Five activists from the United Arab Emirates pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of incitement and insulting the Gulf country's leadership, their lawyer said.
Police arrested the political activists and intellectuals in April, and the attorney general told state news agency WAM the men were suspected of inciting "acts that threaten state security and public order", and "insulting the president, vice president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi."
The UAE, the world's third-largest oil exporter, has been spared political unrest even as mass protests hit its borders in neighbouring Oman and Yemen earlier this year.
The trial was adjourned for a second hearing next Monday.
A joint statement issued by four international rights group, including Amnesty International, this week called on the UAE to disband the trial and release the five men.
Among the defendants is Ahmed Mansoor, an outspoken rights activist who joined several dissidents this year to start an online petition demanding the country's quasi-parliamentary body, the Federal National Council, receive greater powers.
The petition also called for the right to vote for all Emiratis. The government expanded the number of voters from 7,000 to 129,000 this year, around 12 percent of the
UAE's estimated one million citizens.
UAE officials have said the government will roll out democratic reforms gradually in order to maintain stability in the Gulf Arab state.
Another defendant, Nasser bin Ghaith, a lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of France's Sorbonne University, published an article criticising what he called Gulf states' attempt to avoid political reform by buying off their populaces.
Generous government spending programmes in the UAE and a high per capita income of $47,000 has staved off the kind of mass pro-democracy protests that have swept across the rest of the Arab world and toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt. But the activists' case shows its sensitivity to political dissent.
Outside the UAE's Federal Supreme Court, where a three-hour hearing for prosecution witnesses was held on Monday, hundreds gathered in support and a few in protest at the trial.
Some 300 people waved UAE flags distributed to them and said they had come to show support to President Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan. A group of men in traditional white robes shouted "[Insult] anyone but Khalifa."
Inside the courthouse lobby, 30-year-old Nour Mubarak was among a minority who had come to support the men.
"We have basic things like housing and for me that's not enough, I want to have the right to express myself, they should be able to express themselves," the woman, swathed in a black veil, told reporters.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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