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March 18, 2016

Trial of U.S. Citizens Detained in UAE Resumes

By Leah Schulz

On Monday, March 21 the trial resumes in the UAE’s prosecution of American citizens Kamal and Momed Eldarat. Arrested in the UAE in August 2014, the Eldarats were held in secret, tortured, and denied access to legal counsel. Monday’s hearing could determine whether or not the father and son will be convicted of trumped-up terrorism charges.

On January 18, 2016, after nearly 18 months of detention, the Eldarats were charged with supporting two alleged Libyan terrorist groups during the Arab Spring. Neither groups are recognized by the U.N. as terrorist organizations. The Eldarats deny any involvement with the Libyan groups, which splintered in the wake of the country’s civil war. The only “evidence” the prosecution has to support its claims is the signed “confessions” of the Eldarats—obtained under torture.

On the first day of the trial, which began on February 15th, the judge adjourned the case for two weeks. When the trial resumed on February 29th, it was again postponed after 30 minutes to conduct a forensic medical assessment of the allegations of torture and to call additional witnesses. If the court finds Kamal and Momed guilty, the father and son could face the death penalty with no right to appeal. 

During these fits and starts, international pressure for the UAE to free the Eldarats is mounting. The prosecution of the Eldarats has been widely condemned by human rights groups and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on torture issued a statement in February citing credible evidence that the Eldarats were tortured and called for Kamal and Momed’s unconditional release.

This international pressure, coupled with the expected testimony of Libyan officials, including the country’s former president, bolsters the Eldarats’ chances for release. Furthermore, on March 14, 2016, a UAE court found two other Libyan nationals also charged with aiding armed groups innocent and the case was dismissed. That outcome bodes well for the Eldarats and their family. Both trials share common characteristics, including fabricated terrorism charges, a prosecution based on coerced confessions, retroactive use of a law, and prolonged, unlawful imprisonment.

There is no guarantee that the medical examination, carried out by a court appointed physician, heeded international standards for the investigation of torture. According to family member Amal Eldarat, Kamal and Momed’s respective examinations did not exceed five minutes. It is difficult to imagine how the extent of the abuse can be assessed in such superficial examinations.

U.S. support for the Eldarats is essential for a just resolution of the case. While U.S. embassy personnel attended the hearings in January and February and plan to attend Monday’s, the State Department has spoken of the Eldarats far too infrequently during their lengthy detention. When asked if she thought the U.S. government believes the UAE’s allegations against her father and brother, Amal Eldarat told the Huffington Post, "I don't think they think it's legit, but they're silent.”

Meanwhile, such silence has allowed UAE officials, like Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al Otaiba, to spin their own distorted version of events to the American public. In response to a Washington Post story on the Eldarat’s ordeal, al Otaiba stated, “just as in the United States, the defendants received a hearing, were represented by legal counsel and were allowed to contact their families and U.S. diplomatic representatives.” 

It is neither in the interests of the UAE nor the United States to let the case against the Eldarats drag on. The publicity surrounding the Eldarats is increasing, bringing light to the wider problem of the UAE’s brutal state security apparatus and raising questions about Washington’s alliance with Abu Dhabi. As Obama prepares to meet with GCC leaders in Saudi Arabia next month, there is a risk that the United States may prioritize its relations with a repressive ally over the human rights of American citizens. The U.S. government should do everything in its power to prove this is not the case.