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Anatomy of My Arrest in The UAE: A False Complaint

  • By Shezanne Cassim
  • 12 Jun, 2016

Captain Mohammed’s actions are a prime example of UAE police officers’ utter lack of accountability and ability to do what they want unchallenged.

About this series: This is the story of how the United Arab Emirates arrested me for doing something thousands of people do every day—posting a comedy video on YouTube. UAE officials jailed me for months without charge, denied me access to an attorney, and holed me up in a bleak maximum-security prison in the middle of the desert. My human rights were violated every step of the way, and I was eventually convicted of “endangering national security” during a flimsy trial. This is Part 3.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

On April 6, 2013 Captain Mohammed Juma Al Sayegh—using the alias “Mamadoo Al”—sent me a Facebook message saying,  “Hi...i love your page about all the stuff happens in dubai i was wondering if you could interview me as well i have something goooood for you to load.” The very next day, I was called to Police HQ.

In his arrest report, Captain Mohammed claimed he started his “investigation” in response to a complaint filed by a private citizen. But the fact that he sent his Facebook message a day before the complaint was filed showed that he had lied about when he began his investigation.

“Scaring Away The Tourists”

Still on Captain Mohammed’s Facebook page, one name among his list of friends caught my eye: “Ali Mohd Ahli.”

The complaint that had been filed against me was also included in the police and prosecution’s case file. In the UAE, individuals can be held for indeterminate amounts of time solely on the basis of an unverified  complaint   by a member of the public.

This complaint had been filed by somebody named Ali Mohammed Jaffar Mohammed Ahli—a person completely unknown to me. Ahli claimed that he had viewed a video on the internet of individuals “engaging in military drills.” According to Ahli, the purpose of the video was to “spread fear and terror between the people,” “tarnish the reputation of Dubai,” and “scare tourists away from entering the country.” These allegations were, of course, absurd, and could be disproved simply by watching the video.

I wondered if Captain Mohammed’s Facebook friend “Ali Mohd Ahli” could be the same person who filed the false complaint.

“Ali Mohd Ahli” appeared on Captain Mohammed’s Facebook friends list.

I dug a little deeper. The date of birth listed on “Ali Mohd Ahli”’s Facebook profile matched the date of birth listed among the complainant’s details. I then looked at Ahli’s Instagram account. There, a number of posts were geotagged at the same home address as the complainant in Captain Mohammed’s report, and there were pictures of Ahli with Captain Mohammed’s father, referring to him as “my uncle.” Ahli was indeed the complainant. And he clearly appeared to be Captain Mohammed’s cousin.

“Causing Instability”

Once he had me in detention, Captain Mohammed added to his cousin’s absurd accusations. His arrest report alleged that my video portrayed “organized criminals providing defense training to its members,” that the “advanced combat system” in the video “shows gangs how to use shoes to defend themselves,” and that it “shows how to attack people in the area of Satwa.” Captain Mohammed ended his report by recommending imprisonment for “advertising or programming thoughts that would cause instability to the public or moral order.”

Captain Mohammed’s actions are a prime example of UAE police officers’ utter lack of accountability and ability to do what they want unchallenged. Captain Mohammed went out of his way to allege that the video was some sort of serious anti-UAE propaganda made as part of a conspiracy by a band of nefarious evil-doers. And to top it all off, he made it look as if he had conducted some brilliant and daring detective work to expose a vile plot against the UAE.

But that wasn’t the end of Captain Mohammed’s misdeeds. As if it wasn’t enough to make his absurd allegations, he then proceeded to fabricate a false confession.

To be continued in Part 4

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By Shezanne Cassim 21 Oct, 2017

Reports of travelers being locked up while on holiday in—or simply passing through—the UAE continue to regularly make news. Because the UAE has gone to great lengths to portray itself as a modern business and tourist destination, this continuous news drip makes local officials and lawyers defensive. Instead of fixing the problem, they have decided to explain that this isn’t the UAE’s fault. In at least one recent news  article  published by state-controlled media, officials have claimed that the real problem is that travelers are jailed because they don’t know the country’s laws.

But this spate of arbitrary detentions has nothing to do with travelers who don’t have a handbook of UAE laws. The problem is that, first, the UAE’s laws are unclear and unpredictably enforced and, second, people can be detained without warning for some harmless act and then be denied the right to defend themselves.

