Emirati authorities have been detaining eight Lebanese nationals for more than a year without charge in an unknown location, ill-treating them and denying them their due process rights, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Their trial, which began on February 13, 2019, continues to be marred with violations, the report added.
The third session is set for March 27.
Family members told Human Rights Watch that the defendants, who face terrorism charges, have been held in prolonged solitary confinement and denied access to their families, legal counsel, and the evidence against them.
"At least three detainees told family members that state security forces forced them to sign statements while blindfolded and under duress, and one said they forced him to sign a blank paper," the HRW report noted.
“The UAE authorities reveal in their treatment of these men just how unwilling they are to reform their unjust state security apparatus,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These men deserve, at the very least, to be treated humanely and to receive a fair trial.”
The men, all of whom are Shia Muslims, have each lived and worked in the UAE for more than 15 years. Seven worked at Emirates Airlines as flight attendants, pursers, or senior managers. Family members said that none had any known political affiliations.
At the second session of their trial, on February 27, the prosecutor charged them with setting up a terrorist cell with links to Hezbollah which is designated a terrorist organization in the UAE.
"Family members said that at least seven of the men still have not been able to meet with their lawyers and six remain in solitary confinement," the report pointed out.
All of the defendants deny the charges, family member said.
State security forces allowed at least two of the men to contact their families 10 days after their arrest. They have been allowed brief contact since, but guards would end the call if they tried to discuss detention conditions. Three others remained in incommunicado detention for about three months. The men were not allowed family visits before the trial began, and since then, the families of at least six have had only one 20-minute visit.
Families members said they feared their relatives had been mistreated in detention.
“His teeth were all broken, and his ear looked mangled,” a family member said of one detainee. “He said it was from all the beatings he got to the face. He said that after he fell unconscious one time, they continued to kick him. For five days, he wasn’t allowed to sit or to sleep. He was chained and his eyes were covered. Until this day, when he leaves his cell, he is blindfolded.”
While other defendants did not mention being physically abused, the family members of at least three of the men said they had lost a lot of weight, and appeared weak, pale, and frightened.
One man told his family he was subjected to psychological abuse.
“He said to us that we were the first people he had seen or talked to since his arrest,” a family member said.
Another told his family that he had not seen the sun in over a year.
The first hearing, of which at least three of the defendants and their families were not informed, lasted only 10 minutes, as several of the men did not yet have lawyers, family members said.
Family members said that one defendant told the court that he was forced to sign a statement while chained and blindfolded, and that others said they were being treated unjustly. The judge apparently dismissed the session without promising to investigate their allegations.
Four families said they hired private lawyers to defend their relatives. Others were assigned court appointed lawyers.
Two privately hired lawyers, one of whom later withdrew from the case, told family members the state security prosecution made them sign pledges not to share case files or evidence with family members.
One lawyer, who later dropped his client’s case without explanation, told the family members he was not allowed to see the case files. None of the lawyers have been allowed to meet with their clients, the family members said.
Family members have repeatedly asked the Lebanese authorities to intervene, but they said no consular representative has visited the detainees or attended any of the hearings. Three of the detainees’ family members said that representatives of Lebanon’s General Security Directorate, and Foreign Affairs and Justice Ministries said that UAE authorities are refusing to cooperate with them.
HRW report explained that prolonged solitary confinement is strictly prohibited under international law and can amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
"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 under duress is used to convict them," Human Rights Watch said.