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Radha Stirling Founder Detained in Dubai
Radha Stirling News Detained in Dubai
Radha Stirling CEO

RADHA STIRLING

Founder and CEO

Radha Stirling is a leading human rights advocate, crisis manager and policy consultant, focusing on the UAE and the wider Middle East. She is the founder and CEO of British based organisation Detained in Dubai and its subsidiaries, (which have helped thousands of victims of injustice over the past ten years).

 

In 2010, she expanded her work to include countries throughout the Gulf region dealing with both civil and criminal cases.  She has provided expert witness testimony in several high profile extradition and arbitration cases, while lobbying for Interpol reform.  

 

Given her breadth of experience in financial disputes, Ms Stirling also provides expert risk assessment for investors and advice on business strategies in the Gulf.  She has actively negotiated on behalf of corporate clients and investors, assisted in recovering stolen assets, and intervened to secure their freedom from unlawful detention.  

 

Ms Stirling frequently appears in international media to discuss human rights and legal issues in the Middle East.  She recently addressed the United Nations and works closely with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.  Ms Stirling has provided policy advice to both the Australian and British governments, and is a frequently invited speaker on foreign policy issues related to the Gulf states and broader region.

Her high-profile media campaigns and legal work have influenced the release of countless high profile prisoners in the UAE, notably David Oliver, Richard Lau, Ellie Holman, Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, Safi Qurashi, Scott Richards, Conrad Clitheroe, Gary Cooper, Farzan Athari, Billy Barclay, Jamie Harron, Laleh Shahravesh and André Gauthier.  Ms Stirling publishes regular articles and reports, often covering human rights issues, political prisoners, Middle Eastern finance and debt laws, social media laws, cybercrime laws and Interpol red notice abuse. Radha has worked extensively at parliament level and closely with Senators and MP’s. Her work at Australian Parliament ensured provisions to safeguard citizens against human rights violations were included in their extradition treaty with the UAE.  Stirling acted for HRH Sheikha Latifa Bin Rashid Al Maktoum which lead to a United Nations investigation into her disappearance from a US yacht in international waters.

Stirling delivered a speech at a Frontiers of Freedom conference in November 2018, focussing largely on the increased influence of Saudi Arabia and the UAE into American politics and media, questioning whether these US “allies” are acting in the best interests of the States.  Stirling presented a speech discussing the risks of investing in the UAE and wider gulf region at the April 2019 Offshore Alert Conference in Miami, then visited Washington DC in May to discuss the pressing issue of Interpol Abuse with policy advisors.

Since founding Detained in Dubai in 2008, she has held various senior roles in law firms in the Middle East and was most recently described by Daily Beast as running "an extraordinarily slick - and convincing - PR campaign ostensibly designed to free her [Princess Latifa]".

PARTNERS, CONSULTANTS & EXPERTS

We work with a network of experienced specialists both in the UAE and abroad.  We have alliances with law firms and advocates internationally, including most of the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Australia and the United States.  We work alongside and instruct leading experts in their fields, as well as working with the world's leading human rights groups and policy think tanks.

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Radha Stirling - Inspiring Business Leader 2021 Feature

radha stirling business leader inspiring.jpeg

The man’s voice was shaking on the telephone, “I’ve just been held at the airport, they say it is on an Interpol Red Notice from the UAE, I haven’t even lived there since 2008!”  The woman on the other end of the line replied assuringly, in a tone equally professional and compassionate; even as she scrolled through dozens of emails on her laptop; each with a nightmarish story, an emergency, or a desperate plea for help.

So begins a typical morning for the founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai, Radha Stirling. For over a dozen years, foreign nationals embroiled in legal dramas with the United Arab Emirates have found comfort in her calming, authoritative voice. She promises them solutions, and delivers.

 

Stirling has been involved in some of the UAE’s highest profile cases, including bringing media attention to the escape and capture of Princess Latifa, the daughter of the Ruler of Dubai. But, she says, most of her work is done out of the spotlight. “At least 60-70% of our cases involve financial and business disputes between Emiratis and foreign citizens who have been cheated, extorted, or wrongfully prosecuted for fraud, when local partners exploit UAE laws and a biased justice system to their advantage,” she explains.

 

The depth and breadth of her experience has made Radha Stirling the go-to legal and human rights expert on the UAE and broader Gulf region for major news outlets, such as the BBC, CNN, Sky News, and print media. She is a regular speaker and consultant with policy think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and her work requires almost constant liaising with government officials around the world. “I remember the appalling case of Canadian Andre Gauthier, who had been wrongfully accused and charged with a massive scam in the UAE which he himself had actually exposed. The real scamster tried to scapegoat Andre, and he spent over a year in prison. But we consulted with the Canadian government day and night, advising their diplomatic strategy for securing Andre’s release until finally the UAE dropped the charges on all counts and let him go home.”

Last year, Stirling expanded her work with the founding of Due Process International, which allows her to accept cases outside the Gulf, addressing legal failings throughout the Middle East, Asia, and beyond.

 

“Foreign nationals often do not know what they are getting into when they go abroad,” she explains, “This is particularly true for investors and business people. They typically examine a very narrow set of criteria before deciding to set up stakes in another country – the ease of investing, the procedures for obtaining visas, rules on ownership – but they seldom review the overall human rights situation, the impartiality of the judiciary, and the actual experiences of other foreigners who have landed in legal trouble there. Just as with tourists, business people can easily find themselves under arrest in the UAE, and many other countries where the legal system has not kept pace with business development; even if they have scrupulously followed the law.”

 

Calls like the panicked one she received in the morning, come in all day long. “The Gulf countries, the UAE and Qatar particularly, are habitual abusers of the Interpol system, having Red Notices issued as a form of harassment and even blackmail to force foreign investors and business people to pay off fabricated debts and exorbitant settlements,” Stirling cautions, “Our organisation has a 100% success rate in getting these abusive Notices removed. Being listed on Interpol is disastrous for anyone, being treated like a fugitive when you have done nothing wrong, but it can be especially devastating for a business owner with an international clientele or supply chain.”

Not only has Stirling been successful in the removal of her clients’ wrongful Red Notices, she has become the leading advocate for reform of the entire Interpol system, advising policy officials and legal activists on how the international policing organisation can improve.

 

“After years of supplying expert testimony in UAE extradition cases in the UK, detailing the corrupt, frequently brutal criminal justice system; the High Court of England finally has taken the position that Britain will not extradite people to the Emirates, due to human rights concerns. Nevertheless, people will still get detained and questioned in the UK over an Interpol Red Notice requested by the UAE,” Radha says, “In 2019, an Australian footballer, Hakeem Al Araibi, who is a refugee from Bahrain was arrested in Thailand over a Red Notice from Bahrain – the country he fled for political persecution. After considerable campaigning and communication with authorities, he was released; but it never should have happened. It is against Interpol’s own rules; but Interpol does not screen Red Notice requests before listing people. It can take months for Interpol to grant removal requests over Notices that never should have been issued. Even when a country routinely requests wrongful listings, Interpol does not revoke or suspend their right to request Red Notices. There need to be measures inside the organisation to check abuse of the system. Otherwise, countries like the UAE will continue to use Interpol as an instrument to expand their own de facto jurisdiction overseas”

 

That kind of overreach is something Radha Stirling has cautioned against for years. In one of her most talked-about cases, British national Laleh Shahravesh was arrested in the UAE over a Facebook post she wrote while in England. “The UAE’s Cybercrime laws are so vague and broad that literally anyone, anywhere, who says something online, can be charged in Dubai with a cybercrime if someone in the Emirates doesn’t like what they said. If they have never been to the UAE, it doesn’t matter. They could potentially be tried in absentia, and even reported to Interpol – all without knowing any of this has happened, just like Laleh.”

"She is able to do what ambassadors, foreign secretaries, and diplomats cannot" - Outlook Initiative

 

After more than 13 years and over 15,000 clients, dealing with every imaginable type of case – from being jailed in Dubai over a selfie at the wrong time and place, to business disputes worth hundreds of millions of pounds, from foreign nationals forced to sign false confessions to family members being detained over a relative’s bounced cheque; there is no other organisation with the expertise or track record of Detained in Dubai, and no one with the experience, insight, and skill of Radha Stirling in dealing with seemingly hopeless cases.

 

More than once, a wrongfully accused foreign national has been released from UAE custody just because a tweet or news article mentioned that Detained in Dubai had taken the case; Dubai’s Ruler has even intervened to overrule court decisions on behalf of Stirling’s clients. If someone is facing legal problems in the UAE, the Gulf, or indeed, with the creation of Due Process International, in any foreign jurisdiction anywhere, they should have Radha Stirling on speed-dial.

 

She is able to do what ambassadors, foreign secretaries, and diplomats cannot; and when you hear her calm voice promising you over the phone --as the police are pulling you aside -- that everything is going to be OK; you can be certain that it will be. There are thousands of people who have been in the same predicament who can attest to that.

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Radha Stirling Showreel

Conscious Entrepreneurship: Interview with Radha Stirling

Radha Stirling started her own consultancy company at 19 years old, after relocating to London from Australia. This lead her to the digital media and broadcast industry until one of her Endemol colleagues was detained in Dubai on trumped up charges while on holidays. Radha rose to the challenge to help her friend, leading the campaign that fought against a corrupt Middle Eastern system. The case gained widespread attention in the international media which lead to his release. Following his safe return to London, many more victims of injustice sought Radha’s help. It was then, in 2008, that she founded Detained in Dubai, an organisation set up to help foreign nationals facing challenging situations abroad and over thirteen years, the organisation has helped more than fifteen thousand people.

CONSCIOUS ENTREPRENEURSHIP — What meaning do you give this term?

Conscious entrepreneurship is about awareness, enjoyment and the embracement, consideration and application of personal integrity and principles that not only make the entrepreneur happier and more fulfilled, but benefit the staff and foundation of a business, as well as clients and customers and the wider policies that govern the future of the world in all areas…. environmentally, politically and socially.

CAREER — What led you to your particular career path?

With a passion for justice, a background in law and media, it seemed almost inevitable that somehow I would end up in a career involving both. What’s more surprising is that it was by absolute chance, and not by my own architecture. It is though, my enthusiasm and confidence that made it possible for me to develop an organisation capable of influencing political policy, legislative reform, Interpol reform and the release of unfairly detained prisoners abroad. That is not by chance.

MENTORS — We all need a little help along the journey. Who has been an invaluable mentor for you? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

It is important to surround yourself with positive influences, inspiration and know how. There are so many outstanding success stories and each one of them has something invaluable to share or perhaps, just to remind us to keep this positivity in the forefront of our mind. Along with some great legal minds and historical figures, I have taken inspiration from some of the most prominent business minds of the modern day, as well as people like Tony Robbins. I consistently listen to podcasts or reads from positive and inspirational people.

TO THRIVE — When you see yourself thriving: Do you see yourself opening up opportunities for others along the way to participate in your success, and how?

I have opened up opportunities to train interns and staff from the ground up, giving them new career opportunities, experience and a great future. I advise and work with third party human rights organisations to help them increase their effectiveness. I educate policy advisors and industry professionals, leading to long lasting and widespread attitudinal shifts within the sector. As my work continues to expand, more and more opportunities are opened to people who enjoy hard, passionate and fulfilling work that has life impacting results for thousands of people.

THE FUTURE — How do you see the face of entrepreneurship in 5 years? How do companies /brands need to adapt to secure their place in the future?

Companies are going to have to be able to navigate their way through the digital age and back to personal interaction, to be able to maintain customer loyalty. With lockdown induced increased dependence on technology, companies run the danger of forgetting the innate and biological need for true human interaction. Companies who can thrive with technological offerings while remembering that human nature is permanent will have an edge.

ADVICE — What kind of advice would you like to give to an aspiring entrepreneur who feels limited due to their background or lack of resources?

Entrepreneurs who feel they need “something” before they can start their business will always be wanting and always be lacking. They need to disregard negative, blocking advice, even if it is their own mind playing the old “devil’s advocate” with them. It doesn’t have to be perfect to start, and certainly not everything needs to be in place. Stop aiming for perfectionism. Did Facebook look exactly how it does today? No. Did Amazon? No. If they had waited until all the pieces were in place to start, there would be no Amazon, no Google, no Facebook.

THANK YOU!

Reach out to Radha Stirling on LinkedIn.

Originally printed here.

Daily Mail tells us about Radha Stirling

When Radha Stirling first heard that a colleague called Cat Le-Huy had been arrested by immigration officials in Dubai, she assumed it was all a big mistake.

Her chum, a London-based producer with whom she worked at the TV production company Endemol, had been initially detained because an unidentified bottle of pills was found in his suitcase.

After they turned out to be melatonin, a perfectly legal jetlag medication, customs staff announced with a flourish that they had also discovered cannabis among some dust in the depths of the holidaymaker's bag.

The quantity of this illegal narcotic was, they claimed, exactly 0.03 grams. That's an amount smaller than a single grain of salt and virtually invisible to the human eye.

Cat, who hails from Belsize Park, North London, was promptly slapped in handcuffs and transported to the Al Wathba prison, 40 miles north of the airport.

Radha, who is 42, knew that her chum did not take recreational drugs so, initially, thought he would be promptly released. But she was wrong. Instead, she was told to her horror that he faced a four-year prison sentence for 'drug possession'.

It was 2008 and, in the weeks that followed, she helped organise a noisy campaign on Cat's behalf, turning him into an international cause célèbre.

Finally, after the best part of a month in custody, he was released without charge and allowed to return home. Case closed. For Cat Le-Huy, at least. But for Radha, it was just the beginning.

As the dust settled, she was contacted by several other Westerners who claimed to be victims of grave miscarriages of justice in the exotic tourist hotspot.

'People were basically saying, 'I saw how you helped him, can you help me, too?' she says.

'I suddenly realised that, behind the facade of this glamorous country, which touts its credentials as a popular destination with beaches and luxury hotels, there were huge problems with the rule of law and human rights, affecting vast numbers of innocent people.' She duly founded Detained In Dubai, a pressure group that lobbies on behalf of victims of the Emirate state's hardline laws.

So far, her organisation has helped an incredible 15,000 people — an average of roughly three per day — navigate a draconian legal system that, despite Dubai's reputation as a glittering millionaires' playground with golden sands, turquoise seas and towering modern skyscrapers is, in fact, built on a hardline interpretation of medieval Sharia law.

'We have dealt with cases in which rape victims were prosecuted for unlawful sex, foreigners jailed over social media posts, people convicted on the basis of torture and forced confessions, and victims of gross police and prosecutorial misconduct of a variety that staggers the imagination,' she says. 'All involve laws that people don't imagine could possibly exist in the modern era.'

Among the victims Radha has personally helped is Princess Latifa al-Maktoum, the 35-year-old daughter of Dubai's autocratic ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, who attempted to flee the country in a yacht in 2018.

The princess is under armed guard, recently smuggling out remarkable videos telling how she had been seized by commandos while in international waters, before being transported back to Dubai, where she has been held hostage ever since.

'I spoke to Princess Latifa when she was on the boat and shots were going off,' says Radha. 'It was extremely harrowing. When even a member of the royal family is denied basic human rights, you can imagine how the country treats normal people who aren't even its citizens.'

These and other high-profile cases shine a light on the dark underbelly of a destination whose status as a celebrity hotspot is deeply at odds with its legal system, under which everything from drinking alcohol to holding hands in public and sharing a bedroom with someone who is not your spouse is officially unlawful, and consensual gay sex can earn you a prison sentence of ten years.

Take, for example, online celebrity 'influencers', many of whom have spent lockdown posting pictures of themselves visiting Dubai's gaudy attractions, where they are often staying for free as part of a commercial deal negotiated with publicists who have turned the Middle Eastern resort into a winter sun destination to rival the Caribbean.

Little do they know that, while they tout the virtues of this supposedly 'modern' mega city, they, and almost any other visitor, are at constant risk of prosecution under draconian cyber-crime laws.

Should they or any other foreigner fall foul of a policeman, minor royal, business leader or powerful local, the country's authorities can (and often do) trawl through historic social media posts in search of something that offends their sensibilities.

'These rules can, in theory, criminalise almost every Western visitor,' says Radha. 'If you're responsible for a Facebook post from five years ago they don't like, and if they want to go for you, then you are toast.'

Take, for example, 55-year-old Briton Laleh Shahravesh, who was arrested in Dubai in 2019 following a complaint from a local that she had used the social network to brand her ex-husband's new partner 'horse-face'. She was arrested on arrival in the country and only allowed back to the UK several weeks later, after agreeing to pay a £625 fine for making the supposedly 'defamatory' claim.

Or take Scott Richards, a 42-year-old father of two, who was detained in 2016 after the police took exception to a Facebook post in which he had shared a link to a crowd-funding campaign to supply blankets for Afghan refugees.

He spent three weeks behind bars because of a bizarre law that bans soliciting donations for non-profits that have not been approved by the government's totalitarian-sounding 'Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities' department.

At present, Detained In Dubai is also representing a 31-year-old HR manager from Gloucestershire arrested at the airport in January as she tried to return home after three years living in the country.

