Ninety-four people on trial in the United Arab Emirates for attempting to overthrow the government will soon learn their fate. The country’s Federal Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver a ruling on Tuesday.
The accused include two prominent human rights lawyers, doctors, academics and student leaders.
Prosecutors allege they formed a clandestine network with links to the Muslim Brotherhood that aimed to carry out a coup and transform the Gulf state’s relatively liberal society into a strict Islamist regime.
The defendants have pleaded not guilty; most are members of the local Islamist group al-Islah.
Authorities have prohibited foreign media and international observers from attending the court sessions, and rights groups have voiced concern about the fairness of the proceedings, pointing to a number of irregularities.
Omar al-Mansoori, whose parents are on trial, attended most of the hearings and claims the defendants have been denied due process.
"I don’t trust our system of justice because my father had been absent for seven months in a secret prison and even the lawyer couldn’t meet him," he said. "If the court has one percent justice the sentence will be not guilty."
In a letter leaked from prison in May, members of the group said that some of them had been held in solitary confinement at secret locations for months and had been tortured into giving false confessions.
The government denies the torture allegations.
The defendants are advocates of democratic reform and claim they were targeted solely for expressing their political views. Some observers have labeled them human rights activists.
Emirati current affairs commentator Mishall al Gergawi said that description is unwarranted.
"Calling them human rights defenders is inaccurate. If you want to call them defenders of anything you might as well call them defenders of conservative Islamic rights, call them fundamentalists, call them a lot of things, but don’t call them that," he said.
Al-Islah was established in the UAE in 1974. Its members believe strict Islamic ideology should guide society and in recent years they have been critical of the nation’s religious tolerance and its adoption of Western practices.
The government considers the group an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, although representatives claim otherwise.
The UAE has become increasingly wary of the Brotherhood since its recent rise to power in Egypt. Dubai Police Chief Dahi Khalfan Tamim has suggested that a goal of the organization is to impose Islamist rule across all Gulf states.
In June, authorities announced 30 more Emiratis and Egyptians - in addition to the 94 awaiting a verdict - would be put on trial for allegedly setting up an illegal Brotherhood branch inside the country.
According to Theodore Karasik, the director of research and development at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, the cases are part of the UAE's effort to prevent regional unrest from spreading to its shores.
"If the government is seeing that there is a potential threat from any group, whether it could be Lebanese Shi’ites or Egyptians, anybody that sympathizes with this point of view is going to become a target of UAE law," said Karasik.
Officials said the court’s ruling on Tuesday will be final and cannot be appealed. If convicted, the defendants face up to 15 years in prison.