Former prisoners warn of 'high risks' of travelling to UAE
An international group of ex-prisoners of the UAE has urged governments to warn about travelling to the Gulf state due to the danger of "indefinite, incommunicado detention without appeal".
The Tuesday statement by the group of US, UK, Australian and South African citizens was issued to coincide with the United Nations’ International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
In a letter sent to the foreign offices of each individual’s government, the former prisoners urged countries "to protect the safety of their citizens” by warning that going to the UAE involves the “significant risk" of being held without trial, appeal or access to family, friends and legal representation.
Among the signatories is British citizen David Haigh, who was released from prison in Dubai this April after spending 22 months locked up on fraud charges. Haigh is the former managing director of Leeds United football club accused of fraud by his former employer, Dubai-based private equity group GFH Capital.
Haigh has maintained his innocence and alleges he was beaten, tasered, and sexually assaulted by guards at Dubai Central Prison.
American Shezanne Cassim also signed the letter. He spent nine months in prison after UAE authorities arrested him in 2013 for threatening national security by producing a comedy video about life in Dubai.
Cassim spent a large part of his childhood in Dubai and was forced to give up his job in the UAE after he was released from a maximum security prison.
Haigh and Cassim along with their other co-signatories called for Emirati officials “complicit in human rights violations” to be denied visas in order to “deter future abuses”.
“The UAE justice system deprived us of liberty without justification, subjected us to harm, and kept us hostage from our families, our lives, and our livelihoods with no restriction or accountability,” the letter’s signatories said in a statement.
“The personal safety of all those travelling to and residing in the UAE is at serious and increasing risk from the actions of officials in the UAE justice system.”
The State Department already warns those travelling to the UAE that authorities there are sensitive to content posted to Twitter and YouTube.
Its travel advisory also informs Americans that penalties for breaking the law in the UAE are “more severe” than in the US and that “convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences, heavy fines, and deportation”.
A State Department spokesperson would not say whether they would consider the former UAE prisoners’ call for visa bans on Emirati officials.
“The protection of US citizens overseas is one of the Department of State’s highest priorities,” a spokesperson said. “Accordingly, we provide security and safety information through our Consular Information Program to US citizens.
“Assessments are based on reports from US embassies and consulates, other department bureaus, media outlets, and other foreign and US government sources.”
Britain also warns in its travel advice that there can be “serious penalties” in the UAE for activities that may be legal in the UK.
A Foriegn Office spokesperson said: "Our staff around the globe work tirelessly to support Britons in need of assistance. This includes in the UAE, where our staff maintain regular contact with all prisoners who have requested assistance. We take all allegations or concerns of torture and mistreatment seriously and raise these with the Emirati authorities where we have permission from the individual.”
Advocacy groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have regularly reported on alleged mistreatment and torture within the UAE prison system.
Allegations of abuse regularly arise from inmates, particularly in cases involving national security, but authorities have repeatedly refused the rights groups the ability to assess conditions in detention facilities.
Emirati authorities have also consistently dismissed allegations of mistreatment and torture as being unsubstantiated.
Despite being released and now back in Britain, Haigh told MEE he would continue to seek justice for his alleged mistreatment.
Haigh said he is receiving ongoing medical treatment for post traumatic stress disorder and “fractures all over his body” caused by beatings from Dubai prison guards.
“When I was first detained they said things like ‘we kill British people here’,” he told MEE. “They can’t just wrongly convict someone, cover up torture, and just get away with it.
“I’m going to name and shame the people who tortured and abused me. I’m not going to be quiet.”
Haigh said he was in the process of taking his case to the United Nations and would set up a charity to aid poor inmates in UAE.
Cassim said that despite being free, the impact of being imprisoned in Dubai had continued - including “derailing” his career and “bankrupting” his family who spent their life savings on an Emirati lawyer they were denied access to.
Since returning home Cassim has sought a pardon and compensation from UAE authorities, as he has struggled to find a job due to the criminal record he brought back from Dubai.
“People who have not experienced being wrongfully imprisoned might think that once you are out of prison everything goes back to normal,” he told MEE.
“But in reality, the consequences are drawn out and can be utterly life destroying.”
“I have reached out to the UAE several times asking them to fix their mistake. I have been ignored at every instance.
“Because the UAE refuses to hold its officials to account, UAE authorities continue to commit human rights violations with impunity.
"The international community needs to hold the UAE accountable.”