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David Haigh

Raped in a UAE cell, victim turns to Scotland Yard

'Dubai is effectively the world's first corporate jail' writes David Haigh [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 November, 2017

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Comment: Former Leeds FC Managing Director David Haigh has turned to Scotland Yard's war crimes unit to bring his torturers to justice.
Dubai's nightmarish legal system has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. 

The cases of Jamie Harron, a British man sentenced to three months for touching a man's hip in a bar, and David Ballantine, jailed for failing to pay a £2 taxi fare, provided a horrible eye-opener into the dark side of justice in the United Arab Emirates.

I have first-hand experience of what it's like to be a victim of Dubai's vindictive and unjust legal system. It's a system rampant with corruption, bribery and nepotism, one that discriminates against foreigners and especially westerners.

My own case was nothing more than a commercial dispute between two businesses and a former employee and employer; the fall-out of a deal and relationship gone sour with an Emirati company linked to the UAE and Bahrain's royal family.

However, after I flew to Dubai for what I thought was a meeting to resolve outstanding issues, I was subjected to a four year ordeal, 22 months of which were spent in jail where I was deprived of my freedom, tortured, Tasered and raped.

This week marks a turning point in my case, one that provides the first glimmer of light in what has been a deeply traumatic and painful journey to find justice.

I was raped and sexually abused, and my Omani partner had to leave our home in the Middle East, never to return

The UK's Metropolitan Police in London has now started an investigation into my torture and abuse at the hands of the UAE. This is being carried out by SO15, the specialist unit with responsibility for investigating terrorism, war crimes and allegations of torture. Universal jurisdiction means certain serious crimes, including torture, can be tried in the UK courts, even when the crime has been committed abroad.

Significantly, it means that my torturers and those involved in setting me up could be arrested if they set foot in the UK, put on trial and jailed if convicted.

In compiling the details of my case for my lawyers and the police, I have not only provided the names of those who sought to break me whilst I was in prison and forced me to sign false confessions and settlement agreements, but shared what is, for me, excruciating and deeply humiliating details of what happened.

It has not been easy for me to talk about the most intimate details of my life, not then, and not now

Pursuing my abusers to this point has already come at considerable emotional cost and personal cost.

In the year and a half since I was acquitted, I have continued to suffer the consequences of the treatment I endured while in Dubai. This includes serious physical and dental injuries sustained during my detention, fractures to my face, and damage to my knees, hands, shoulder and eyes.

The emotional wounds have been harder to heal, and I am still receiving support following a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This stress has caused immense strain on my personal relationships, causing me to split with my long-term partner.

I have spent five months as an in-patient in various hospitals over the past year, and even now my injuries require more surgery. 

Read more:  'All I want is justice': Torture survivor seeks reparation over abuses in UAE

It has not been easy for me to talk about the most intimate details of my life, not then and not now.

I am still haunted by the callous disregard shown to my many letters to the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts, the English language common law judiciary based in Dubai which dealt with my case. As well as setting out the abuse I was suffering, I begged that name of my partner and my sexuality would not be made public.

In Dubai, sexual relations outside marriage is a crime. Under the Penal Code there, same-sex sexual conduct is punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years and in certain circumstances death, and I truly feared the consequences.

The moment I discovered this information was not only shared, but posted online by the DIFC Court on its YouTube channel, was devastating. 

As a result, I was raped and sexually abused, and my Omani partner had to leave our home in the Middle East, never to return.

It is impossible to imagine how the constant threat of abuse makes you feel. All around you people are being raped and abused - young kids come in and get raped. The way they treated people from India and Pakistan was far worse. In that sort of environment, you're surrounded by the most depraved depths of humanity.

My original arrest was on the basis that I had "breached the trust" of my former employers, Gulf Finance House, a Bahraini investment bank linked to the Bahrain and UAE Royal Family. I was convicted, but then offered a Royal Pardon, provided I did not appeal and left the UAE.

Later, hours before I was due to fly home, I was arrested again for "Twitter slander", and held for a further five months.

The trial process that followed ignored all established fair trial procedures. Before my eventual acquittal, my former employers and their lawyers pursued civil claims against me and, for some time, I was denied access to a pen or paper, lawyers and translators.

Of course, it is absolutely right that visitors should be respectful of the laws and customs of individual countries. Cases of those who fall foul of the Dubai legal system, arrest and confinement for trivial offences are common.

Hours before I was due to fly home, I was arrested again for 'Twitter slander', and held for a further five months

I also learned the hard way that beneath the shiny exterior that tourists see in Dubai lays a brutal and cold system that is ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous UAE businesses.

Each case follows a similar pattern: Wealthy Emiratis taking advantage of weak laws and corruption, wrongfully extorting civil settlements and stifling any legal threat against them. Dubai is effectively the world's first corporate jail.

I am fortunate that there is strong legal support for my case. On my side is Toby Cadman, Head of the Guernica 37 International Chambers and Alun Jones QC head of Great James St Chambers.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also complained to the UAE about my treatment, announcing last year they were taking allegations of my mistreatment "extremely seriously" and were "setting out our concerns to the UAE authorities".

Read more: The UK is prioritising trade over human rights in UAE

Even with a strong legal team, the UAE, DIFC Court and my opponents have done everything they can to stop me accessing my own funds to pay for legal representation. I have found they have attempted to dissuade law firms from supporting me. Such has been the desperation for legal funds, I have even had to set up a go fund me account to raise funds to pay my lawyers.

So why am I still pressing for justice a year and a half after my return to the UK?

It makes me sick to my core to know that so many people continue to languish in Dubai jails, often victims of terrible injustice and horrendous abuses of their human rights. I cannot stand by and watch other people go through what I've been through, and I cannot live with myself if I know that my abusers can continue to act with impunity.

My former position at Leeds United means I am able to use the power of football to shine a light on the continued abuses of human rights by the UAE, and I shall use it to support others as long as I am able.

I will probably never recover from the horrors I endured

As a direct result of the work that I have carried out more than 10 people have been freed, most recently Brit Jamie Harron whose jail sentence was set aside after our sustained media campaign.

I will probably never recover from the horrors I endured, the damage done to me physically and emotionally.

It is also unlikely that my extensive financial losses will be fully compensated. Despite being acquitted, I have received no apology. What makes it bearable, is working with other victims in the hope I can prevent them and their families from experiencing my Dubai nightmare.

I speak regularly in public on the severe failings of the UAE justice system and the use of torture in its prisons. This includes speaking at the United Nations and I have been a witness in UK /UAE extradition proceedings.

I have established a consultancy firm with long term UAE justice campaigner Radha Stirling, Stirling Haigh, joined a human rights organisation, and the not-for-profit group Detained in Dubai, which assists other people who have been abused.

It is a high-profile organisation, but its website has been banned by the UAE authorities. That, perhaps, says it all.

David Haigh is an entrepreneur, sports financier, lawyer and advocate for human rights and justice. He is the former managing director of top English Football club Leeds United. 

Follow him on Twitter: @haighdavid

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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