DUBAI (Reuters) - Thirty Emiratis and Egyptians were convicted of setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and sentenced to up to five years in jail in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, in a case reflecting the state’s deep mistrust of political Islam.
The UAE, a U.S. ally and major oil exporter, was rattled by the rise of Islamists in the aftermath of the uprisings that rocked the Arab world from 2011.
It watched with relief as Egypt’s army toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi, who is from the Brotherhood, in July after mass protests against his rule and has poured in billions of dollars to support the army chief who deposed him.
The Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi handed the men sentences ranging from three months and five years in prison, state news agency WAM said on Tuesday, without elaborating.
Twenty Egyptians, six of them tried in absentia, and 10 Emiratis, had been charged with setting up an illegal branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE, stealing and airing state security secrets and collecting funds illegally.
The defendants had denied all the charges, a family member of one of the detainees told Reuters after the opening of the trial in November.
The relative added some of the Egyptians had said they were physically abused in custody and their confessions were obtained under coercion.
The UAE denies using torture. In November, WAM said the court had ordered medical tests for some of the defendants.
On Monday, Amnesty International called on the UAE to end the “downward cycle of unfair political trials”.
The London-based group said it considered at least three of the defendants - Mohammed al-Mansoori, Hussain Alhammadi and Saleh al-Dhufairi - to be “prisoners of conscience”.
A source close to the UAE government told Reuters: “The trial took place in a transparent manner. The proceedings went according to the legal and juridical laws and regulations in the UAE.”
The 10 Emiratis who were convicted on Tuesday are among 61 Islamists convicted by a UAE court in July of plotting to overthrow the government, activists said.
Many of the jailed Islamists are members of the al-Islah group, which the UAE says has links to the Brotherhood. Al-Islah denies any relationship.
Thanks to its state-sponsored cradle-to-grave welfare system, the UAE has largely avoided the unrest that has unseated long-serving Arab rulers elsewhere in the region.
But it has shown little tolerance towards dissent. Dozens of people have been detained since 2011 and most were tried and convicted of planning to overthrow the government.
Writing by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Andrew Heavens