52 year old John Murphy, from Blackheath in London has already spent 6 weeks in a UAE jail he describes as “like Dante’s Inferno.” He now faces a further 2 to 3 years sentence plus deportation due to a “fabricated charge of sexual assault” made against him by hotel security staff, who claimed that John “sexually assaulted both of them repeatedly in the crowded hotel lobby.”
This type of charge is commonly laid by Arabic men against Western men following any kind of physical confrontation, as evidenced in the world famous Jamie Harron case of 2017
John, a devout Christian and father of 3 has a proud British forces background and his engineering skills led to him becoming Operations Manager for the Emaar flagship property, the Burj Khalifa, the impressive “world’s tallest building” in the centre of Dubai. John was taking a break from his high stress job and had treated himself to a couple of nights getaway in neighbouring Abu Dhabi at the prestigious Armed Forces Officers’ Club and Hotel. A church friend, his wife’s cousin Armando, was in the area and the two men arranged to meet up at the hotel.
“Armando turned up, as planned, around 6:45pm,” John explains. I went down to the reception to let the reception staff know he was my guest. Armando showed his ID as per the hotel protocol, and we went up for a coffee on my balcony.
“My wife and I have known Armando from our church, (the Church of Christ in Deira) for around 5 years. He is a lovely guy and was in the area working, so we had arranged he stop by for a coffee.
“After about 15 minutes, we got another call asking us to go back to reception, where events took an unexpected turn. The staff had become hostile and began angrily chastising us that ‘massages were not allowed.’
“Armando is a sports massage therapist, and sometimes works in the gym at that particular hotel, so maybe someone had put 2 and 2 together and made 5, thinking he was there to work on me without the hotel’s permission. We tried explaining that Armando had none of his equipment, and even showed them some Facebook pictures of us at church outings, but it was like talking to a brick wall. They were obviously following instructions and were not authorised to accept our explanations. Two very beefy looking and hostile Arabic guys appeared. One introduced himself as ‘security’ and the other as ‘reception manager.’
“These two men were aggressive, both verbally and in their manner. They called us liars and their voices were raised. Armando is a pretty meek kind of guy and he left, telling me he would see me in our church service on Sunday.
“Then the men turned on me. Their body language was confrontational, and one of them slipped behind me as the larger man, the ‘reception manager’ got right in my face, telling me he didn’t like being lied to, and that business only happened in the hotel with his approval. Every time I started to explain he cut me off with more shouting. It was very humiliating and demeaning.
“I was trying not to match their aggression, as it was beginning to feel dangerous. There were people watching and even videoing the confrontation. In that moment it felt to me like I was either about to be assaulted, or manhandled to somewhere that they could assault me.
“I needed to escape and used a trick my father had once shown me. With the biggest guy, the one in front of me, I tugged his jacket on the left side with my left hand, and gave a slight push on his right hip, to the left with my right hand. This manoeuvre allowed me to dart past him and head down the corridor to the lift where there were a lot of people. I was kind of bracing myself for them to come after me but they didn’t. I got in the lift, my heart pounding, and went to my room. Even then I was half expecting a knock at the door during the night. But none came, and I eventually thought that the matter was over.
“Armando informed me that someone had videoed the incident and advised me to make a police report, plus a formal complaint to the hotel. I did both.”
The prestigious Armed Forces Officers Club and Hotel in Abu Dhabi
“The police called me several times,” continues John. “But they kept putting off seeing me again until one day they turned up at my work, telling me to go with them. They informed me that the Arabic guys had made counter charges of sexual assault!
“I was so shocked that I thought it couldn’t be real. The police were taking seriously the accusation that I, a 52 year old, churchgoing grandfather had repeatedly sexually assaulted two giant, aggressive young guys, in a crowded hotel lobby. I told myself that if the charges had been made, then the police were probably obliged to give them proper attention, but that common sense should quickly tell the officers that these accusations were unrealistic.
“Not so. To my disbelief I was taken to the police station, then put in actual chains like in an old movie and whisked away to a hearing in a small court office. This was all in Arabic with the judge instructing me through an interpreter to do things like stand up, sit down, uncross my legs etc. Apparently there is a strict physical behaviour code. I had the impression he was very senior and had had a call from someone at the Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel (which is owned by the Abu Dhabi royal family.)
