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UAE: Prosecute Torture by Royal Family Member

Independent Body Should Investigate Abuse of Afghan Grain Dealer, Police Role and Flawed Ministry Review

(New York) - The United Arab Emirates should investigate and prosecute the torture of an Afghan grain dealer by a royal family member, Shaikh Issa bin Zayed al Nahyan, and the police, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to the UAE president ( ). Videotaped evidence appears to show Shaikh al Nahyan and the police beating, using electric cattle prods on, and driving over the Afghani man.

Human Rights Watch called on the government to immediately establish an independent body to investigate both the torture of the man, Mohammed Shah Poor, and the Ministry of Interior's failure to bring those involved to justice. A videotape of the attack was shown on an ABC News program on April 22, 2009 ( ).

"The government's failure to prosecute those involved in this undisputed incident of torture and abuse at the hands of a royal family member and the police is an appalling miscarriage of justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "What's even more shocking is the government's insistence that it investigated and found no violation of UAE laws."

According to credible information, including the videotape featured on the ABC News segment, Shaikh al Nahyan tortured Poor in October or November 2004, with the assistance of police and others, using whips, electric cattle prods and wooden planks with protruding nails. Shaikh al Nahyan also poured a large container of salt on Poor's bleeding wounds. Near the end of the video, Shaikh positioned Poor on the desert sand and then drove over him repeatedly; the sound of what appears to be breaking bones is audible on the tape. Poor survived, although he still had to spend months in hospital with broken bones and internal injuries. The acts shown on the video constitute clear violations of the UAE's Constitution as well as international human rights law.

Human Rights Watch received a copy of a letter sent by the UAE's Ministry of Interior on April 8, 2009 to ABC News, in which the ministry did not characterize the abuse in question as torture, but simply as an assault that the parties subsequently settled "privately." It further concluded that its investigation found that the police "followed all rules, policies and procedures correctly." Neither the police department nor the Ministry of Interior has made public the findings of the police review and investigation of the matter, or the basis for their conclusion of proper police conduct.

In its letter, Human Rights Watch urged UAE President Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan to establish an independent body with authority not only to investigate the torture episode but to also recommend disciplinary steps or criminal prosecution of persons implicated in abuse.

"Law enforcement officials become criminals when they inflict or tolerate torture," said Whitson. "The UAE government needs to act now if it is to restore public confidence in the country's criminal justice system and to show that the rule of law, and not impunity for its violators, is the policy of the country."

The Human Rights Watch letter urges the UAE government to publicly and unequivocally renounce the use of torture and physical abuse by the police, others in positions of authority, or private citizens, and to reaffirm its commitment to abide by international law provisions banning the use of torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Human Rights Watch called for police training on the acceptable use of force under international law.

The torture incident also highlights why the UAE should revise its draft media law ( ) and, among other things, remove Article 32, which provides a fine of up to 5,000,000 dirhams (US$1,350,000) against anyone who "disparages" senior government personnel or members of the royal family. Despite receiving international news coverage, media in the UAE have been reluctant to report on the incident.

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