Q&A: UAE charges Qatari with al-Islah ties

Mahmoud al-Jaidah was charged on Tuesday with having ties to an Islamist group banned by the United Arab Emirates.

Dr Mahmoud al-Jaidah has been detained under 'very oppressive conditions', according to Asim Qureshi [AP]

Doha, Qatar – In February 2013, Dr Mahmoud al-Jaidah was detained by United Arab Emirates authorities at the Dubai airport while returning from Thailand to Qatar.

Jaidah, a Qatari citizen and doctor who worked for Qatar Petroleum, spent almost nine months in jail before being charged on November 19 with having ties to Dawat al-Islah, a group banned by the UAE.

However, details about the case remain sketchy, and Jaidah’s defence team has not yet seen the files pertaining to his case.

In recent years, the UAE has taken a harder line on al-Islah, which is believed to have links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Fifty-six people were given prison sentences in July for their ties to the group, and 30 more went on trial earlier this month. 

Al Jazeera’s Sam Bollier spoke with Asim Qureshi, the research director of Cageprisoners, a nonprofit organisation that works to raise awareness of cases in which prisoners are being arbitrarily detained.

Al Jazeera: What has Mahmoud al-Jaidah been charged with?

Asim Qureshi: “[Jaidah] appears in court every month. But because of the way the Emirati legal system works, in national security cases they’re able to get an extension on the amount of time they can hold someone in detention without charge. This was now the ninth time he had been brought before the court, and we still weren’t sure whether or not he was actually going to be charged.

“But finally they’ve actually charged him with what they allege is an offence. Basically, they claimed he was supporting a reformist movement in Abu Dhabi, [called] al-Islah, and for that reason they’ve chosen to actually charge him now.

“What we have to understand is this comes within the context of nine months of detention without charge under very, very oppressive conditions – torturous conditions, where you have constant light torture taking place: 24 hours of bright light that he’s subjected to, which is torture under the Convention Against Torture, and he’s been put through a process of extreme sleep deprivation throughout this period.”

Al Jazeera: Is it legal under Emirati law to detain people without charge?

Qureshi: “According to their own system, after the sixth month they should have charged him with a crime, but unfortunately they broke their own law in having these continued extensions. Because it’s a national security case, the regular legal system is somewhat sidestepped by the Emiratis whenever they bring one of these cases.”

Al Jazeera: What kind of evidence does the government claim to have against him?

Qureshi: “Interestingly, from what we understand about the case, the key witness in relation to this alleged transfer of money that might have happened was actually freed back to Bahrain. So when the key witness is somebody they no longer wish to have detained, it makes you question the credibility of their case in the first place.

“The legal team still hasn’t received the full case file… we haven’t received all the discovery in the case yet. Until we do, it’ll be difficult to make a full assessment of the kind of evidence that they have. But from what we understand from [his] family and friends, it would be weak at very best.

“In the first four days of his detention, he was beaten so badly that he was forced into signing a document that he didn’t know what was written on it. So it’s very, very clear to us that he was coerced into giving testimony which will be used against him within a new trial that might take place. We’re against the concept of him having any form of trial because the Emiratis will be willing to use tortured evidence.

“[When his family visited], they could see the signs of physical abuse on him… he had falaka take place, which is the beating on the soles of the feet. We’ve spoken about sleep deprivation, light torture – and he was beaten quite badly as well, particularly in his ribs. He had a great deal of pain when he met his sons; he told them about it.”

Al Jazeera: What role is CagePrisoners playing in his defence?

Qureshi: “We’ve built a campaign around his case. We’ve been trying to push for his release. We weren’t even pushing for his charge because we believe in cases where individuals have been tortured in order to give coerced testimony, that that case becomes fundamentally flawed.

“What should happen in this situation is that he should be released back to Qatar. And we feel that this entire situation is political, that basically a kind of power game is being played between the Emiratis in terms of certain differences of foreign policy that they have with Qatar. And Dr al-Jaidah is the unfortunate man who’s been caught in the crossfire.

“Much of the information that CagePrisoners has uncovered in relation to the torture and incommunicado detention of Dr al-Jaidah has been received not only by his family, but by a former guard who has been working with us in order to assist his case. We have been told by this guard that torture is routinely practised in this secret facility.”

Al Jazeera: Has Jaidah’s lawyer been able to meet with him regularly?

Qureshi: “His lawyer was able to meet with him for the first time at the [most recent] hearing – but once again, the lawyer still hasn’t received the case file yet. [Before the hearing] he hasn’t had any access to lawyers. He’s had access to family a couple of times over that period, but no access to legal counsel.

“He has a Qatari lawyer who’s now representing him. I believe [he had] three Emirati lawyers, all of whom were actually unwilling to do anything to really help him because they were too scared to do so. A lot of pressure had been put on them not to represent him properly.”

Al Jazeera: Is there any timeframe for his trial?

Qureshi: “It’s already gone on too long. Nine months of detention without charges is not acceptable under any standard, and he should just be released as soon as possible.

“The defence team hasn’t even been presented with the case files yet, so at the moment we really know nothing.”

Al Jazeera: Have you been working with the Qatari government to press for Jaidah’s release?

Qureshi: “The Qatari government has been supportive. From what I know about the meetings that either we have had or the family has had, they’re extremely supportive, they want due process of the law to be done by the Emiratis…

“Their call is that they should’ve charged him or released him, but I believe that call is now similar to our own, which is that any kind of trial based on coerced testimony is fundamentally flawed and in the circumstances, especially when you consider the torture that he’s undergone, he should just be released.”

Follow Sam Bollier on Twitter: @SamBollier

Source: Al Jazeera