United Arab Emirates sheikh acquitted in torture case

A member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family was found innocent Jan. 10 of the torture and rape of an Afghan national. The judge reading the verdict at a court in the United Arab Emirates, the world’s third largest oil exporter and a US ally, gave no reason why Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan was exonerated of responsibility for abuse shown in a video first made public on the ABC network last year. But a lawyer for the sheikh, a son of UAE founder Sheikh Zayed, said his client was found to have “diminished liability” because two former business associates had drugged him and taken the video to extort money. The two men, Lebanese-American brothers Bassam and Ghassan Nabulsi, were sentenced to five years in absentia and fined 10,000 dirhams ($2,723) for blackmail.

In the footage, which dates back to 2004, Afghan grain trader Mohammed Shahpoor is seen struck with an electric cattle prod, beaten with whips and a plank of wood with a nail in it, and run over by a car at a desert location near the oasis of al-Ain. A Nepalese security guard shown in the video was also acquitted. A Syrian national was given one year for beating Shahpoor, and an Indian and a Palestinian were both sentenced to three years for sodomizing him with a stick.

“If the UAE government really wants to stop torture and to restore its sullied image, one trial will not be enough,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “While Sheikh Issa’s prosecution is a positive step, it is not a substitute for the institutional reforms needed to prevent torture.”

About 80% of the 4.2 million population of the UAE are foreigners. Ruling families control each of the seven emirates in the federation. (Reuters, Jan. 10)

See our last post on the UAE.

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