UAE authorities have largely discouraged detainees from talking to the press, often with threats of legal abuse and further detention. It is illegal to talk negatively about the government and highlighting a legal case can be seen as highlighting judicial issues and therefore, criticising the government. However, in many cases, press interest and campaigning has been directly responsible for successful outcomes including acquittals, case reviews and early releases. Press interest has even resulted in the prosecution dropping charges against people who would otherwise have been jailed. The UAE government’s goal is to promote the country’s reputation and create the image of a modern and progressive country. It’s first goal is therefore to prevent criticism through encouraging silence. If a case is covered by international press, the government is usually less likely to press charges or issue lengthy sentences. In some incidents, campaigns have resulted in judicial review, acquittals and pardons.
Media and lobbying campaigns can equally be used in civil and commercial proceedings to pressure for a fair hearing, to encourage out of court settlements or discourage powerful individuals from abusing the justice system by making them publicly accountable.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Managing Partner at Stirling Haigh, has been campaigning on behalf of clients for ten years. She has seen the direct effect that coverage has on the outcome of a case. In two cases of the same nature, without media, one may receive a lengthy custodial sentence while another has their charges dropped. Stirling has worked with David Haigh, Safi Qarashi, Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, Farzan Athari and a number of other high profile cases in using media alongside law to secure acquittals and releases.
Stirling said in a statement “Not every case should be considered a candidate for press or campaigning. We analyse the merits of the case and assist clients in making the decision as to whether they should attack their problem from a range of directions, depending on their goals. It is important to receive independent advice and avoid listening to government authorities or UAE lawyers, who are also subject to judicial influence and concerned about their own liability when a case is published.
Where an individual has been detained in the UAE, they and their family will be reluctant to speak to press or publish their case. This fear based consideration is emphasised by rumours that are deliberately generated in the prison.
More often than not, lawyers also advise against publicising a case, taking the safer path of submitting to the UAE government, even in cases that are clearly unjust. The UAE government can technically jail anyone who speaks negatively about the government of the UAE and that possibility naturally invokes fear in those wishing to complain about human rights violations, unfair trials or wrongful detention. However, in my decade's experience of UAE advocacy and media campaigning for clients, I have seen that all media exposure has lead to positive outcomes in cases, outcomes that may not have been achievable without coverage. I do not advise media in all cases and carefully analyse the merits before advising in its favour but I have found that the UAE wishes to promote its reputation in the international community and therefore, raising an issue to the international media, is more likely to lead to positive results.”
David Haigh, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Stirling Haigh attracted extensive media coverage, especially after he was falsely accused of using Twitter to slander while he was in prison with no access to his Twitter account. Although he was detained for four months on this allegation, the charges were ultimately dropped, likely due to international interest.
Anyone who believes that campaigning or media could help their case, whether it is civil or criminal, should seek independent advice at the earliest stages of their legal matter.
Detained In Dubai.