Five activists arrested for calling for a more representative form of government in the UAE appeared in court on 26 September, two days after national elections attracted a very low turnout.

The five defendants have been in police custody since April, when they were arrested for signing a petition for an elected parliament. They were charged in July with insulting the country’s rulers and conspiring against the state.

The men include prominent blogger Ahmed Mansour and economics professor Nasser bin Ghaith, who lectured at Abu Dhabi’s Sorbonne university.

After a brief hearing, four of the five accused left court after being denied bail and a public trial, reports the Associated Press. The fifth defendant remained with his lawyers to question the three witnesses to the trial, all of them UAE Interior Ministry officials.

The petition, signed by 130 nationals, was addressed to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

In the wake of popular protests against governments in many Arab countries, the UAE government expanded the franchise for the election of representatives to the Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory council to the government.

But only 28 per cent of the 130,000 Emiratis allowed vote for 20 of the 40 FNC members turned up at polling stations to cast their vote.