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(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities should guarantee the safety of 94 defendants facing trial on state security charges. They should also establish an independent investigation into the defendants’ allegations of ill-treatment in detention. The next session of their trial begins on March 11, 2013.

At the first trial session on March 4, authorities brought 84 of the 94 accused before the court to enter pleas. The remaining 10 are being tried in absentia. All 84 of the defendants denied the charges, which, local activists say, are largely based on confessions obtained from two of them, apparently while they were detained incommunicado in 2012. One of the two, Ahmed al-Suweidi, told the court he is innocent and asked for its protection. He told the judges: “I know that what I'm going to say may cost my life, but I deny the charges and I ask the court to protect my life and the life of my family,” according to witnesses present in the courtroom.

Many of the other defendants told the court that they had been seriously ill-treated during months in detention, including prolonged solitary confinement, exposure to continuous fluorescent lighting that made it difficult to sleep, inadequate heating, and hooding when they were taken from their cells, including while being taken to the toilet or for interrogation. They said they had been repeatedly insulted by prison guards. Lawyers acting for the defendants have repeatedly pressed the judicial authorities to investigate these allegations, but they have yet to do so.

“This trial raises serious questions about the UAE’s willingness to respect the fundamental right of all accused to receive a fair trial,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The court shouldn’t admit evidence obtained through ill-treatment or coercion. And the UAE government should ensure allegations of ill-treatment of detainees are properly investigated at once.”

Authorities prevented a group of international observers and journalists from entering the court on March 4, stating that they had not requested permission from the Ministry of Justice. Security officials also denied entry to the UAE to two international human rights observers who attempted to enter the country to monitor the trial.

“The UAE authorities seem intent on keeping this trial as much under wraps as they can,” said Whitson. “If they are interested in ensuring a fair trial, they should allow international observers to attend the court sessions, not block their presence.”

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