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Activists on trial in UAE appear in court

Five activists on trial in the United Arab Emirates return to court on Monday facing accusations of insulting the country's rulers and using an online forum to conspire against the state

AP , Monday 26 Sep 2011
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Five activists on trial in the United Arab Emirates returned to court Monday two days after the oil-rich Gulf nation held elections for an advisory council.

The activists, including a blogger and a prominent academic, were detained in April after they signed an online petition demanding constitutional changes and free elections.

The activists are accused of anti-state crimes and were charged in July with insulting the country's rulers and using an online forum to conspire against the state. All five defendants have pleaded not guilty While the United Arab Emirates has not seen street protests like those that have roiled other Arab nations, including nearby Bahrain, authorities have moved to silence pro-reform advocates.

Among the five, who have been in custody since April, are prominent blogger Ahmed Mansour and an economics professor who frequently lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne university, Nasser bin Ghaith.

The five activists attended Monday's closed-door proceedings in Abu Dhabi's Federal Supreme Court.

Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an alliance of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a hereditary sheik. There are no official opposition groups in the country and political parties are banned.

On Saturday voters selected by the UAE rulers elected a federal advisory council. The rulers called the balloting _ only the second in the country's 30-year history _ a "proud day" in the efforts to expand the public role in policy making.

The council has no direct powers and the voters are hand-picked according to tribal and regional ties by rulers of the seven semiautonomous city states.

The electoral pool has been significantly expanded since the 2006 elections and now includes more than 129,000 voters. Still, they are a fraction of the nearly 2 million Emiratis.

In an unprecedented move for the politically quiescent country, 130 people in March signed a petition demanding constitutional and parliamentary changes, free elections and a more equitable distribution of the country's oil wealth.

The five activists in custody were among the signatories of the petition.

Rights groups, including the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the London-based Amnesty International, called on the UAE to release the activists because the government has presented "no legitimate evidence" to support charges against them.

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