DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates sentenced three Lebanese men to jail on Wednesday but acquitted five others in a group accused of setting up a “terrorist cell” with links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Rights groups have said the men did not receive a fair trial and were held in solitary confinement for over a year.
The eight defendants, all of whom are Shi’ite Muslims and have lived and worked in the UAE for more than 15 years, were arrested in late 2017 and early 2018. They were charged in February with establishing a cell linked to the heavily-armed Hezbollah group, backed by Shi’ite Iran.
The UAE Federal Court sentenced one man to life imprisonment and two others to ten years each, Amnesty said.
“The eight men were held in solitary confinement for over a year – this in itself can amount to torture. They were also denied access to their lawyers from the beginning of the trial; a number of the men claimed they had been tortured to sign so-called confessions but there have been no investigations into these claims,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director.
“These details leave us with no confidence in the process that led to the conviction of the three men.”
The Emirati government did not respond immediately to a Reuters request for comment.
UAE media, tightly controlled by the state, previously said the group were accused of plotting to bomb a “vital facility” in the oil-exporting Gulf state under Hezbollah orders.
In 2016, the UAE along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait – all U.S.-allied Sunni Muslim states – declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization and warned any citizen or expatriate against any links to it.
Later that year, a UAE court sentenced seven people to up to life in prison for setting up a Hezbollah-linked cell.
The UAE is a tourism and trade hub for the Middle East, but tolerates little public criticism of its monarchy or policies and has been waging a war against political Islam.
Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne