As a former bodyguard to members of the Abu Dhabi royal family, Hasnain Ali was used to being at the beck and call of those with power in the United Arab Emirates. But little can have prepared him for the reception he allegedly received when he stepped into a car in Dubai a year ago.
The 32-year-old Briton had travelled to the glittering Gulf city last May for a short break to celebrate a family birthday, expecting to return to Knightsbridge to continue his work as a security industry professional.
Instead, Mr Ali found himself under arrest by the anti-narcotics squad of the Dubai Police after climbing into what he thought was the car of a friend ahead of a night out. Within moments, he claims, he was set upon by detectives, who held a stun gun to his face and was dragged out of the car and beaten on the pavement.
For the next four days, he was held incommunicado in Dubai’s central police station when, he alleges, he was slapped, kicked and spat on, as well as being threatened with stun guns and sexual assault.
It is an experience that haunts Mr Ali. In an interview while in custody, he said: “There were brutal beatings, verbal abuse and threats to my family. It is hard to say what happened or what I was asked at each interrogation session. I was in a lot of pain, coughing up blood from being repeatedly kicked in the stomach. I had not slept for several days because of the pain I was in, the filthy conditions, and the constant noise in the cells made by prisoners and police.”
Mr Ali was then presented with a document written in Arabic – a language he does not speak – and told to sign it. The document was a confession to possessing and intending to sell 150g of cocaine, an offence for which he now faces a potential death sentence.
He will not learn the verdict of the panel of three judges trying him until next month at the earliest. But campaigners have raised the case as the latest in a series of police investigations in Dubai tainted by allegations of torture and mistreatment to force false confessions out of prisoners.
Three British tourists were released last year after spending more than a year in a Dubai prison for a crime they insist they did not commit. Grant Cameron, Karl Williams and Suneet Jeerh said they were repeatedly beaten and attacked with Tasers, and described going to Dubai as the worst mistake of their lives.
Reprieve, the charity which has taken up Mr Ali’s case, said the authorities in Dubai had repeatedly failed to conduct appropriate and timely investigations into torture allegations. A study by the charity last year, based on interviews with prisoners in Dubai Central Jail, found that more than three quarters said they had suffered physical abuse after their arrest. A further 85 per cent said they were forced to sign documents in a language they did not understand.
Kate Higham, who has investigated Mr Ali’s case, said: “The British government must also do everything in its power to end this culture of impunity and secure justice for Mr Ali after his terrible ordeal.”
Since 2007, Mr Ali had acted as a close protection officer and arranged residential security for Sheikh Fatima Bint Mubarak, the mother of the current crown prince of Abu Dhabi, whose family’s assets include Manchester City Football Club. He also acted as the bodyguard for one of the crown prince’s sons while he was in Britain on holiday.
But such links have counted for nothing in Dubai, where Mr Ali claims police officers mistook him for a suspect, known only as “Sam”. He alleges he was told a decision had been taken to make him carry the blame for cocaine found in the car and an apartment close to where he was staying. The Briton denies the charges against him.
In a sign that the Dubai judiciary is beginning to confront allegations of police torture, the judge in the case this week heard evidence from two prisoners who were being held in the same police station as Mr Ali and testified they had seen the after effects of his maltreatment, including seeing him coughing up blood.
Dubai police, who have previously denied claims of torture against them, did not respond to a request to comment on Mr Ali’s case.