23 Jan 2018 – 10:36

UAE officials under investigation in UK for torture of Qatari nationals

File picture used for representation.

By Barbara Bibbo | Al Jazeera

Geneva, Switzerland: The UK police is actively investigating a group of United Arab Emirates officials for torture and cruel treatment inflicted on several Qatari nationals, a human rights lawyer has said.

The Emiratis may be questioned and arrested if they were to enter the UK under the principle of universal jurisdiction, says Rodney Dixon, a barrister at Temple Garden Chambers representing three Qatari nationals, who were imprisoned and tortured between 2013 and 2015 in Emirati prisons.

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“We provided information about 10 suspects. All of them are Emiratis in official positions who were either directly involved in acts of torture or were superiors in charge, who failed to prevent torture to happen under their chain of command,” Dixon told Al Jazeera on Monday.

The three Qatari nationals – Mahmoud al-Jaidah, Hamed al-Hammadi and Yousef al-Mulla – were taken into custody and held without charge by the UAE authorities at different times between 2013 and 2015.

Speaking to the press in Geneva, Mahmoud al-Jaidah, a 56-year-old medical practitioner at Qatar Petroleum, said he was arrested at Dubai airport and held without charge for 27 months between February 2013 and May 2015.

He was held in solitary confinement for seven months, deprived of sleep, beaten up and threatened to be electrocuted, until he was forced to sign a 37-page false confession.

“The torture I was exposed to was unbearable. A man would admit to anything under those conditions. However, I didn’t know what I was signing,” said al-Jaidah, who has suffered from post-traumatic disorder and depression ever since.

Arbitrary detention

Al-Jaidah and the other victims of torture in the UAE prisons reported the same ordeal: arbitrary detention, solitary confinement, torture and forcible confessions extracted either under threat or with the promise of a speedy release.

“This is a recurring pattern in the UAE, which is of grave concern and has been highlighted also by the UN high commissioner for human rights. The commissioner has raised very serious questions about the UAE [judicial] system,” said Dixon.

Toby Cadman, a lawyer specialising in human rights, said victims of torture in the UAE are seeking justice in the UK and other countries because the UAE’s judicial system lacks independence and the procedural safeguards simply do not exist.

“We don’t have the ability to ensure enforcement of these rights in the UAE, which is deeply regrettable,” said Cadman, who represents David Haigh, a British national who was allegedly imprisoned without charge and subjected to brutal forms of torture in UAE prisons for 22 months.

“What we are seeing is a system which is abused by individuals in positions of power and a complete vacuum of accountability. It is the UAE’s responsibility to implement a system whereby there is judicial independence and scrutiny of their criminal justice and their penal system.”

Lawyers and victims say there is a culture of fear for those who fall into the hands of the UAE authorities and are arbitrarily arrested, in many cases for the most ludicrous allegations.

“We call upon the UAE to fundamentally reform their criminal justice system, and upon the UN to conduct a greater detailed assessment of the UAE system through the special procedures and working groups,” Cadman said.

Commercial interests

Lawyers also raise concerns about the presence of international judges in Dubai courts [DIFC Courts for example], who lend credibility and legitimacy to a process that they say is used and abused to detain political opponents and individuals who are vulnerable due to their commercial interests, as in the case of Haigh.

Haigh, a former managing director of Leeds United, a leading English football club, flew to Dubai to solve a commercial dispute but, within hours of stepping off the plane, he was arrested and held in a prison for 22 months, during which he was allegedly starved, beaten, electrocuted and raped.

“I was tricked into going to Dubai,” he said.

“I had no idea that what should have been a straightforward business deal would very quickly destroy my life. I now know that the people I was doing business with – people who had direct connections to the UAE government – were complicit in this.”

Haigh was told to sign a confession and settlement agreement if he wanted to be released.

Haigh announced this week the creation of a Swiss-based association to assist other survivors of torture in the UAE and bring the offenders to justice.

He said he was aware of at least 40 cases of torture and arbitrary detention in UAE prisons.

One is that of Lee Bradley Brown, who did not make it and died in custody following allegations he was beaten and tortured by the police while in detention for six days, Haigh said.

“The UAE is safe in the knowledge that there is no real consequence for its actions, and therefore there is no incentive to change. Four years on, I am still fighting for justice for myself from the UAE, even an apology would be a start,” Haigh said.

On Monday the UAE’s human-rights record came under scrutiny at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the UN Universal Period Review.