The case of Jamie Harron illustrates this point to a farcical degree. While on a two-day stopover in Dubai this July, Harron, 27, from Scotland, visited a bar. According to Harron, he touched a man’s hip while preventing a drink from spilling. That man took offense and called the police. Harron was detained and charged with drinking alcohol and “public indecency” solely on the basis of the man’s complaint. Harron, who was granted bail after five days in jail, has lost his job and has racked up over £30,000 ($40,000) in legal bills. The judge handed him a  30-day jail sentence  for the charge of drinking alcohol. He’s now waiting for a judgment on the “public indecency” charge on October 22.

Here’s the problem: it wouldn’t have mattered if Harron knew the law because the UAE's alcohol laws are not consistently enforced. Though Dubai markets itself as a great place to drink, and thousands of tourists do so in the city’s many bars,  it’s illegal for tourists to consume alcohol . The catcher is that the law is only enforced some of the time, and there’s no telling when or who will be targeted.

Knowing the law wouldn’t have helped Harron avoid a charge of “public indecency” for touching the man’s hip, either. The vagueness of UAE laws means that anyone can find any action “offensive” and have you detained just by complaining to the police. Recently, individuals have been prosecuted for a  handshake , posting a picture of a fox on Facebook, or taking  pictures of a local racetrack  or even just taking  pictures of the sunset . In the UAE, someone could find the way you walk, the way you breathe, or the way you laugh “offensive” and have you locked up with just his word against yours.

Once detained, you will be unable defend yourself because there’s no due process. Police and prosecutors are free to fabricate evidence against you, and you can be denied access to an attorney (who can’t do much to help you anyway) while judges go along with it all.

Once you’ve been locked up, you then also fall victim to the chaos of UAE courts. Judges fail to show up for work, so after spending a whole day sitting in the courtroom waiting for the judge to appear, your case will be postponed again and again over a period of months while you languish in a cell. Jamie Harron was lucky enough to get bail, but his conviction for drinking alcohol was made “in absentia” because it didn’t occur to any court official to inform him of the date of his trial.

That the spate of detentions is due to arbitrary enforcement of the law and not ignorance becomes very clear when you take into account the fact that people with connections to influential officials like UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba  can flout the country’s laws with impunity  while ordinary guys like Jamie Harron get hit hard. Until the UAE has a justice system that is predictable, accountable, and transparent, “knowing the law” will not save you from the nightmare of being thrown in jail for any reason or no reason at all.

By Shezanne Cassim 10 Oct, 2017

Dubai cops have locked up a tourist for drinking at a bar.

Jamie Harron, a 27-year-old British tourist is facing a three-year jail sentence in Dubai after allegedly putting his hand out in a bar  to stop himself spilling his drink  and touching a man’s hip. That man called the police.

Harron’s case is yet another example of how vulnerable tourists are to being arbitrarily detained in the UAE, where merely an accusation is enough to have someone jailed. Harron was charged with drinking alcohol even though he was at a bar that is permitted by the government to sell alcohol to patrons, including tourists. The Dubai government portrays the city as a modern and liberal tourist haven, but Harron’s case shows how tourists and residents are at constant risk just for merely drinking at the very hotels and other establishments the government promotes.

Harron is now facing charges of “drinking alcohol” and “public indecency.” Harron was in a jail for five days before being released on bail, but has since been trapped in the UAE for three months. He has lost his job and racked up over £30,000 (approximately $39,000) in legal fees and expenses.

Harron was expected to show up for a court hearing last Sunday, but the court moved the hearing date without informing him. Harron has now reportedly been sentenced to 30 days imprisonment for failing to show up.

UAE court proceedings are a shambles. There’s no due process, so anyone who doesn’t like your face can get you detained just by complaining to the police. Once they’re locked up, prisoners aren’t informed that they’re due in court until the morning of the hearing, judges don’t show up for work and even court clerks are completely unaware of the judge’s whereabouts or which cases are to be tried on that day. Prisoners are often not brought to their hearings by the police. It is not surprising that Harron has become a victim of the Dubai justice system’s own mismanagement.

Until the UAE brings its justice system into the modern era, visitors and residents remain at constant risk.

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