DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Five political activists in the United Arab Emirates received a presidential pardon on Monday and are to be released from custody just a day after they were convicted of anti-state crimes, their lawyer said.
Attorney Mohammed al-Roken told The Associated Press the public prosecutor's office confirmed President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's pardon. There was no immediate word from the president's office.
The activists, including a prominent blogger and an economics professor, were convicted on Sunday of insulting the UAE's top leadership and endangering national security.
They were sentenced to up to three years in prison by the Gulf country's security court in the capital Abu Dhabi. They had no right to appeal the verdict, which along with the activists' trial has been harshly criticized by international human rights groups.
Among the activists are blogger Ahmed Mansour and economics professor Nasser bin Gaith, who has lectured at Paris' Sorbonne university in Abu Dhabi. Bin Gaith also served as a legal adviser to the UAE's armed forces until he was taken into custody by federal security agents from his Dubai home eight months ago.
The five were arrested in April after signing an online petition demanding political reforms, including free elections for parliament. UAE's current parliament serves as an advisory body and its 40 members are either directly appointed by the ruling sheiks or elected by voters hand-picked by the rulers.
The charges against the five included insulting the country's top leadership, endangering national security, inciting people to protest and urging a boycott of the existing, limited form of elections. The last vote, held in September, was only the second election since the foundation of the UAE 40 years ago.
The UAE has not been hit by the Arab Spring unrest that has spread across much of the rest of the Middle East, including neighboring Bahrain. But the activists' trial appeared to have reflected Abu Dhabi's strategy of snuffing out any sign of dissent that could pose a challenge to the tight political controls in country.
On Sunday, a three-judge panel sentenced Mansour to three years in prison. Bin Gaith and other received two-year jail terms.
The UAE has faced an outcry from rights groups over the trials, which were held in the country's highest court that normally tries terrorism suspects and has no recourse for appeal.
Political activity is severely restricted in the UAE, an oil-rich alliance of seven semiautonomous states, each ruled by a hereditary sheik. There are no official opposition groups in the country and political parties are banned.