British expats 'tortured and abused in UAE prisons'

British expats 'tortured and abused in UAE prisons'
Investigative report sheds new light on previously unknown cases involving the alleged torture, sexual abuse and even deaths of British citizens while in custody in the United Arab Emirates.
4 min read
27 March, 2018
British expats say they were detained unlawfully and tortured by Emirati authorities [Al-Araby TV]

A report aired on Monday by London-based Al-Araby TV has shed new light on cases involving the alleged torture, massive abuse and even deaths of British citizens while in custody in the United Arab Emirates.

Saying it wanted to highlight the "other face of the happy state", in reference to the UAE's recent happiness agenda initiative, the investigative report on the show 'Shifra [Cyphre]' included direct witness testimonies from British expats about their experiences in Abu Dhabi and Dubai prisons.

One British citizen interviewed by Al-Araby TV was David Haigh, who recounted the alleged torture and abuse against him in custody.

The former Leeds United managing director, whose case was the focus of a lenghty Telegraph expose last year, was detained on the back of a financial dispute with an Emirati firm.

He was held without charge for 14 months in a Dubai prison, then spent another five months behind bars for 'Twitter abuse' before being released in March 2016 without charges brought.

Haigh had returned to Dubai in May 2014 to agree a settlement on money he says he was owed from his former employers there.

He told Al-Araby TV that at the airport, instead of his employers, an Emirati man in a baseball cap was waiting for him. He said the man then took him to a police station where the British citizen, a gay man, was beaten and abused "just short of sexual assault". 

Throughout his detention, he received electric shocks and beatings, for which he had had to go through several medical procedures after his release, he says.

"They tried to force me to confess to a crime I did not commit," Haigh told Al-Araby TV. Al-Araby TV is part of Fadaat Media, the same group that publishes The New Arab.

Haigh has since won a case at the High Court in London to gain access to his frozen assets in the UAE to cover medical costs and legal fees.

According to The Telegraph, Haigh then lodged a formal dossier of his treatment in Dubai with the United Nations panel, which examines arbitrary incarceration and abuse of prisoners in jails around the world.

He also teamed up with Radha Stirling, founder of the Detained in Dubai campaign group, to establish Stirling-Haigh, in an effort to fight for those denied their basic human rights.

'Systematic abuse'

Al-Araby TV also addressed the cases of other Britons who have had similar experiences, reflecting the apparently systematic wrongful treatment and/or abuse in custody in the UAE including:
  • Gary Black, former father-in-law of an Emirati officer who allegedly invented charges of embezzlement against him following a family dispute. The officer tried to have him extradited to the Emirates for trial but a judge in the UK said there was a "real risk that if he is returned he will be subjected to torture, inhumane or degrading treatment" in the Gulf state.
  • Billy Barclay, a tourist who was forcibly disappeared for several days in the UAE following trumped-up charges of carrying counterfeit money. He says he spent his family's life savings on legal and living expenses, before the British NGO Detained In Dubai secured his release via a worldwide media campaign.
  • Luisa Williams, a cancer patient and humanitarian worker who was incarcerated after she appealed on Facebook for volunteers for a water distribution campaign, when UAE laws prevent "unlicenced" NGOs. She was eventually released after worldwide condemnation.
  • Lee Bradley Brown, a British tourist allegedly beaten to death by officers in a Dubai police station after being arrested for "swearing".
  • Lucas Belmonte, who remains detained in the UAE over alleged credit card fraud. Detained in Dubai said he signed a confession in Arabic under duress.

Al-Araby TV said it had asked the UAE embassy in London for comment, but had not received a response.

British government officials also declined to comment on the substance of the report, saying UK authorities continuously follow up the cases of British citizens abroad.

The UAE has been consistently crticised for its vague laws, oversized police powers, forced disappearances and detention without charge against ordinary citizens and expats.

There have also been reports of prisoners being tortured in UAE prisons, left vulnerable to sexual abuse or placed into solitary confinement. 

In September, Qatari citizens brought a major lawsuit in Britain against the UAE over their alleged torture.

The UAE has become increasingly authoritarian, with a major crackdown on activists since the 2011 Arab Spring. Authorities have also been accused of suppressing free speech and "terrorising residents" through mass-surveillence.

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