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14 Years: Detained in Dubai

Detained in Dubai reflects on 14 years of service

“It is such an honour to be approaching a decade and a half of service”, said Radha Stirling, the organisation’s founder, who has faced great triumphs and adversity over her years of defending victims in the Middle East. “The tragedies, the sleepless nights, the hackers and spies, the autocratic rulers combined with great victories, change and life changing moments. There is never a dull moment at Detained in Dubai.

Stirling founded Detained in Dubai in 2008 during her advocacy for friend, Cat Le-Huey:

“We have highlighted systemic issues within the UAE’s judicial system, those of corruption, police brutality, forced confessions and wrongful prosecutions and we highlighted legislative concerns in desperate need of review. In doing so, we have managed to save thousands of people from arbitrary detention and human rights violations.

“For over a decade, we have been the most outspoken critics of Interpol, the crime reporting organisation, notorious for corruption and ‘pay to play’ membership. We’ve managed to raise the unfair detentions of Conor Howard and Robert Urwin in Parliament and escalate the issue of Interpol Abuse to policy influencers in Washington DC. After assisting in hundreds of Interpol and Extradition injustices, we are now working to shift policy and make Interpol legally accountable. In 2010, I worked with Australian senators to successfully enshrine human rights provisions into the extradition treaty with the UAE. With a class action in preparation, we expect the climate within Interpol to shift, ultimately leading to further protections against the misuse of Interpol’s databases that result in lengthy and unfair detentions abroad. Interpol Abuse has become such a huge issue that it was necessary to found IPEX (Interpol and Extradition) Reform to fully support this campaign. We are proud to have prevented extraditions to countries like the UAE, Qatar, Saudi, Korea, Russia and Egypt but the battle continues, with Interpol having controversially elected the UAE to their Presidency.

“Outrageously, we have seen everything from a flight attendant arrested from a restaurant in Rome, to a police officer pulled from his car in Cornwall over small credit card debts. We have continued to support expats resolve their debt situations, protecting them from further escalation and from being reported to Interpol. In highlighting these unfair cases, we note the UAE has responded by implementing bankruptcy laws, reducing criminal sentences for financial crimes and now we are seeing that bounced cheques are to be decriminalised except in cases of fraud. In practicality, these changes have failed to protect most expats, but it is heartening to see that there is movement in the right direction.

“But this pales in comparison to the more heinous crimes that have emerged from Middle Eastern state actors, including the murder in police custody of Lee Bradley Brown. More than ten years ago, I received desperate phone calls from fellow inmates who described his violent death at the hands of police officers and only now, is there a final Inquest into his death where I will give evidence later in the year. Dubai’s government retracted their promise to share CCTV footage with the British government and until now, have not been held to account for his gruesome death.

“The UAE could get away with anything at this point, and so the torture did not stop. The forced confessions, beatings, rape, electrocutions, hog-tying, freezing conditions, deprivation of water and contact with the outside world. Unbelievably, we saw leaked video footage of a man being repeatedly driven over in the desert, a case which was settled out of court in the US and of course, we saw Princess Latifa’s video testimony of her own imprisonment and torture.

“We have heard it all and even as late as 2021, a British national was admitted to hospital with broken bones at the hands of prison guards. The testimonies from victims are heartbreaking. We have continued to raise these abuses to the media, governments and to the United Nations, significantly pressuring the UAE to put an end to the mistreatment of prisoners.

“Sadly, torture victim Artur Ligeska died last year after struggling to rebuild his life following his exoneration from fabricated charges against him in Abu Dhabi. Artur told his story in his book and documentaries, leaving a legacy of activism behind him. Artur was a good friend of mine who touched the hearts of many. He is dearly missed.

“In 2018, Hervé Jaubert and Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum contacted me from onboard US flagged yacht, Nostromo before they were kidnapped by UAE and Indian military forces. Nothing could have prepared us for this unprecedented and dramatic event. When Latifa called me from the yacht in the middle of the attack, I swung into immediate action, securing her video testimony, raising the abduction to authorities in the UK, UAE, India and the US, and enlisting Queen's Counsel to immediately raise their abduction to the United Nations.

“For anyone who followed this case, they will know that the UAE pulled out every dirty trick they could to discredit the story. They released photos of a different Latifa to confuse the media, employed a disinformation campaign against us in an attempt to discredit the source of information, instructed ‘hackers’ and intelligence agencies to target us and of course, recruited help from people like Mary Robinson to try to cover up their crimes. It was high stakes and it was personal.

