Report says United Arab Emirates is trying nearly 90 detainees on terror charges during COP28 summit

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The United Arab Emirates is conducting a mass trial of nearly 90 prisoners on terrorism charges as it hosts the United Nations' COP28 climate summit, including one man whose case was highlighted by demonstrators at the negotiations, an activist organization reported Monday.

Emirati authorities did not immediately respond to questions over the report by the Emirates Detainees Advocacy Center, a group run by Emirati Hamad al-Shamsi, who lives in exile in Istanbul after being named on a terrorism list by the UAE himself. The state-run WAM news agency also has not run a report on the trial.

Al-Shamsi gathered the information from multiple individuals with direct knowledge of the trial.

Those on trial face charges of “establishing a terrorist organization, supporting and financing it,” the center said in a statement. The center “is highly troubled by the UAE’s apparent fabrication of new charges to extend the sentences of those already released, reflecting the Emirati authorities’ ongoing suppression of dissent and civil society.”

Among those charged in the case is Ahmed Mansoor, the recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2015. Mansoor repeatedly drew the ire of authorities in the UAE by calling for a free press and democratic freedoms in the autocratic federation of seven sheikhdoms.

Mansoor was targeted with Israeli spyware on his iPhone in 2016 likely deployed by the Emirati government ahead of his 2017 arrest and sentencing to 10 years in prison over his activism. On Saturday, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch held a demonstration in which they displayed Mansoor's face in the U.N.-administered Blue Zone in a protest carefully watched by Emirati officials.

Others among the 87 charged include the activist Nasser bin Ghaith, an academic held since August 2015 over his tweets. He was among dozens of people sentenced in the wake of a wide-ranging crackdown in the UAE following the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Those demonstrations saw the Islamists rise to power in several Mideast nations, a political bloc that the UAE government views as a threat to its system of hereditary rule.

The UAE, while socially liberal in many regards compared with its Middle Eastern neighbors, has strict laws governing expression. That's been seen at COP28, where there have been none of the typical protests outside of the venue as activists worry about the country's vast network of surveillance cameras.

“The UAE has attempted during its COP28 presidency to persuade the world of its openness to different perspectives," said activist James Lynch of the group FairSquare. "The decision to lay new terrorism charges on this scale in the middle of the talks, when UAE is under the global spotlight, is a giant slap in the face to the country’s human rights community and the COP process.”