the 94 who have been on trial since March are members of the al-Islah group, which the UAE says has links to Egypt’s Brotherhood. Al-Islah says it shares some of the Brotherhood’s ideology but has no organizational links to it.
The defendants, known as UAE94, are accused of “belonging to an illegal, secret organization ... that aims to counter the foundations of this state in order to seize power and of contacting foreign entities and groups to implement this plan”.
Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish said in January the members had sought to infiltrate institutions of the state, including schools, universities and ministries.
He said the accused, all UAE nationals, had invested money from Brotherhood membership fees and charity funds to set up commercial enterprises and real estate investments held in their own names to conceal their activities from the state.
“The case is important for the UAE because it targets its security and we have full confidence in the UAE judiciary to issue sentences they see fit,” a UAE official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
“The UAE considers the trial to have taken place in a fair and legal manner.”
One of the region’s most politically stable nations, largely thanks to its oil wealth and cradle-to-grave welfare system, the UAE has seen none of the violent turmoil that has shaken other parts of the Middle East and North Africa in the past two years.
But some UAE Islamists, inspired by the successes of counterparts in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia, have stepped up their activities, angering the authorities in a country where no political opposition is permitted.
International media have been barred from attending court hearings, which have been taking place since March.
Rights groups have urged authorities to grant full public access to the trial. A source close to the UAE government said the trial had taken place in a “very transparent manner”.
The defendants said they had been insulted, threatened and in some cases subjected to physical abuse after the arrest. UAE authorities have dismissed the accusations.
In a separate case, last month the UAE said it would put on trial 30 Emiratis and Egyptians accused of setting up an illegal branch of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, further straining ties between the two countries.
Additional reporting by Mahmoud Habboush and Sami Aboudi, Editing by Ralph Boulton and William Maclean