Terrorism Charges Dropped for U.S. Citizens in UAE, but Their Ordeal Continues
By Leah Schulz
After nearly 600 days in detention, four court hearings, and a year and a half of separation from their loved ones, this Monday, April 11, American citizens Momed and Kamal Eldarat will have what is likely their last court hearing before the verdict.
The father and son were arrested in August of 2014, taken to prison and denied access to legal counsel. They were held incommunicado for months as their family desperately tried to find out where they were being held. In January, after nearly 18 months of detainment, they were convicted along with two others on charges of terrorism for allegedly supporting two Libyan armed groups during the Arab Spring. The only evidence supporting these claims came from false confessions obtained from torture.
But in an unexpected development, the Emirati State Security prosecutor withdrew all terrorism charges against the defendants during the most recent hearing on March 21.
“For more than a year and a half the UAE government has had time to investigate the alleged charges against my brother and father and proceed with presenting their case. Now, after more than 550 days, they have been forced to recognize what my family and I have said ALL along—Kamal and Mohamed are innocent of all terrorism charges,” said Amal Eldarat, Kamal’s daughter who is campaigning to free her father and brother.
While it’s a relief that Kamal and Momed will not be charged with terrorism, different charges now threaten their freedom. The new charges filed under the UAE criminal code allege that the Eldarats took “hostile actions against a foreign country”—Libya—by sending humanitarian supplies to organizations without the permission of the UAE government. If found guilty, Kamal and Momed could face up to 15 years in prison.
The court also released the findings of its forensic medical report. The court-appointed examiner, who reportedly took five minutes per examination, found no evidence of mistreatment or torture. This is despite the family’s claims, the reports of international experts to the contrary, and an affidavit from forensic torture specialist Dr. Iacappino, which raised serious concerns about the legitimacy and independence of the examination.
The questionable medical exam coupled with the new charges suggest that UAE authorities are unwilling to recognize their own mishandling of the case and acquit the businessmen. Family members worry that the prosecutor may have downgraded the charges in order to ensure a guilty verdict.
Following the March 21 trial, U.S. State Department Spokesperson John Kirby explained, “Our main concern here is that there’s an expeditious resolution to the case and that there’s a fair and transparent legal process that ensues, I think, in accordance with local law, and as I said, international norms.”
If the United States’ priority is to ensure a fair trial for its citizens, then it must intensify its efforts. The proceedings thus far have been drawn out and opaque. Lawyers hired by the Eldarat family were repeatedly denied access to their clients, and were regularly refused full and timely access to the case file against the defendants. The April 11 hearing will be the final opportunity for the Eldarats’ lawyers to present their defense.
As Obama’s meeting with GCC leaders in Saudi Arabia looms near, human rights advocates are calling on the president to address rights concerns in the region. The fate of the Eldarats and the level of support they receive from the United States will be a key indicator of Obama’s willingness to take a stand for the rule of law and human rights.