More than a dozen Twitter users facing legal action from a prominent preacher they criticised online were exercising "freedom of expression", an Abu Dhabi court heard.
Waseem Yousef, a preacher at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and a well-known TV personality in the UAE, said he was defamed by “bullying” attacks on social media last year.
The alleged insults came after comments he made about Sahih Al Bukhari, one of six major collections of sayings and actions of the Prophet Mohammed.
Mr Yousef claimed not everything in the book should be taken as the “ultimate truth”, sparking an online backlash.
On Monday, 19 defendants who Mr Yousef had accused of defaming him on social media appeared at Abu Dhabi’s Court of Misdemeanour.
The case was back in court on Thursday, when defence lawyers representing 16 of the accused called for Mr Yousef to appear at the next hearing.
Ibrahim Al Tamimi, speaking on behalf of the defence team, asked for video footage of the comments made by Mr Yousef to be played at the next court hearing.
“The defendants were practicing freedom of expression,” he said.
Mudheya Al Minhali, representing Mr Yousef, requested the trial be held behind closed doors.
The defence team objected to the request, insisting the case was of public interest.
Mr Yousef previously said he believed those who attacked him had overstepped the mark and should be held to account.
“I was very patient but they overdid it,” he wrote on Twitter. “They bullied me and used bad manners and swear words.
“Therefore, I swear to God I will not give up on my right … and justice will stand between us.”
The case was adjourned until February 5 for the court to rule on this point and decide if Mr Yousef should be present at the next hearing.