According to Amnesty International, the indictment, charges, defence lawyers and names of defendants were “kept secret by the government”.

It said details were only known through “leaks”.

HRW identified three of those sentenced to life in prison were Nasser bin Ghaith, Abdulsalam Darwish al-Marzouqi and Sultan Bin Kayed al-Qasimi. Prominent activist Ahmed Mansoor was among the defendants, it added.

Reacting to the sentencings, Amnesty International’s Devin Kenney urged the UAE to “urgently revoke this unlawful verdict” and called on those sentenced to be released.

“The trial has been a shameless parody of justice and violated multiple fundamental principles of law, including the principle that you cannot try the same person twice for the same crime, and the principle that you cannot punish people retroactively under laws that didn’t exist at the time of the alleged offence.”

Khalid Ibrahim of the Gulf Center for Human Rights, on whose board Ahmed Mansoor sits, said: “It is a real tragedy that so many activists and human rights defenders will remain in prison for decades, deprived of watching their children grow up, for no other reason than calling for a better future for Emiratis.”

Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the Middle East and promoting high-tech sectors and innovations, the UAE remains restrictive on political activity.

The federation of seven emirates, which include Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has no official opposition and bans political parties.

In 2013, almost 70 Islamists were given jail sentences over an alleged plot to overthrow the government.

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