The United Arab Emirates on Wednesday jailed six Lebanese men, four of them for life, for setting up a terrorist cell with links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the state news agency WAM reported.
The UAE Federal Court sentenced two of the six men to 10 years each in jail and acquitted five others, WAM said.
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait - all U.S.-allied Sunni Muslim states - classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in 2016 and warned its citizens and resident expatriates against any links to it.
The 11 defendants, all of them Shi’ite Muslims who 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 Hezbollah group, backed by Shi’ite Iran.
Rights groups have said the men did not receive a fair trial. Amnesty International said eight of them had been held in solitary confinement for more than a year, which 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.
The Emirati government did not respond immediately to a Reuters request for comment.
UAE media, tightly controlled by the state, previously said the group had been accused of plotting under Hezbollah orders to bomb a “vital facility” in the oil-exporting Gulf state.
A UAE court sentenced seven people to up to life in prison in 2016 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.