“I was put back in the cells overnight and back to court in the morning. There was no hearing that day, I just sat there all day and was taken back to the cells, where I stayed for 10 days. All the time in the chains, which chaffed and restricted my movement. I couldn’t wash. I wasn’t allowed a towel or soap. Even eating or going to the toilet was difficult.
John and cousin Armando at the Church of Christ in Deira, where Armando is a deacon. Armando was the visitor who the hotel objected to
“My embassy had apparently tried to visit many times," John continues. "But they were refused, despite them being very near to the police cells, but were consistently refused entry. After day 10 I was transferred to the notorious Al Wathba jail.”
John spent the next 6 weeks in constant fear for his life. “It was the most terrifying experience I have ever had. There was incessant noise, I felt my life was in danger and I honestly didn’t expect to get out alive.
“It was baking hot all the time, the food was little more than rotting garbage, and the place was so overcrowded that people had to take it in turns to sleep. It smelled powerfully of sweat, faeces and sewerage. The sanitary conditions were shocking and people were always sick. The slightest cut would quickly lead to infection and there was no chance of any medical attention.
“I finally got bail 6 weeks later, and I believe I’m still suffering from PTSD. I can’t sleep, and have the most awful flashbacks.
“My passport is held until my final hearing, where I have been told to expect a sentence of 2 to 3 more years, followed by deportation. I have had no opportunity to offer a defence, and have lost all of my savings. My landlord is suing me for non payment and has confiscated all of my possessions. It feels like my life is over.
“On the 26th of August I will be sentenced and it feels like I’m staring down the barrel of a gun. Utter despair. Armando and some other friends from church have found me a room to stay in, and are being generous with food in the meantime.
It is only my faith in god that keeps me getting out of bed and facing each day until then. I daren’t even let myself think about the years of hell to come”
Radha Stirling, CEO and founder of human rights NGO Detained In Dubai who has spoken with John said: “John Murphy is the latest in a long line of foreigners horrifically abused by the UAE legal system. The danger of the UAE is that they spend vasts amounts of money marketing themselves as a desirable destination for both tourism and business. This can often mislead Westerners to believing it is a safe and modern country to visit, when in fact the risks are high. Countless lives have been ruined because people who are used to more advanced and trustworthy legal systems, travel to the UAE expecting the same due process and legal protection, when it does not exist. We have called upon the hotel in question to drop the charges against Mr Murphy and the government of Abu Dhabi to intervene in a case that has simply gone too far.
"If the UAE wishes to continue to promote itself as a tourist destination, serious judicial reform is required. For every case that is published, thousands more are not and the government can not continue to ignore problems that desperately need change while simultaneously promoting itself as a modern and safe country.
"On human rights issues, the country is on very shaky grounds. The United Nations have demanded response regarding the enforced disappearance of Dubai ruler's daughter Sheikha Latifa. English & Scottish courts refuse to extradite to the UAE based on the 'real risk of torture & abuse‘ and we have endless reports of legal abuse, false allegations, wrongful detentions, torture and abuse, with some allegations even coming directly from the missing princess of Dubai. We've seen women jailed after reporting their own rape, couples detained for a kiss or holding hands, adultery charges for civil partnership couples who share hotel rooms, charges for consuming alcohol served from hotel bars or airlines, poppy seeds, taking photos, tweeting, sharing a charity on facebook and too many more. The UAE is the most likely country for Brits to be arrested abroad and most foreigners will have broken the law before they have even arrived in the country, whether by drinking alcohol in flight or by their use of social media.
"We hope the hotel will see to it that the charges are dropped and that the government of Abu Dhabi swiftly intervenes to assist Mr Murphy return home, especially during Eid.
David Haigh, partner at Detained in Dubai and former Leeds United Managing Director said “Having spent 22 months in the jails, I know he will face the horrors of abuse, torture, discrimination, lack of medication provisions, lack of food or worse. He will, without a doubt, be persecuted because he is a devout Christian in a system that rewards inmates with sentence reductions and better food and conditions if you convert to Islam."