“After significant campaigning, countering UAE smear attempts, lobbying US policy centres and even raising it on mainstream broadcasts like the BBC and Sean Hannity, the United Nations was forced to insist on Latifa’s release, the FBI was exposed for assisting the UAE with White House Press Secretary Psaki deflecting a question on the issue. Princess Haya, who had previously supported Sheikh Mohammed’s stance on Latifa, became entrawled in divorce proceedings with the Dubai ruler, reversing her position and supporting Princess Latifa. Sheikh Mohammed was forced to confront the issue and with Latifa’s newly enlisted cooperation, photographed her in various locations to satisfy the neverending proof of life requests. Jaubert, journalists and I then received letters from a UK law firm, purporting to represent Latifa, requesting silence and privacy. For most, Latifa’s case remains unsolved and though at least it appears she may have made an agreement that is satisfactory to her, most remain sceptical as to her true situation. Following pressure from Detained in Dubai, Mary Robinson issued an apology for her role in supporting the UAE by claiming Latifa was “safe and free”. Princess Haya later received a £500m divorce settlement in British courts.

“Following my appearance in ‘Escape from Dubai’, ‘60 Minutes’ and representations to the United Nations and US authorities, Sheikh Mohammed became a controversial figure, leading the Queen of England to seek to avoid public engagements with the Dubai ruler.

“Women’s rights in the UAE continue to deserve attention. On the one hand, we can see women in board positions, in sports and government and yet we still have female guardianship and their freedom, it appears, is only by virtue of the fact that a male has permitted it. Sheikha Zeynab released a desperate plea on Instagram as her children were imminently to be removed from her. She was not heard from publicly again and there are certainly concerns for her wellbeing. Emirati woman, Hind Al Balooki dramatically escaped abuse following in Latifa’s footsteps. We also saw the murder of Jane Matthew by her husband. She was hit over the head with a hammer while she lay sleeping in bed. Her family has been outraged that her husband was served with less time than someone who may have bounced a cheque. There has been a history of female rape victims being charged with ‘having sex outside marriage’ but fortunately after many public cases, like that of Alicia Gali and Roxanne Hillier, we have finally seen the decriminalisation of sex outside marriage. That’s not to say that adultery will go unpunished but unmarried couples should no longer be prosecuted for extramarrital sex or co-habitating.

“On a regular basis, we still receive calls from desperate women in a male dominated legal system. Child custody issues can be unbelievable and in favour of men, while others have been asked to provide testimony from muslim men that they are good mothers, even when they have a UK issued court order and have had custody for years. This shows just how much improvement is needed before the UAE can be considered a safe place for expats who could fall foul of the law.

“Along with the usual ‘offensive behaviour’ charges that have often plagued tourists, the UAE went a step further when they enacted the extremely strict cybercrime laws that were also vague in nature, essentially criminalising almost every visitor to the country. Countless foreigners were arrested in charged with violations ranging from sharing charities on social media to derogatory comments and even for private WhatsApp communications between husband and wife or flatmates. The UAE made it very clear that criticism of the government, the rulers or the country would not be tolerated. Free speech was completely killed and journalists feared they could be jailed for their objective writing. While we managed to secure the freedom of people like Laleh Shahravesh and Scott Richards, without intervention, they would have faced years in prison.

Scott Richards was released three weeks after his arrest:

“We have seen an increase in locals and expats alike, seeking to profit from arrests by seeking out detainees and promising to negotiate their release or use their influence.

Millions of dollars have been scammed by those already victimised by a legal system in need of refurbishment. These scams have appeared to benefit authorities and even police. The extent of the corruption needs to be investigated as it further tarnishes Dubai’s image.

“And while the spotlight is usually on the major tourist destination of Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah has tried to place itself as a close competitor with new beach resorts and less restrictive business practice, but it is known as the ‘wild west of the Emirates’ and RAK has not let itself down. Not only did the public case of Billy Barclay’s arrest draw attention to the Emirate, but the ruler and his lawyers and employees have been sued for the torture of foreign nationals within their prison, and for instructing Israeli and Indian intelligence agencies like Bluehawk CI to go after adversaries, including myself. We are working with leading litigation support agencies and top lawyers to seek justice for the victims of Ras Al Khaimah and to expose the corrupt and abusive regime of Sheikh Saud.

“The UAE and Israel have had a strong behind the scenes cooperation for some time, recently brought to the surface as part of the Abraham Accords. When the borders were opened to Israeli visitors, it was not long before tourists were arrested for things like ‘offensive behaviour’. Israel was new to the UAE and had not previously reported the past 12 years of petty arrests and it was important I summarised the risks, authoring articles for their most read newspapers.

“A common theme over time has been false allegations against businessmen as a means to loot their companies and assets. Not only has this resulted in lengthy and unfair detention or Interpol and extradition proceedings, but it has literally ruined their lives and in many cases, their reputations. The severity of this can not be underestimated and we have ensured clients get the opportunity to fully defend themselves and their reputations through access to the media and extraterritorial litigations.

“One of the great rewards that has made us more effective has been the relationships developed with politicians, think tanks, foreign diplomats, embassies and the media. We’ve worked closely with heads of state, foreign secretaries and diplomats to achieve positive outcomes for all concerned. Indeed, the UAE has been open to rectifying injustices and to working with their allies but our media connections have provided us with the incentive to politicians to make representations on behalf of victims. Since Cat Le-Huy’s detention in 2008, our media connections worldwide have been an important part of being able to protect human rights in the Gulf. From the BBC to 60 Minutes, CNN to Fox and the world’s most read media, we have not been able to thank them enough for their ethical coverage of our cases. The Daily Beast and Reuters, for example, have actively assisted us in investigations into authorities and intelligence agencies and to expose criminal acts against us and our clients.

“As well as exposing wrongdoing in law enforcement agencies though, we have worked closely with authorities to expose corruption, money laundering and ponzi schemes throughout the Middle East, the United States and Canada, including the notorious Gold AE scam.

“And our natural path has led us to help people all over the Middle East and increasingly, internationally, leading us to found Due Process International where we have taken on cases in the US, Papua New Guinea and South America. The Gulf in Justice Podcast was founded just last year and has already interviewed prominent politicians, businessmen and clients and been covered in the media. Increasingly, we have been asked to appear on other Podcasts like the LA Times’ “Convicted” with cybercrime law victim, Nichole Coffel.

“Perhaps the last year or two have been the most important so far. I have spoken at the Offshore Alert Conference, the Heritage Foundation, Frontiers of Freedom and Skyline, warning and informing investors and influencers of reforms that need to be made in order to safeguard individuals and investors from abuse, as well as preserve a cooperative alliance where belligerent and criminal acts are no longer tolerated. Our work is not only helping individuals on a case by case basis, it’s about future safety and security for governmental relations, as well as individuals. This involves influencing legal changes that promote transparency and accountability through legislatures, political figures and think tanks like Chatham House and Heritage.

“The past year saw China’s relations with the UAE expand and take on a sinister element as reports emerged of secret detention facilities in the Emirates built and run by China, for the specific purpose of extrajudicially detaining Chinese dissidents in the country. While the US took a strong stance against the selection of a Chinese national as the president of Interpol, some of the most vocal opponents, such as Senator Ted Cruz, remained silent about the election of the Emirati and accused torturer, Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi, to the position.

“Our persistent effort to push the UK to increase travel warnings for tourists visiting the UAE gained the support of numerous members of parliament, including Baroness Whitaker, who was so alarmed by the Emirates’ dismal human rights record that she called for Britain to impose sanctions on the UAE.

“We have been the leading international voice drawing attention to the endemic abuses of the UAE legal system, rampant human rights violations, and unchecked authoritarianism of the Emirates’ government; bringing an often-reluctant media spotlight to cases of wrongdoing that deeply offend modern sensibilities and Western standards of justice committed in the UAE. Fortunately, after 14 years of campaigning, knowledge of the corruption and abuses of the UAE legal system have become widespread, which led recently to the EU Parliament voting to boycott the ongoing Dubai Expo.

“Amidst the growing pressure driven by our work, the UAE last year revamped some of their drug laws. The cases of American Peter Clark, Britons Andy Neal and Billy Hood, which we brought to the public eye, prompted the Emirates to modify sentencing in drug cases of foreign nationals to allow deportation instead of imprisonment. Clark, Neal, and Hood were all granted release following our intensive campaigns for their freedom.

“Our long-time campaign to increase the responsiveness and transparency of the FCDO in its approach to citizens wrongfully detained in the UAE saw the convening of a parliamentary debate the FCDO. We provided MPs with comprehensive reports detailing the many failures of the Foreign Office in handling the dilemmas faced by British citizens in the Gulf.

“American citizen Ms Jeffries was finally released from an unjust sentence in Dubai from a case that smacked of racism and a vindictive professional grudge; we liaised with several American politicians, diplomats and activists, consular officials and UAE authorities to press for her freedom.

“There are thousands of expats though, who are stuck in limbo in Dubai and many of them have lost faith that they will ever get back home. Former intelligence officer Hervé Jaubert was not the only successful escape story. A number of brave foreigners have managed to cross borders to safety, while others haven't been so lucky, especially in times of heightened security and surveillance. Sadly, Ex Grenadier Guardsman Robin Berlyn died while trying to cross the border to Iran. We will soon tell his story.

“The case of our client UK businessman Albert Douglas has shocked and outraged the British public. The stories of his abuse and torture, and his baseless detention has spurred multiple protests across Great Britain, including at the House of Parliament and in front of Dubai’s biggest luxury property expo in Knightsbridge. Under pressure from the ongoing campaign for his release, UAE authorities have committed to holding a review of Albert’s medical condition to consider the option of sending him home.

“While we have achieved many notable successes over the years, and 2021 saw great progress in global awareness about the dangers posed by the UAE to not only foreigners inside the country, but even to citizens in their home countries and around the world; we are also seeing the belligerence and lawlessness of the UAE intensify, as well as the expansion of their reach and influence. We will be working harder than ever in 2022 to defend the rights of foreign nationals falsely accused and wrongfully detained in the Gulf and to address policy issues relating to the engagement of Western countries with the Emirates and broader region.

“We are truly grateful for all of our supporters, clients and to our amazing team”.




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