American Citizens Face Unfair UAE Trial
By Leah Schulz
A year and a half ago UAE security forces arrested Libyan-Americans Mohamed and Kamal Eldarat. The father and son were held in secret, tortured, and repeatedly denied access to legal support. On Monday February 15, along with Canadian-Libyan Salim Elaradi and Libyan Isa Elmanna, they will finally be tried for fictitious crimes.
The Eldarats are businessmen who have lived and worked in California since the mid-1980s but spent much of their time in the UAE, where their businesses include real estate and managing Subway restaurants. They were among ten Libyan businessmen arrested within a one-month period and held in secret detention. Four were released in December 2014 and confirmed experiences of systematic torture.
After Kamal and Mohammed’s abduction in August 2014, the Eldarat family heard nothing from them until November, when Kamal called briefly to say he didn’t know his son’s whereabouts. A month later he was able to call again, confirming he was now with Mohammed at the State Security prison.
On January 18, the Eldarats were charged with supporting two Libyan groups during the conflict there (neither of which are recognized by the U.N. as terrorist organizations) in a hearing that reportedly only lasted about twenty minutes. The Eldarats deny any involvement with the groups, which splintered in the wake of the Libyan civil war.
The prospect of a fair trial in light of the UAE’s treatment of political prisoners is inconceivable. In May 2015 Human Rights First detailed how the UAE State Security apparatus imprisons innocent civilians in the name of counterterrorism. These political dissidents, activists, and in the case of the Eldarats, foreign nationals, are subjected arbitrary detentions, torture, and a complete lack of due process. The prosecution frequently uses confessions tortured out of defendants to convict them for fabricated, often politicized charges, in trials that are typically closed to international observers.
The UAE is notorious for the torture and mistreatment of its political prisoners with complete disregard for the rule of law or human decency. Sadly, the Eldarats are literally case in point. In addition to the fabricated charges, the torture, and the arbitrary detention, the UAE continues to deny the defendants the legal recourse they deserve.
According to the Eldarat and Elaradi family-appointed lawyers, UAE authorities (as of February 4) had withheld the case files detailing the evidence against the defendants from the Emirati lawyer representing their clients at the trial. The Eldarats were only able to see their Emirati trial lawyer on January 24 (four days after the first trial session) and the Elaradis had yet to speak with them. No fair trial can take place when defendants do not have complete access to their lawyers or to the evidence against them, or if evidence obtained by torture is used to convict them.
There is a chance that the UAE will realize the futility of the case against the Eldarats and quietly end their ordeal. But this requires pressure. The U.S. government should speak out about the treatment and imprisonment of these citizens in the UAE and do what it can to free them.