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BEIRUT (AP) — A Lebanese man held in the United Arab Emirates on charges of links to the militant Hezbollah group has been sentenced to life in prison, while five others were ordered released, a relative said Wednesday.
Abdulrahman Chouman, 39, was on trial with seven other Lebanese men, all Shiite and long-time residents of the Emirates. They had been in detention for over a year. Most of them worked for the government-owned Emirates Airlines.
Chouman trained airline staff and local police on safety, security and anti-terrorism measures.
The relative, speaking from Lebanon, said two others were sentenced to 10 years. They included a relative of Chouman. Five others were ordered released.
Chouman's relative said he has 30 days to appeal the sentence. There was no immediate word from Emirati officials.
The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations, has joined the United States in slapping sanctions on Hezbollah's senior leadership, part of an effort to crack down on the group, a major ally of Iran.
The relative said Chouman, a resident of the Emirates for 15 years, was charged with being one of the leaders of a terrorist cell with links to Lebanon's Hezbollah group. Chouman was no longer held in solitary confinement after spending most of his detention period there.
The relative said Chouman has been denied access to his lawyer, echoing rights groups' complaints that the men had been poorly treated during their detention.
New York-based Human Rights Watch had said the trial was marred with violations and irregularities, including brief hearings closed to the public and lack of access to defense lawyers.
Hiba Zayadin, a Gulf researcher for HRW, said it was not clear what evidence the UAE authorities had on the men. She said four defendants had no access to defense lawyers throughout the trial.
Zayadin said two of the men told the judge during the last hearing before the sentencing that they were tortured and forced to sign confessions while blindfolded. Their claims were not investigated or independently verified, she said.
"It is appalling that the UAE would sentence a young man to life in prison and two others to 10 years following a trial dogged with allegations of torture and forced confessions," Zayadin said. "While it invests considerably in depicting itself as a progressive and tolerant state, the UAE's grossly unfair trials year after year show the country's true colors."
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had called on the Emirati authorities to release the eight in a message for the holy month of Ramadan earlier this month.
"We have all the proofs he is innocent," Chouman's relative said. "We need justice."
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