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Emirates jails son of imprisoned activist over ties to illegal group, social media posts

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The son of a jailed activist in the United Arab Emirates was himself sentenced to prison and fined Tuesday after being convicted over messages sent on social media and of joining an illegal group.

The verdict against Osama al-Najjar follows a crackdown by Emirati authorities on suspected Islamist sympathizers in the wake of the Arab Spring.

His father, Hussain al-Najjar, was one of 69 people convicted last year of plotting to overthrow the government. Many of them were members of al-Islah, an Islamist group suspected of having ideological ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups have since branded terrorist organizations by the Emirates.

Osama al-Najjar was arrested in March after tweeting to the Gulf federation's interior minister to voice concern about his father's alleged mistreatment in prison and to ask for a response to an earlier letter, according to Amnesty International, which criticized the verdict.

State news agency WAM said the Federal Supreme Court found al-Najjar guilty of joining a secret organization, and of using social media to damage the reputation of Emirati institutions and disseminate "false claims and inappropriate messages." It did not mention al-Najjar by name, though other Emirati media did or identified him by his initials.

He was sentenced to three years in prison and fined the equivalent of about $136,000, according to WAM.

London-based Amnesty said it considers both father and son to be prisoners of conscience.

"The UAE authorities have again made crystal clear that when they don't like the message, their first line of defense is to smear and silence the messenger," said Said Boumedouha, the deputy head of the London-based group's Middle East and North Africa program.

The Emirates, a seven-state federation that includes Dubai and Abu Dhabi, last week criticized a recent Amnesty report centered on its prosecution of more than 100 people calling for reform since 2011 as "one-sided and inaccurate." It said defendants were granted due process, and vowed that the government will "continue its work to strengthen the protection of human rights."


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