UK government accused of abandoning British man with HIV imprisoned in UAE

The case of Michael Smith, who was pardoned in 2014 for his alleged crime, has been brought back into the spotlight by news of Princess Latifa

Samuel Lovett
Friday 26 February 2021 15:47 GMT
Mr Smith spent just over two years in a Thai jail fighting his case before being extradited to the UAE in 2011
Mr Smith spent just over two years in a Thai jail fighting his case before being extradited to the UAE in 2011 (AFP via Getty Images)

The government has been accused of abandoning a British man with HIV, who has been locked up for more than a decade on a six-year criminal sentence in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite having been pardoned in 2014.

International United Nations Watch (IUNW), a UK human-rights group, has written to parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights to raise the case of 54-year-old Michael Smith, who was first detained in 2009 in Thailand before being extradited to the UAE in 2011.

Mr Smith was initially arrested on charges of stealing £100 million from a property firm owned by the emirate’s vice president and prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This charge was later reduced to £500,000.

He spent just over two years in a Thai jail fighting his case, during which time he claims to have contracted HIV in a prison hospital.

Thailand extradited him to the UAE in June 2011, where the Dubai Public Prosecution amended his charges to the more serious offences of forgery of official documents, abuse of public office and fraud.

Soon after reaching Dubai’s Central Prison, Mr Smith was sentenced to 12 years and found that his time imprisoned in Bangkok would not count towards it.

His lawyer claims he had no legal representation nor interpreters to understand the Arabic-language court proceedings. An appeals court later reduced his sentence to six years and set a release date for 23 October 2017.

However, in June 2014, the Sheikh pardoned him as part of an amnesty marking the holy month of Ramadan.

But Mr Smith was not released and eventually discovered that he had been tried a second time, without his knowledge, by a civil court in 2012. Five years later, the sheikh’s now-bust property firm, Limitless, brought a duplicate civil lawsuit against him.

Mr Smith’s lawyer claims that the trial went ahead without Mr Smith’s knowledge or presence. Despite multiple requests, including by the British embassy, authorities have not yet provided him with a copy of the court ruling.

Prison authorities have also denied Mr Smith regular access to critical HIV medication and adequate health care throughout his detention, even after undergoing surgery in July 2020 to remove a kidney following a cancer diagnosis.

His lawyer says he was scheduled to visit the hospital three months later and then every six months for check-ups, but has not been taken for follow-up care since his surgery.

In the wake of the Princess Latifa scandal, who claimed in a series of secretly recorded messages that she is being held in captivity by he father, Sheikh Mohammed, IUNW said it hoped the British government will intervene in Mr Smith’s own case. Dubai’s royal family insists Princess Latifa is “being cared for at home”.

“There has been significant publicity around Princess Latifa’s appalling treatment and detention, but her case is the tip of the iceberg, which is why we are writing to parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights,” Maya Garner, a spokesperson for the IUNW, told The Independent.

“In our letter, we highlight the case of Michael Bryan Smith, a UK national who is being illegally incarcerated, despite being given a pardon and having completed his sentence.

“Worst still he is being denied unfettered access to the cocktail of anti-viral drugs necessary to preserve his life, effectively turning a prison sentence into a death sentence.

"It is time for the FCDO (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) to stand up for British nationals like Michael and those who are being detained illegally by countries we consider to be our allies.”

Human Rights Watch said the UAE’s criminal justice system “remains a warren of due process violations, politicised charges, and malevolence that ruins the lives of the people it entraps”.

“Nothing about the details of Michael Smith’s extradition to the UAE and his court proceedings there, both civil and criminal, inspire any faith in the UAE judiciary’s ability to abide by its own laws, let alone international standards,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director for the group.

“Holding a detainee beyond his prison sentence and depriving him of adequate medical care for a serious health condition demonstrates the UAE’s total contempt for the rule of law.”

IUNW claims it has not heard back from the Foreign Office. A spokesperson for the department told The Independent: “We have supported Mr Smith since his detention, and will continue to do so. While we cannot interfere in the legal processes of another country, we have been in close contact with the UAE authorities to ensure that his health and welfare needs are met.”

UAE’s ministry of justice has been approached for comment.

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