Amid the Arab Spring unrest seen among many of its neighbors, the United Arab Emirates has painted itself as a bastion of stability and progress.
But the outcome of a trial this week will mark the culmination of the wealthy Gulf state's little-publicized crackdown on domestic dissent, which critics say has been marked by torture and partiality.
Among the 94 defendants who will face sentencing on July 2 in Abu Dhabi are judges, lawyers, civil servants, and even a relative of a senior royal in one of the country's seven sheikhdoms. Authorities accuse all of them of being members of a secretive, Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization aimed at toppling the UAE's system of hereditary monarchy.
Rights groups say that the trial of 94 has been carried out based on evidence obtained via torture and is part of a broader attempt to root out potential unrest before it has time to flourish into mass demonstrations such as those seen in Egypt and Bahrain.
"There are very credible allegations of torture that we have," said Nicholas McGeehan, a researcher at lobbyist group Human Rights Watch. According to letters smuggled out by some defendants and obtained by Human Rights Watch, sleep deprivation and solitary confinement were routinely used to extract confessions, with the worst cases involving threats of nail extraction, severe beatings, and mock executions. "There needs to be an independent investigation into these allegations - evidence secured by torture is inadmissible," added McGeehan.