The UK Government has been condemned for encouraging defence firms to showcase hardware including covert surveillance devices, armoured cars and electronic riot gear, at a security show in the United Arab Emirates, where police have been accused of brutally suppressing dissent.
The Emirates Security Exhibition and Conference (Emsec), which is endorsed by the UK Government’s trade arm, is sponsored by the Dubai police force, which has repeatedly been accused of torture, including against several British citizens in recent years.
The event comes after authorities in the country, which have dismayed campaigners by seeking re-election to an influential UN body on human rights this week, were accused of imprisoning hundreds of rape victims, including pregnant women and domestic servants.
It has been organised by ADS Group, a UK security and arms trade body with close links to UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), a Government department working to promote sales of British exports.
A team from UKTI is attending the event along with Britain’s consul general in Dubai, The Independent understands, while the British Embassy in UAE has hosted an evening reception for the event.
Campaigners from Human Rights Watch and Reprieve demanded that UKTI reveal what checks were made to ensure that equipment on sale at the show would not be used for torture or in surveillance operations against democracy campaigners in the country. ADS said that all exhibitors at its pavilion at the trade show were required to be “wholly compliant” with “regulation governing defence and security exports”.
Lawyers from Reprieve have been working for Ahmad Zeidan, a 22-year-old British student from Reading who was sentenced to nine years in jail in 2013 for drugs charges on the basis of a “confession” he gave, it is claimed, after being beaten and threatened with rape. Mr Zeidan was sentenced after 0.04g of cocaine, worth around £3, was found in a car he was travelling in. This summer he again appealed to the UK Government to intervene in his case, but the Foreign Office refuses to confirm whether it has raised the case with UAE authorities.
“The Emirati authorities have boasted to the UN about their human rights record, but the reality is dismal,” Maya Foa of Reprieve, told The Independent. “For example, the UAE systematically uses torture to secure convictions – and death sentences – based on bogus statements. Instead of lending UK support to the Emirati police responsible for his torture, the British Government should make clear that we want no part in such abuses – and should demand the release of victims like Ahmad without delay.”
The UAE security show comes amid reports that hundreds of women, some pregnant or domestic servants who are victims of rape, are being imprisoned under laws that ban consensual sex outside of marriage. The claims come as the UAE is set to be elected to a key UN committee on human rights today, to the dismay of open government campaigners. “The UAE has shown a complete disregard for basic human rights since its [first] election to the UN Human Rights Count in 2012. There is little to suggest this will change or that the UAE will have any positive influence on its work,” said Nicholas McGeehan, UAE researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The EmSec event comes a week after UKTI minister Francis Maude welcomed UAE officials to London and Manchester for bilateral trade talks aimed at doubling the value of UK-UAE trade to £50bn by 2020. The country is already the fourth largest arms importer in the world and last year it was designated a “priority market” by the UKTI alongside Iraq, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “Beneath its veneer of respectability and modernism the UAE is governed with a brutal and unaccountable police force.
“The Dubai police has been widely accused of human rights abuses, including torture, and it is totally wrong for UK companies to be arming them. The UK should be calling for change, not profiting from oppression.”
A spokesperson for the UAE embassy in London, said: “We categorically reject any claim that the Dubai police or any other state entity in the UAE approves the use of torture. It is a crime, and allegations of torture should be brought before the courts. Also, rape is a very serious crime under UAE laws, a fact reflected in the penal sentences associated with it.”
A spokesperson for UKTI said: "The Government considers all invitations from foreign governments to attend defence exhibitions very carefully, and respect for human rights is a key consideration.”
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