But the family of Libyan-Canadian Salim Alaradi fears new charges have been filed to force a guilty verdict in the heavily criticised case
TORONTO, Canada - The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dropped terrorism charges against Libyan-Canadian businessman Salim Alaradi and three co-accused Libyan nationals, Alaradi’s Canadian lawyer has confirmed.
Paul Champ told Middle East Eye the prosecutor dropped the terrorism charges against the men during a hearing on Monday in Abu Dhabi, and filed new charges under the country’s penal code.
“It was quite a dramatic turn of events,” Champ said. “Mr Alaradi has been in prison for over 18 months. You would think that the state security prosecutor would know what kind of charges they’re pursuing after all this time.”
Alaradi, Libyan-Americans Kamal and Mohammad Eldarat, who are father and son, and Libyan Essa al-Manna were previously charged under the UAE’s 2014 counterterrorism law.
They were accused of providing financial support for and cooperating with Libya-based groups Libya Dawn and the February 17 Brigade, which were formed during the country’s 2011 revolution.
Alaradi pleaded not guilty to the charges at a previous hearing on 18 January.
Champ said the four men now face two charges under the Emirati penal code: providing supplies to groups in a foreign country without the approval of the UAE government and raising money for foreign groups without the UAE’s approval.
“These are offences under the penal code, but are far less serious in nature and obviously they no longer have the stigma attached of being associated with terrorism,” Champ said.
Forcing a guilty verdict?
Alaradi was among 10 Libyan businessmen detained and charged with similar, terrorism-related offences in the UAE during the summer of 2014. Two Libyans, Adel Rajab Beleid Nassif and Muaz Mohammed Habib al-Hashemi, were acquitted last week of charges of supporting and joining groups that Libya has labelled as terrorist organisations.
“I think that the state security prosecutor was actually concerned that Mr Alaradi was going to be acquitted of these serious charges,” Champ said. “They’re changing track to try to salvage their case.”
In court on Monday, a UAE national testified that Alaradi and his co-accused sent humanitarian supplies and donations to the Libyan National Transition Government with the permission of UAE government officials, according to the Free Salim Alaradi Campaign.
“This testimony refuted the new charges introduced today by the prosecutor,” the group said in a statement.
But Alaradi’s eldest daughter, 18-year-old Marwa, said the family fears the lesser charges were filed in an effort to force a guilty verdict in the case, which has been strongly criticised by international human rights groups.
She accused the UAE of “playing a game” in her father’s case.
“Now that they have changed the charges, it shows that my father has nothing to do with terrorist activities and he’s innocent and that’s what I’ve been saying all this time,” Marwa, who lives in Windsor, Ontario, with her mother and four younger siblings, told Middle East Eye.
“I feel that the charges are better than terrorist-related charges, of course, but at the same time the UAE are trying to complicate things and not bring things to a conclusion,” Marwa said.
Alaradi, 47, was born in Libya and immigrated to Canada from the UAE in 1998, according to the Canadian Press. He returned to the UAE in 2007 to run a home-appliance business with his brother.
The father of five was arrested from a hotel in Dubai in June 2014 while on a vacation with his family, and he has now been detained for more than 570 days.
Confessions based on torture
In mid-February, a United Nations panel of experts said Alaradi and several other men have been detained arbitrarily and called on the UAE to release them immediately and unconditionally.
“We have received credible information according to which the detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions,” the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E Mendez, said in a statement.
“The suspects have been also allegedly held incommunicado in secret detention locations and in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. This is very troubling as it reinforces the risks of being tortured or ill-treated.”
Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, also reported that strong evidence shows the UAE runs a facility outside Abu Dhabi “where security forces torture detainees while keeping their location secret”.
“Any confessions or so-called intelligence that comes out of that facility should be considered inadmissible and unreliable,” Stork said in a statement last December.
In court on Monday, the prosecution presented a doctor’s report concluded that none of the accused was subjected to torture, Champ said. But he said the medical exam carried out on Alaradi lasted less than 10 minutes, and the process was riddled with flaws.
For example, when Alaradi told the doctor about problems he has been having with his hearing and eyesight, and pain in his back and feet, as a result of his treatment in prison, “the doctor wasn’t interested in looking into any of those matters and didn’t conduct any examination or test whatsoever,” Champ said.
“Obviously we didn’t have a lot of confidence in the value of that examination and the independence of that examination.”
The family has long maintained that Alaradi was tortured into signing a confession during his interrogation. Champ said the case against Alaradi is still entirely built on that confession, which he said “shouldn’t be admissible in any court in the world”.
Calling for Canada’s intervention
Champ said the Canadian ambassador to the UAE, Arif Lalani, was in the courtroom on Monday, and Canadian consular officials have attended all the hearings in the trial so far. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 11 April.
Marwa Alaradi, meanwhile, called on Canada to do more to bring her father home, including negotiating directly with UAE government officials.
She told MEE she was upset to see a photo earlier this week of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posing with the UAE ambassador to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, during his visit to New York last week.
— UAE Mission to UN (@UAEMissionToUN) March 16, 2016
“He knows that my father (is) a Canadian citizen who has been tortured and his basic human rights were violated, and he’s taking a selfie with an ambassador of a country that violated his human rights,” Marwa said.
“I hope that the Canadians will end this horrible story and just get our father back home to us.”