A United Arab Emirates court, on Sunday, convicted and sentenced five political activists, after they were found guilty for "publicly insulting" the Gulf state's leaders by calling for protests. The five, arrested in April, have been on trial since June.

The accused - Ahmed Mansoor, Nasser bin Ghaith, Fahad Salim Dalk, Hassan Ali al-Khamis and Ahmed Abdul Khaleq - collectively known as the "UAE 5", were sentenced by the three-judge panel to two years in prison; the leader, Mansoor, was sentenced to three years, according to reports from Reuters.

Mansoor is a communications engineer and poet, whose works were published by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) and Nasser bin Gaith lectured at the Abu Dhabi branch of France's Sorbonne University.

The former was accused of running a Web site "Hiwar" ("Dialogue"), which was allegedly used to express anti-government views. The federal court has also ordered the closure of the Internet forum used by the activists, reported AFP.

Earlier this month, the trial was criticised as "grossly unfair", by a coalition of seven human rights' watchdogs - Amnesty International, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Front Line Defenders and Human Rights Watch, Alkarama (Dignity), the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and Index on Censorship. In a joint statement, the seven called for "all five to be released immediately and unconditionally," said an AFP report.

According to media reports, the five defendants were on a hunger strike and did not attend the trial verdict. In their message, the activists said the court "did not enable them to defend themselves".

The Supreme Court's verdict has drawn different reactions from the public.

"It is highly disturbing that after almost eight months in jail, these men get to spend more time locked up on these ridiculous charges," Human Rights Watch representative, Samer Muscati, who attended the trial, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post.

"This shows that in the UAE you are not guaranteed a fair trial," he added, charging that the trial was "flawed from day one," and pointing out the lawyers "couldn't cross-examine witnesses."

Khalifa al-Nuaimi, a relative of bin Ghaith, called the verdict "shocking and harsh".

However, a crowd of 200 people who had gathered opposite the court, agreed with the verdict.

"This verdict in itself could be considered a pardon," said Hamad Jaber, from Al-Ain city, to AFP.

A government employee, Mohammed al-Hossani, 33, also agreed with the leniency of the verdict, pointing out that in his opinion "this was a case of incitement, not just a matter of expressing opinion."