The trial of an Emirati human rights activist, who was arrested after falling foul of the country’s cybercrime laws, has started in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi.
Ahmed Mansoor was arrested on March 20 last year after authorities accused him of using his social media accounts to publish “false information” and “spread hatred and sectarianism”.
The blogger had voiced support for fellow activist Osama al-Najjar when Emirati officials did not release him after the completion of a three-year sentence for tweeting about human rights abuses in the UAE.
Mansoor is believed to have been held in solitary confinement and has received only two family visits since he was imprisoned.
Human rights groups say that the father of four has also been denied access to legal counsel.
According to Amnesty International, prior to his arrest, Mansoor faced “repeated intimidation, harassment, physical assault, and death threats from the UAE authorities or their supporters.”
Officials had placed him under electronic surveillance since 2011 after his arrest for calling for reform in the UAE amid the Arab Spring protests.
In 2015, Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award for human rights defenders for his work in the UAE.
The awarding body described him as “one of the few voices within the United Arab Emirates (UAE) who provides a credible independent assessment of human rights developments in the country”.
Joe Odell of the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE told Al Jazeera that Mansoor should be afforded a fair trial that was monitored by international observers.
“His trial should not be conducted in secret. In accordance with international human rights legislation, Mansoor must receive a fair trial and public hearing by an independent and impartial judiciary,” he said.
“Fundamentally … we believe that he should not be standing trial in the first place. In reality, all that Ahmed is guilty of is raising awareness of the systematic human rights violations in his country.
“His continued detention only serves to further stifle freedom of expression in the UAE. We, therefore, reiterate our call for his immediate and unconditional release.”