There is a word that perfectly expresses my feelings about stories — with the emphasis on ‘stories’ — being published in UK tabloids related to the conviction of three Britons for possession of a kilo of synthetic cannabis. That word is “Preposterous!” I would urge the British media to hold their horses before foaming at the mouth over nothing more than self-interested hearsay. Britain has long been a close friend of the UAE, nations that enjoyed a mutually respectful relationship since the Trucial States of British protectorate era, and that friendship has endured until today. Yet, we get the impression that British newspapers salivate over every opportunity to attack the UAE, especially Dubai.
If one is gullible enough to believe the Guardian, the Independent, the Mirror and the Daily Mail, Dubai is a brutal police state with those of us privileged to live here vulnerable to being tortured with guns held to our heads and forced to witness rapes. Those accusations would be laughable if they were not so damaging to Dubai’s reputation. I doubt that anyone who actually lives here finds them even remotely credible.
The dailies’ information apparently comes from the men’s family members who are only too willing to enjoy their 15 minutes of fame. Why is Dubai always a favourite target? Perhaps the answer lies in this saying uttered more than 2,500 years ago by the Greek playwright Aeschylus: “It is in the character of very few men to honour without envy a friend who has prospered.” The UK media was made to eat its words when Dubai did not sink into the sands, following the 2008 global economic downturn, so now its content with blackening the emirate’s name.
Particularly vocal is Grant Cameron’s mother who says her son’s friend Karl Williams was “laid out on the bed (of a hotel room), his trousers were stripped down and electric shocks were administered to his testicles while he was blindfolded” adding “all the boys had guns held to their heads” and were told they were going to die. Sounds a bit like Guantanamo! The Daily Mail says she is ecstatic over the four-years’ sentences because “they faced death” — nonsensical in itself when the penalty for possession of drugs is usually four years and for smuggling with the intent of distribution is ten years.
The brother of Suneet Jeerh says his brother is a “broken man” who did nothing wrong “except hire a car on holiday”, which, if true, tourists would be advised to take the bus or the Metro in case mafia drug lords have taken to stashing illegal substances in rental vehicles. Ridiculous!
Unfortunately, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (no relation to Grant Cameron one hopes) has been taken-in by the media frenzy. Cameron is “concerned” over the torture allegations and has pledged to raise the men’s case with President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Shaikh Khalifa is currently on a state visit to Britain and has met the Queen.
Cameron would be advised to put aside his newspapers long enough to investigate the facts of this case. In the first place, Dubai Police have adamantly denied any wrongdoing, a very credible denial when Dubai’s law enforcement officials stick strictly to the book and have cultivated a reputation for their dignified treatment of alleged criminals. A visit to one of Dubai’s prisons, where drug traffickers are incarcerated, is proof that Dubai treats even the most hardened criminals with compassion.
Secondly, Gulf News has reported that “court records do not mention ‘torture and extracted confessions’” as the three Brits have claimed.
Thirdly, and most importantly, Suneet’s own defence lawyer, Bin Haidar, revealed to Gulf News: “The defendants did not complain that they were tortured during the investigation. They did not say anything before police or prosecutors or before the judge ... Moreover, when the investigating prosecutor questioned them, they did not have any torture or signs of injury on their bodies. None of them asked to be medically examined.” He also makes a good point: “An interrogator, evidently, tortures a defendant to coerce him/her to confess. However, in this particular case, the trio denied their accusations before police and prosecutors. That’s crystal-clear evidence that they were not tortured ... because had they been tortured, they would have eventually confessed and not denied their charges.”
There are approximately 120,000 British residents in the UAE who come here to work in a tax-free environment or retire in the sun, taking full advantage of the security, unbeatable infrastructure, harmonious multi-cultural ambience — and the wealth of facilities that our nation is famous for providing. They are generally happy and successful. Many would like to remain here forever. The UAE is their second home. Their children are taught together with ours, many in English schools. They often say this is the best country in the world to bring up children, a place where parents can be assured there are no drug pushers lurking outside school gates.
Outsiders may criticise the UAE’s strict drug laws as much as they like, but we make no apology for being intolerant of evil merchants of intoxication or, in some instances, death. We have no intention of permitting the senseless ruining of the lives of our young people or those of our expatriate communities for that matter, simply to please western liberals who know the score before they arrive. People who wish to snort or shoot-up can do so on their own ground. They are not welcome here. Cameron has recently announced that the UK Government will not tolerate anyone “threatening our lives and our security”. He is right, but why do British media hounds exhibit double standards by expecting any less from us?
Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.