(Beirut) – Multiple serious due process violations in pretrial detention make it highly unlikely that four Libyans charged with links to armed and political groups in Libya can receive a fair trial in the United Arab Emirates, Human Rights Watch said today. No fair trial will be possible when defendants do not have full access to their lawyers or to the evidence against them, or if evidence obtained by torture is used to convict them.

The men, at least three of whom authorities forcibly disappeared for three months after their arrests in August 2014, were held in incommunicado detention for four months at a state security facility where previous detainees – including four other men detained during that period – have alleged that interrogators tortured them into confessing to links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Family members and family-appointed lawyers said the Libyans had no access to legal assistance for at least 16 months. All of the defendants deny the charges.

“Yet again, a high-profile trial in the UAE is mired in allegations of forced disappearance and torture,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE should take immediate steps to reverse its dismal handing of this case, including an immediate investigation into the torture claims.”

Lawyers appointed by the defendants’ families to represent them told Human Rights Watch that they could not find out what the charges their clients were facing until the first trial session on January 18, 2016, and that prosecutors have not provided case files outlining the evidence against their clients. The decision to prosecute the case before the Federal Supreme Court under state security procedures deprives the defendants of the right to appeal.

Paul Champ, a Canadian lawyer representing one of the defendants, Salim Alaradi, told Human Rights Watch that the prosecution charged the men with providing material support to, and cooperating with, Libya Dawn and the 17 February Brigade in Libya, which the prosecution and local media characterized as terrorist groups.

Authorities refused to allow Champ to enter the state security chamber at the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi to monitor the trial, but the Canadian ambassador and the United States vice-consul were able to attend the 20-minute opening session. The other defendants are Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat, a father and son who hold joint Libyan and American citizenship, and Isa al-Manna, a Libyan citizen.

Champ said that people who attended the hearing told him that Alaradi attempted to show the judge marks on his arms that he claimed were the result of torture and that all of the men told the judge that they had been tortured in pretrial detention. The judge apparently told the men that they could raise these allegations during future trial sessions. The next session is scheduled for February 15, 2016.

Yet again, a high-profile trial in the UAE is mired in allegations of forced disappearance and torture.The UAE should take immediate steps to reverse its dismal handing of this case, including an immediate investigation into the torture claims.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director

The four other detainees who spoke to Human Rights Watch had been detained in August 2015, and subsequently released. They said that the UAE authorities subjected them to systematic torture at a state security facility near Abu Dhabi, where the four men on trial were also held, to elicit what they said were false confessions. The men said their interrogators asked them about their supposed links to the Muslim Brotherhood – which the UAE has designated a terrorist organization – and described a range of abuses, including beatings, forced standing, and threats to rape, electrocute, and kill them.

Greg Craig, a US-based lawyer representing the Eldarats, told Human Rights Watch that he spoke to Mohamed Eldarat by telephone on January 20, 2016, and that he said he had suffered interrogation techniques that left him deaf in his left ear.

Alaradi’s family spoke to him by telephone on January 19. They told Human Rights Watch that he had yet to be allowed to speak to the Emirati lawyer who is representing him at trial. Craig said that his clients were only able to see their Emirati trial lawyer on January 24. Both Craig and Champ said that the authorities have not provided the Emirati lawyer representing their clients at the trial with case files detailing the evidence against them.

UAE authorities should undertake independent and timely criminal investigations into these credible allegations of torture and enforced disappearance, leading to the identification and prosecution of those responsible, Human Rights Watch said. All of those who have alleged abuse should receive independent forensic medical exams. Any evidence obtained by torture should be excluded from any trial, which can only be fair if defense lawyers have full access to their clients and case files, and sufficient time to prepare their clients’ defense.

In 2013, 94 Emiratis were convicted of plotting to overthrow the government. The only evidence prosecutors offered came from the confession of one of the defendants, Ahmed al-Suweidi, whom authorities had forcibly disappeared for five months after his arrest on March 26, 2012. In court al-Suweidi denied all the charges, but the court convicted him and 68 others after a demonstrably unfair trial.

UAE authorities have curtailed the access of international rights groups to the country and imprisoned people who have provided information to nongovernmental organizations, making it difficult to determine the full extent to which the UAE is engaging in enforced disappearances and incommunicado detentions. The UAE’s 2014 counterterrorism law provides for the death penalty for people whose activities are found to “undermine national unity or social peace.”

The whereabouts of Libyan nationals Mohammed al-Fighi, al-Sadiq al-Kikli, and Mahmoud bin Gharbiya, whom authorities detained at the same time as the defendants, are unknown. The whereabouts of an Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared on August 18, 2015, also remain unknown, as do the whereabouts of four members of the Alabdouli family: sisters Amina and Moza, and their brothers, Mosab and Walid. Local sources told Human Rights Watch that men believed to be state security officers arrested Amina, Moza, and Mosab at their home in the emirate of Fujeirah on November 19. Officials detained Walid Alabdouli on November 29. Human Rights Watch has been unable to speak to any family members of bin Ghaith or the Alabdoulis.

An enforced disappearance occurs when someone is deprived of their liberty by agents of the state or those acting with its acquiescence, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person. The nexus between torture and enforced disappearance is well-established in international law.

“The UAE claims to see terrorists everywhere and seems to have given its brutal state security apparatus free rein to abuse those accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood,” Stork said.