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UK urged to pressure UAE to release British national, Emirati prisoners

Petition signed by 15 MPs says 14 individuals remain imprisoned despite having served their full sentences

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The UK has been urged to place pressure on the United Arab Emirates to release 14 individuals who are being kept in arbitrary detention despite having served their full prison sentences.

More than a dozen British politicians, including Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran and Conservative Desmond Swayne, signed onto a petition launched by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, the rights group reported on Sunday.

“Today, along with 15 senior Parliamentarians, we are highlighting the case of UK national Michael Smith who is being held in prison despite being already given a pardon and having completed his sentence,” Dr Tanya Newbury-Smith, a British academic and a trustee of the rights monitor, said in a statement.

According to the rights group, Smith, 54, has been detained without any legal basis for more than six years.

“Whereas the UAE might be a key ally to Great Britain, this does not mean the FCDO (Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office) should abandon an illegally detained British national like Michael.”

Smith was arrested in Thailand in 2009 and later extradited to the UAE over forgery charges. A Dubai court then sentenced him to 12 years in prison and issued a fine of $653,000 in a trial which campaigners say he had no legal representation nor interpreters.

His sentence was later reduced to six years by an appeals court, and according to the petition he was supposed to have been granted a pardon in 2014 as part of a general amnesty.

“During his detention, his charge was changed to two additional courts’ actions without his knowledge. During his day in court, Michael was denied adequate legal counsel or even an interpreter. This is not fair justice,” Newbury-Smith said.

“During his time in prison, he contracted HIV, which requires a constant supply of anti-viral drugs to treat the disease. Prison authorities, however, have failed to ensure treatment, turning a six-year prison sentence into a death sentence.”

Last month, Human Rights Watch launched a campaign for his release, saying that his extended detention and denial of adequate medical care “demonstrates the UAE’s total contempt for the rule of law”.

Other UAE detainees

In addition to Smith, the petition said 13 Emirati nationals are being held using National Law No 7, a piece of legislation that allows the kingdom to hold nationals for extended periods of time, even after their prison sentences have been served.

“UAE nationals are being held in counseling centers that are used to detain prisoners beyond their sentences until further notice,” the rights monitor said.

“This practically allows the UAE government to detain individuals indefinitely, including human rights defenders in the country, in an attempt to silence voices that call for reforms and political change.”

The petition also pointed to the detention of Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is reportedly being held in a heavily guarded villa against her will.

In February, new footage made public by the BBC showed Latifa describing her detention in clips filmed in secret on a mobile phone.

The princess, who is seen speaking with her back to a wall in a locked bathroom, says: “I’m a hostage. I’m not free. I am imprisoned in this jail. My life is not in my hands.”

Last year, a British judge ruled that the sheikh, who is prime minister and vice-president of the UAE, kept both his daughters captive and kidnapped the two on separate occasions.

“There has been strong backlash against Dubai over its detention and treatment of Princess Latifa, and her case is one of many,” Newbury-Smith said.

Last week, the UN Human Rights Office said it had “not yet” received any evidence regarding Latifa’s status from the Emiratis.