Her alleged 'crime' is having told her ex-flatmate, a Ukrainian, to 'f*** off' in a WhatsApp message, during a row over the use of the dining table at their home during lockdown. This is also, apparently, defamatory.

This woman, who has not been named, has learned — along with so many of the hundreds of Britons who are arrested in the United Arab Emirates each year — that modern living fits uncomfortably in a country where rules governing social interaction (particularly among women) are centuries behind those in the West.

Partly, this is an accident of history. A hundred years ago, Dubai was a sleepy fishing town where little had changed since the Middle Ages. But, in 1966, oil was discovered, creating vast wealth for its ruling family, the Maktoums, and residents, who today make up around 20 per cent of its population. During the 1990s, with an eye on the day when oil would run out, Sheikh Maktoum decided to reinvent his tiny fiefdom as a financial centre, trade hub and tourist hotspot, investing huge resources in throwing up skyscrapers and mega resorts that, in the course of a generation, have turned it into the Middle East's version of Las Vegas.

At one point, in the early 2000s, a third of the world's cranes were estimated to be in use in Dubai's various building sites.

For the ruling class, it would prove an inspired move. However, for the hundreds of thousands of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan migrants who worked at the sharp end of its construction industry for wages of a few dollars per day (no minimum wage), it was anything but.

According to Human Rights Watch, many of the three million low-paid workers employed under the 'kafala' sponsorship system in the UAE are now 'subjected to abuses that amount to forced labour' in temperatures that can reach 45c (113f).

The organisation says that 'more often than not', their passports are detained as soon as they start work and remain with the employer for almost the entirety of their contract.

Even relatively well-heeled white-collar workers from Britain and other Western countries can end up finding that Dubai's forward-thinking reputation is a veneer.

Authoritarian local laws meant that anything from allowing a cheque to bounce to failing (even accidentally) to pay a credit card bill on time can lead to a punitive spell in jail. Public displays of affection with a girlfriend, or even spouse, can lead to arrest.

Businessmen whose companies fail, leaving behind debts, often have their passports confiscated, leaving them in a Kafka-esque position — unable to leave the country until creditors are satisfied, but unable to work because their visa has been revoked.

Exactly this state of affairs faces Robin Berlyn, a 50-year-old former Grenadier Guardsman, who fell foul of the authorities in 2013 after a business collapsed and he found himself trapped in Dubai unable to pay various disputed debts.

In October last year, he managed to flee by swimming two miles across the Persian Gulf to neighbouring Oman, using a rucksack as a flotation aid, only to be arrested by local police and driven back to the UAE (rather than being deported to the UK, as he had hoped). His case remains ongoing.

Tourists can also be caught in the trap. In November, two Canterbury University students on a 21st birthday celebration were stranded in Dubai for almost three months after a dispute with a car-hire company. They were told to expect 18 months in prison if they failed to pay £16,000 over alleged damage to a Range Rover but, after an international outcry, they got a £250 fine, instead.

 

In 2017, plasterer Billy Barclay spent a month in limbo after being arrested after one of the £20 notes he handed into a bureau de change turned out to be forged.

As with many a Middle Eastern autocracy, it is women's rights that are most commonly abused.

A 2005 law states that 'a husband's rights over his wife' include the wife's 'courteous obedience to him', and places conditions on a married woman's right to work or leave the house.

These rules are routinely used by estranged husbands to exert control over their spouses, even when both parties are Western expats.

Radha says: 'We had one client, a German woman in the process of separating from her husband, who had decided to get a job. Her husband rang up the company and said, 'I didn't give her permission' and they had to fire her.' 

In Dubai, extra-marital sex is punishable by one year or more in prison. On the basis of this law, Amnesty says, a Swedish-run hospital in Ajman Emirate was forced to report pregnant, unmarried women to the police.

Three years ago, a 29-year-old South African resident of Dubai called Emlyn Culverwell took his fiancée, Iryna Nohal, a Ukrainian, to a doctor, complaining of stomach pain.

He promptly diagnosed that she was pregnant. But rather than offering treatment, the doctor called the police. The couple were arrested and jailed when they could not produce a marriage licence.

Eventually, they were released, apparently at the behest of Sheikh Maktoum. For years, he has often intervened when ugly legal cases threaten his country's international reputation. But since the PR disaster that today threatens his glittering emirate involves his own treatment of Princess Latifa, it may not be so easy to fix.

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