The British government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Arab Emirates intended to help the UAE’s media effectiveness in the UK and at home to emphasise the UAE government’s good side, even while British national Matthew Hedges was being held in solitary confinement in an Emirates’ state security prison for researching his PhD thesis in the country.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, expressed concern about the implications of the MOU, and said that rather than devoting its energy to helping the UAE improve its image, the British government should be focused on preventing the abuse of its citizens who have been wrongly detained in the Emirates. “It is quite troubling that the UK would enter into this agreement at the very moment that a British citizen was being falsely accused and imprisoned." she said, “We have a number of innocent Britons, such as Andrew Neal, currently detained in the UAE; and countless others in the past who travelled to the Emirates precisely because they have been led to believe it is a safe destination, but who subsequently found themselves arrested, intimidated, tortured, and forced to sign false confessions which result in wrongful convictions. Instead of cooperating with the UAE to do even more to promote that country, the UK owes a duty to its citizens to increase their travel warnings and educate the British public about the severe dangers of traveling to or through the Emirates.”
The MOU’s stated goal is to “improve the perception of public services for the general public, in Dubai and the United Kingdom”. Stirling notes that this indicates more than merely helping the UAE to better explain facets of the government to the public; “There is clearly an aim of improving the way the British people perceive the UAE,” she said, “This comes after several high profile cases of UK citizens abused by the Emirate’s justice system; people like Jamie Harron and Billy Barclay, and of course Matthew Hedges, whose lives were turned upside-down by false accusations and flawed prosecutions.
“Cases like these have palpably diminished the UAE’s reputation among the British public, and it seems with this MOU that the UK government has taken upon itself the task of damage control on behalf of the Emirates. Just since this MOU was signed, we have seen British veteran Andrew Neal prosecuted in a drugs case in which, not only is there no evidence of guilt, but indeed all evidence proves his innocence; and we have seen the case of another British national, Ali Issa Ahmed, beaten and jailed for wearing a Qatar football jersey. Furthermore, while Matthew Hedges was pardoned, he was never cleared of the fabricated allegations against him.
“If the UK government is going to help the British public learn about the services provided by the UAE government, will they then include information about the falsification of evidence, the use of torture, the detention without trial, and the ability of creditors to have people thrown into jail indefinitely for bounced cheques? These are among the ‘services’ offered by the UAE government about which most British citizens need to be made aware.”
As head of Detained in Dubai, Stirling explained that she has been involved in thousands of cases of British nationals in the UAE, and that media coverage of their plight and active intervention by the FCO is often required to resolve wrongful detentions. She said the MOU may undermine such efforts in the future, “If the British government has committed itself to improving the public’s perception of the UAE, I am afraid that we may see greater resistance to cover cases of UK citizens wrongly arrested, and the FCO and consular officials may discourage victims of UAE legal abuse from publicising their cases; which is something we have already seen happening.”
What is needed, Stirling said, is greater cooperation between the UK and UAE to improve the country’s standards of due process and legal system; not PR assistance. “More than enough has been done to help the Emirates create an image as a modern, Westernised country,” she said, “But far too little has been done to help the UAE actually achieve a modern legal system and to uphold the human rights standards available in the West.”
Radha Stirling, is founder and CEO of UK / USA based legal and human rights organisation Detained in Dubai, Expert Witness and respected analyst of Middle East Policy.
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