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UAE: British man files civil case against Emirati officials over detention and torture

Ali Issa Ahmad told MEE he was taking the action after being ignored by the British government for two years
Ali Issa Ahmad, pictured outside the Emirates stadium in London (supplied)

A British citizen who was "near killed" at the hands of UAE authorities while being detained in the country in 2019 is bringing a civil case against six officials he says were responsible for his abuse, telling Middle East Eye he had "waited too long" for the British government to do anything.

Ali Issa Ahmad, a 28-year-old from the city of Wolverhampton, was arrested in the UAE in 2019 after attending an Asian Cup football match there. He was detained between 23 January and 12 February 2019.

It is thought that he was arrested for wearing the football shirt of UAE's arch-rival Qatar, though the UAE has denied this.

During his time in prison, Ahmad was subjected to racial and psychological abuse and torture, including being beaten, electrocuted, cut and burned. At one point he was sent to a doctor and forced to sign a form saying that the injuries he suffered - including having one of his teeth knocked out - were self-inflicted.

'I’ve been abused and tortured and near killed in prison in the UAE… for wearing a football t-shirt. It’s unbelievable what they did to me'

- Ali Issa Ahmad

"I’ve been abused and tortured and near killed in prison in the UAE… for wearing a football t-shirt. It’s unbelievable what they did to me," he told MEE.

The day before he was due to appear in court, Ahmad said he was stabbed in the dark by an unknown assailant.

"I don’t know who did that - the authorities or the prisoners - they didn’t make any investigation into that," he explained.

The injury left him with a permanent scar and PTSD, though it missed vital organs.

When he finally appeared before a court on 12 February 2019, the judge accused him of "wasting police time".

"I said to the judge what happened to me and the judge said to me, ‘You want to finish and go home?’ and I said, ‘Definitely’, and then he decided to release me and fined me 1,500 UAE dirhams," said Ahmad.

"The same day they released me in the middle of the night without my documents or money or anything, they forced me to go out… they said to me you can come back in the morning and collect your stuff."

UK government inaction

After spending a night sleeping on the streets, Ahmad was able to collect his possessions and return on a plane to Birmingham.

The formal letters of claim, which were sent on Thursday in cooperation with law firm Carter Ruck, are seeking damages for false imprisonment, assault and battery, intentional infliction of harm including psychiatric harm, and negligence during his detention.

Among those he is bringing the case against are Major General Faris Khalaf al-Mazrouei, commander-in-chief of the Abu Dhabi Police, Major General Saif al-Zari al-Shamsi, commander-in-chief of the Sharjah Police and Counsellor Saqr Saif al-Naqbi, head of State Security Public Prosecution in Abu Dhabi.

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Ahmad said the decision to pursue the legal claim came after years of inaction from the British government.

He and his legal team had contacted the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in March 2019 to register a complaint and had been told diplomats had been “in touch with the appropriate people” but so far there has been no response.

"I've been waiting too long, and unfortunately the foreign office didn’t respond, so that’s why I decided to take this action against the people who were directly or indirectly involved in my case," he said.

His lawyers also submitted a complaint to FIFA over the incident. The international football body said it would meet with Ahmad and his representatives once Covid-19 travel restrictions were lifted.

MEE contacted the UAE embassy in London for comment but had not received a reply at time of publication.

'Little attention'

Rights campaigners have long highlighed the risks that foreign citizens, including British citizens, have faced while travelling to the UAE.

Some have called for the UK government to adjust the travel advice for the UAE on the FCO website to address the potential dangers faced of arbitrary detention.

At present the advice on the website warns that "showing sympathy for Qatar on social media or by any other means of communication is an offence" in the country. However, there is no suggestion that British citizens should avoid travel to the country, as there are with other countries considered risky.

Ahmad's case came less than a year after PhD student Matthew Hedges was also arrested in the UAE on allegations of spying.

'It’s not about the citizens, that’s the problem... our people are being held and treated badly and there’s no big action from the foreign office'

- Ali Issa Ahmad

His arrest and subsequent sentence to life imprisonment provoked an outcry in the UK, and following his sentence - and lobbying from the British government - Hedges was pardoned.

Though a number of news outlets covered Ahmad's imprisonment at the time, there has been far less attention paid to his situation, not least from British diplomats.

"I don’t know. This question is one you should ask the foreign office. I’m not sure why I have had so little attention from them," said Ahmad.

Speaking to MEE at the time, Hedges' wife Daniela Tejada said Ahmad's case raised "serious concerns over the increasing lack of freedom of speech and conscience in the UAE."

In a statement, the FCO said they would not comment on ongoing legal proceedings, but said they had supported Ahmad while he was detained, including "visiting him and speaking to him on the phone". They had also "maintained regular contact with the UAE police and court authorities to seek updates on his case."

“The government takes any allegations of torture and mistreatment very seriously and has raised Mr Ahmad’s claims directly with the UAE authorities," said a spokesperson.

Human rights record

The UAE has repeatedly been accused of employing extrajudicial methods to crack down on dissent within its borders and its record on human rights has been widely condemned.

A 2016 Amnesty International report said that forced disappearances were pervasive in the country. In 2018 the daughter of the prime minister of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, was kidnapped at sea after attempting to flee the country.

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Princess Latifa has since sent calls for help from her captivity in the UAE, while also calling for a renewed investigation into the disappearance of her sister, Shamsa, two decades ago.

Despite this, relations between the UK and UAE have remained strong. In March, the two countries launched a sovereign investment partnership worth almost £1bn, which the FCO said would "deepen existing UK-UAE trade and investment ties that were worth £32bn in 2019".

Ahmad and others have said there is too much concern from the UK government about maintaining good relations with the UAE and not enough attention being paid to abuses being committed.

“It’s not about the citizens, that’s the problem," he said.

"Our people are being held and treated badly and there’s no big action from the foreign office.”