Four human rights groups have condemned the trial of five UAE pro-democracy activists as ‘fundamentally unfair’ and called for the charges against them to be dropped.

The fifth hearing in their trial occurred on 2 October, although the defendents refused to attend the court in Abu Dhabi.

The five activists, which include a prominent blogger and a university professor, where arrested in April. They were amongst 133 signatories of a petition sent to the country’s president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Nahyan calling for a more representative government.

Media and human rights groups representatives were allowed into the courtroom for the first time since the trial commenced on 14 June. The same day, Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Front Line Defenders, and Human Rights Watch criticised the courtroom proceedings in a joint declaration.

“All we have been able to see behind the facade of the courthouse is a sham,” said Jennie Pasquarella, a civil liberties lawyer who is part of a delegation in the UAE on behalf of the rights groups to monitor the trial. “By not respecting the rights of the defendants to a fair trial, the Emirati authorities are forcing us to conclude that they have already decided the outcome.”

The rights groups pointed to several faults in the trial, including that the defendants have no right of appeal i found guilty. The court has not allowed them to review the evidence and the charges levelled against them, and defence lawyers have not been able to cross-examine witnesses, or have been given insufficient time to do so, said the statement.

Four of the defendants decided to stay away at the previous hearing after the judges repeatedly refused to address their due process requests.

The five activists, Ahmed Mansoor, an engineer and blogger; Nasser bin Ghaith, an economist and university lecturer at Sorbonne Abu Dhabi and advocate for political reform; and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul-Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis. They are charged under article 176 of the penal code, which makes it a crime to publicly insult top officials.

The petition had called for an elected parliament in the wake of the popular protest movements across the Arab world. At present, the only publically elected body is the Federal National council, an advisory body. The franchise to vote for 20 of its 40 members was expanded from around 6,000 to approximately 130,000 voters, but only about a quarter of these turned up on election day on 24 September.