Cat Le-Huy: People enter the legal system and just disappear

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The Independent Online

I arrived in Dubai on 26 January 2008. I was there to visit a friend and, like too many visitors to the city, I was naïve. I travelled light and was looking forward to the beautiful weather and sandy beaches. What I found was very different.

Passing through Dubai International Airport, as thousands of other Brits do every week, a guard pulled me out of the passport line. He looked through my bag where he found some melatonin tablets. Melatonin is a legal health supplement which is used to combat the effects of jet lag. It's available over the counter in the United Arab Emirates.

The guard said the tablets were heroin. He then went through the rest of my bag and claimed to find 0.06 grams of hash, which would be lighter than a grain of sugar.

I spent 24 hours in holding cells at the airport, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. The walls of that cell were covered in dried blood and I was denied food and water. Eventually I was thrown into the airport detention centre. This was an open prison which resembled a really bad hostel. There were six men to a cell. We were often woken in the night for "cell inspections". One British inmate had pneumonia but was made to stand in the freezing cold.

We were just waiting to be processed. After 10 days in the airport detention centre I was told I was being sent home, but I was just being moved to an "outhouse" of the Dubai central prison, Al Wathba.

Although I never felt threatened by violence my health was a concern. There were two hepatitis cases, and one inmate contracted Aids. Food poisoning was also a danger.

When I was released – without charge – I had spent just over two months in Dubai. And I was one of the lucky ones. One of the sad things about Lee Brown's case is that it isn't an isolated incident.

The West has spent a lot of money wooing Dubai and its seemingly Western luxury. But its legal system is dangerously flawed. Because there is no accountability, people can enter the system to be "processed" and simply disappear.