Seven months ago, five activists were arrested in the United Arab Emirates and put on trial on a number of charges such as using the Internet to insult their rulers, to call for a boycott of Federal National Council elections and to call for demonstrations against the state.
Blogger Ahmed Mansour and activists Nasser bin Gaith, Fahid Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq have issued several statements to voice their refusal for their trials, saying that they have been mistreated, denied their basic rights, threatened, and insulted. The detainees refused to show up at the court's hearings because they consider the trial unfair, knowing that a verdict will be made on November 27, which they cannot appeal.
The five have now started a hunger strike, which they announced in a joint statement saying their open-ended strike aims to reveal the truth to the Emirati people and to demand conducting investigations regarding the seven months they have so far spent in prison.
The activists have also referred to the mistreatment and frustration their families are having to endure as they have been targeted by campaigns such as the campaign run by anonymous persons nicknamed Lethal Character (Shaksiyya Fatake) and Proud Emirati, which have fomented a climate of general hostility to them and their families. They say this campaign has even interfered with a judicial proceeding.
International organizations have offered more attention to the case of the five UAE activists than netizens. One can find few reactions towards their case in social networks. Also, instead of support, one can read many insulting messages towards them written by anonymous accounts that use the pictures of UAE rulers as their Twitter avatars or Facebook profile pictures.
Some of the sympathatic reactions also came from outside the UAE. Iraqi activist Khalid Ibrahim (@khalidibrahim12) reported the news of the hunger strike with the following tweet:
@khalidibrahim12: UAE: The Five detained human rights defenders to start a hunger strike tomorrow to protest against their ill-treatment and unfair trial.
Twitter user @ResistPrevail mistakenly thought the five activists started the strike on November 11, when their joint statement came out, and commented:
@ResistPrevail: 11/11/11 was the first day of the #UAE prisoners of conscience hunger strike.
The Gulf Center for Human Rights (@GulfCentre4HR) tweeted in solidarity:
@GulfCentre4HR: The GCHR considers all five activists as HR defenders at risk and call on the UAE government to release them immediately and unconditionally.
Lamis Shejni (@lamisshejni) thought the case of the activists can be seen as an indicator for change:
@lamisshejni: My thoughts are w/ oppressed rights activists in #UAE #KSA #Bahrain #Oman #Kuwait … to #GCC I say, revolution is coming! #arabspring
Dhabya Al Mehairi from the UAE (@Dhabyaa) expressed doubt:
@Dhabyaa: The 5 activists began a hunger strike. Will this change their fate ? I'm not so sure. Their life is practically over in this country.
Matt J. Duffy (@mattjduffy), a professor of communication at Zayed University, in Abu Dhabi, criticized how media is covering the case of the five activists:
@mattjduffy: I do not applaud @TheNationalUAE for ignoring hunger strike of #UAE5. Perhaps they will after the F1 crowd clears out. #badjournalism
Emirati journalist Aliya Al Ghaith (@AliyaAlGhaith) [ar] referred to the mistreatment the activists went through:
Taher Al-Baghli, from Kuwait, (@taher_albaghli) [ar] has been one of the few Twitter users who constantly followed updates on the five cases and tweeted to advocate for their release daily. In this tweet he reacts to their hunger strike decision: