Arbitrary detention and wrongful convictions occur every day in the Gulf States. Sub-standard investigatory and evidentiary standards by law enforcement and prosecutors in the Middle East mean that a person can be imprisoned based solely on an accusation. Police interrogations are often little more than prolonged sessions of intimidation to coerce or force false confessions. The façade of the judiciary lacks any institutional substance of due process; the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” simply does not exist in the Gulf, particularly not for foreigners.
Radha Stirling, CEO of legal pressure group Detained in Dubai, says the problem can no longer be dealt with exclusively through local channels. “We have to begin dealing with these detentions as what they are, arbitrary and enforced disappearances as defined by the United Nations.” She says her organisation has started to report cases to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances because they are often cases of detention without charge, or conviction and imprisonment without evidence.
“We have been dealing with wrongful convictions in the UAE, Qatar, and other Gulf nations for over 10 years, but the justice systems in these countries have not improved, and innocent people continue to be thrown into jail for no reason on a daily basis,” Stirling explains. “The international community has to take a legal stand against this persistent institutional disregard for due process. States do not have the right to indefinitely detain without charge, and they do not have the right to convict in the absence of evidence, or on the basis of forced false confessions. These are crimes, and the appropriate body to address them is the United Nations.”
Stirling was appointed by Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum, the daughter of the Ruler of Dubai, when she attempted to flee the UAE and seek asylum in the United States. Latifa was subsequently captured at sea in a joint military operation conducted by the UAE and India, and has remained incommunicado ever since. “We brought Princess Latifa’s case to the UN last year and there is an ongoing inquiry which the UAE has, until now, largely snubbed,” Stirling says. “But Latifa’s case is just a more dramatic version of what happens in the Gulf all the time. Andrew Neal, a British veteran and family man, has been incarcerated in the UAE since last year on false accusations of drug dealing, even though the accuser recanted his statement and there is no evidence whatsoever that Andy was involved in drugs in any way. Not only is there no proof of guilt, the public prosecutor possesses proof of Andy’s innocence; yet he continues to be held, continues to be bullied into making a false confession, and continues to be treated like a convicted criminal.”
“In another case, Indian national Mary Harold D’Souza has been detained without charge for over 20 months in the emirate of Sharjah, despite the fact that she has no connection to the accuser, nor to the alleged crime of fraud, apparently committed by a contractor involved with a company for which Mary was listed as an inactive co-owner. She does not even know the people involved in the case, had no role in the company, no access to company accounts, and the other co-owner, an Emirati local, was not similarly detained. This is a clear case of wrongful imprisonment, with the public prosecutor endlessly renewing her detention on the pretext of investigation,”
Stirling says. “We have taken both Andy’s and Mary’s cases to the UN now and will be lodging André Gauthier’s this month too. The UAE and the rest of the Gulf States have to learn that innocent people do have recourse to international institutions of justice, and that their countries have to begin operating according to the standards of the global community if they do not want to be regarded as despotic regimes.”
Stirling explains that raising wrongful detentions in the Gulf to the UN is the best way to ensure that such practices may be curtailed. “We know that these governments care deeply about their international reputations; we have successfully lobbied the global media to cover many instances of false imprisonment in the UAE and Qatar, and the regimes have responded positively. But cases continue to happen on a daily basis; we feel it is time to bring this issue to the attention of not only the public but to international legal authorities to hopefully finally create systemic reforms that will prevent wrongful and arbitrary detentions from taking place.”