Security officials and politicians from the United Arab Emirates allegedly authorised the torture of three Qatari citizens in the UAE. Scotland Yard’s war crimes unit is assessing a request to launch a probe into the case.
The legal application, which concerns involving the British police in a Gulf human rights issue through the UK’s powers of universal jurisdiction over serious crimes, is likely to become a cause of embarrassment for the government. The three male complainants arrived in London this week. They are professional Qataris who were detained in the UAE in 2013 and 2014, with one of them held for more than two years. They were finally released early in 2015.
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The men claimed they were beaten, given electric shocks, hung upside down, drugged, locked in solitary confinement and threatened with death. One of them was accused of being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Two of the men say they were forced to record false statements admitting to charges of sedition and defamation in return for promises of early release. However, the promises were not kept and the Qataris were jailed.
Their confessions were aired on television in Abu Dhabi in June, after relations between Qatar and other Gulf states worsened. The broadcasts persuaded the men to seek justice in the UK. The plight of the men was also emphasised by Amnesty International.
The Scotland Yard has confirmed that its war crimes department has started a preliminary assessment of their evidence. The police has provided a list of 10 names of UAE officials, including at least one politician of cabinet rank. Upon issuance of an arrest warrant, the officials could be detained if they travel to the UK. British citizens have made several complaints of torture and mistreatment in the UAE. The United Nations and human rights organisations have condemned the country’s human rights records on detainees.
David Haigh, former Leeds United managing director, claimed he was continuously tortured and abused while in prison in Dubai. Haigh was accused of fraud in Dubai and was freed after 23 months in jail. He said he experienced five “serious episodes” of physical abuse, and saw other prisoners being tortured.
Dr Mahmoud Abdul Rahman Al Jaidah, Hamad Ali Muhammad Ali Al Hammadi and Yousef Abdul Samad Al Mullah are the three Qataris who have submitted their complaints to the Metropolitan police. They have not yet been formally interviewed.
Al Jaidah is director of medical services at Qatar Petroleum, Al Hammadi is personal assistant to the chief of Qatar’s state security service and Al Mullah works for the Qatari ministry of the interior.
Al Jaidah was arrested as he reached Dubai airport in February 2013. He says that he asked to talk to a lawyer and his country’s embassy but was blindfolded and taken to a detention centre.
Al Hammadi and Al Mullah were also blindfolded and handcuffed as they arrived by road at the UAE border with Saudi Arabia in June 2014.
“I wasn’t allowed to sleep for three days,” Al Jaidah told the Guardian. “They kept questioning me. They beat me on the legs and they punched me in the stomach. I was kept in solitary confinement for eight and a half months.”
He claimed he was given water with drugs added in it in order to make him talk. He also said he was hung upside down and given electric shocks.
Al Hammadi alleged that the UAE officials forcibly drew a large quantity of blood from him.
“I was kept in solitary confinement in a cell that was two metres by three metres,” he said. “There was no ventilation, no windows and lights were on 24 hours a day.”
He suffers from kidney disease but was refused the necessary amount of water for his health, he said.
“They hung me upside down. They beat me with a stick and gave me electric shocks. They didn’t allow me to pray. They threatened to pull out my nails and to kill me. They kept me in handcuffs that were too tight,” he added.
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Al Mullah claimed he was detained for nine months without being charged with any offence.
“I did not know what was going to happen. I was kept in solitary confinement without any natural light. I was not beaten or tortured but was humiliated and could not sleep,” he said.
Such treatment eventually led to the dissolution of his marriage.
A record of evidence from the Qataris and legal submissions have been provided to Scotland Yard by Rodney Dixon QC of Temple Garden Chambers, an expert in international and human rights law.
He said, “We have highlighted in our file that there’s a history of widespread, systematic torture in the UAE. The police have said they will commence a scoping exercise in accordance with joint police [and] Crown Prosecution Service guidelines.”
We can confirm that we have received a referral [on September 12] relating to an allegation of torture in the United Arab Emirates between 2013 and 2015. The referral is being assessed by officers from the Met police war crimes team,” said a spokesperson for Scotland Yard.
Certain serious crimes, such as piracy, war crimes, genocide, torture, crimes against humanity and hostage taking, can be tried in UK courts. Irrespective of the location of the crime and the nationality of the victims, the universal jurisdiction formulated under the Geneva conventions on the laws of war, allows such trials in UK courts.
The legal principle, legislated through section 134 of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, was employed when the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was detained in London in 1998. In 2009, an arrest warrant was issued by a British judge against Tzipi Livni, who had been Israel’s foreign minister during the country’s attack on Gaza.
The law was amended after the Livni case, allowing the police to approve the evidence before arrests could be made. The director of public prosecutions has to authorise the process and a magistrate at Westminster magistrates court must issue an arrest warrant.
The UAE embassy did not immediately respond to request for a statement.
This story originally appeared in the Guardian.
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