Following an extended telephone conversation with Ali Issa Ahmad's close friend in the UK, Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, has taken on the case of the young Briton jailed in the UAE over a Qatar football jersey.
“The initially confusing facts of the case have been clarified for me through Ali’s long time friend, and I expect to be speaking with Ali soon,” Stirling said. “Ali was targeted and attacked by security personnel outside the football stadium for wearing a Qatar team shirt. It wasn’t clear to him whether these men were police or event security staff; but they accused him of ‘promoting Qatar’ and physically assaulted him. Shocked by the attack and expecting support from the authorities, Ali reported the incident to Sharjah police; but rather than having his report taken seriously, he was himself arrested and accused of fabricating the assault; something that could easily see him imprisoned for years with a possible extra charge of defaming the United Arab Emirates; another crime under UAE law.”
Police have since claimed that a medical examination of his injuries found that they were “self-inflicted”; a claim Stirling says, proves how blatantly the authorities are persecuting Ali. “It is outrageous enough for the police to dismiss a victim’s assault report, but to claim that Ali harmed himself just to invent a criminal complaint during his holiday in the UAE, exposes the clear malice of the police involved.”
Stirling explained that Ali’s assault report was likely turned against him by the police due to the prevailing anti-Qatar sentiment in the country. “There is no question that the moment Ali told the police he was attacked for wearing a Qatar team jersey they would have viewed him and treated him as an enemy of the state, and their goal at that point would be to punish him for showing support for the Qatar team.” She said, “Ali’s harmless preference for a football team was interpreted as a form of political affiliation, both by those who assaulted him and by the police; thus victimising Ali twice for wearing the ‘wrong’ shirt.”
His friend described Ali as a kind-hearted young man who works at a chocolate factory in Wolverhampton and is a die-hard football fan with no political leanings. “He’s a sensible and kind guy who thought he was doing the right thing in reporting his attack to the police,” he told Stirling over the phone.
Reporting a crime in the UAE is a highly risky decision and often leads to the incarceration of the victim. This has been true in cases where rape victims have been jailed for “sex outside marriage”, where assault victims have been charged with “homosexuality”, or when people like Ali report crimes, they can be charged with defamation and filing false reports.
When Ali was arrested in Sharjah, he was in isolation and unable to make contact with his friends, the embassy or with a lawyer. Ms Stirling said “I’m extremely concerned for Ali Ahmad who has not been provided with a lawyer and has apparently been forced to sign a confession in Arabic. He has been told by police that he has a hearing on Monday and should plead guilty to the charges, accept the sentence which they claim ‘will be a fine’ and go home”. Stirling continued “if Ali Ahmad is innocent of the charges, he should not plead guilty for if he does, he could face a lengthy custodial sentence and be subjected to human rights violations within the prison. Coercing Ali into a false plea of guilt under the promise of a fine or speedy release, or under the threat of more serious charges, is a standard tactic we see by law enforcement in the UAE”
Stirling says that the British government needs to take a strong position to support Ali, as they did previously with Matthew Hedges; and more needs to be done to educate the public about the inherent risks of visiting the UAE. “If British courts will not extradite to the UAE based on the ‘real risk of unfair trials, human rights violations, discrimination and torture’, why is this not in the FCO travel warnings?” Stirling asked.
Torture and human rights violations in the UAE have been widely documented, and those in detention face grave threats to their safety. “British citizen Lee Bradley Brown was killed after just six days in police custody in 2011,” Ms Stirling said, “Beatings, torture, electrocution, and threats of extrajudicial killing have been reported and corroborated by hundreds of victims and witnesses over the years. We are extremely concerned about Ali’s safety; particularly given the UAE’s hostility towards Qatar. The dispute between these two Gulf States has now victimized an innocent British tourist, and has shown the world that the UAE is not a safe destination. The travel advisory needs to warn citizens of the risk of arbitrary detention and the flawed, corrupt judicial system in the UAE.”