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UAE Torture Tape Prince Accused of 25 More Cases of Abuse

On May 5, 2009

A wealthy UAE Prince, Sheikh Issa Bin Zayed al Nayhan has been implicated in a scandal involving a tape of him torturing a Afghan businessman who allegedly cheated him in a grain deal. The videotape was leaked to the US by US-based businessman Bassam Nablusi, a former business parter of Sheikh Issa. The tape, first aired on ABC News last week, shows the Prince subjecting the Afghan to horrendous violence, including whipping on the body and face, pouring salt into his wounds, setting fire to his genitalia and finally running him over with a landrover. The tape makes for gruesome viewing, and the screams of victim, Mohammed Shah Poor, are clearly audible. You can see the tape here (warning: this will not let you sleep). Members of the police force were also complicit in the attack. Mr Poor managed to survive the attacks, but had to remain in hospital for a long time. Sheikh Issa claims that the dispute was 'settled privately'.

Nablusi's lawyers in the US announced on Sunday that they have discovered considerably more evidence against Sheikh Issa, who has allegedly been involved in 25 similar attacks. The lawyers claim to have tapes showing Sheikh Issa torturing men who appear to be Sudanese migrants. Police officers are also complicit in the these are attacks, and are seen joining in with the violence.

According to Anthony Buzbee, a Texas-based lawyer reprenting Nablusi:

'I have more than two hours of video footage showing Sheikh Issa's involvement in the torture of more than 25 people....I also have access to at least three witnesses, all of whom will testify that the brutality exhibited in the videos by Sheikh Issa is part of a pattern of conduct… that was well known to various government officials within Abu Dhabi," he added.

This case raises grave concerns for the welfare of migrant workers in the UAE. Although Mr Poor was a businessman rather than a construction worker or domestic like many South Asians in the region, this case demonstrates at the undercurrents of racism that permeate UAE society. Were it not for the fact that the tape was leaked, wealthy and influential Sheikh Issa may have got away completely with the brutal abuse of an immigrant worker. The tapes involving the Sudanese workers have not been yet been aired publically, but these, and the apparent willingness of the government to turn blind eyes to such abuse, suggest that there is an endemic culture of abuse in the UAE.

Human Rights Watch has sent a letter to the government of the UAE condemning the abuse of Mr Poor, which points out the government's apathy in investigating Sheikh Issa's crimes.

These acts constitute clear violations of the UAE's Constitution as well as international human rights law. The Constitution of the UAE guarantees in absolute and unconditional terms that "no person shall be subjected to torture or degrading treatment." The prohibition of torture is one of the most fundamental under customary international law, which binds the UAE. States have an obligation not only to prevent torture, but also to conduct thorough and impartial investigations, and to prosecute those found responsible for committing them......

These acts of torture by Shaikh al Nahyan and the police are extremely serious and require the immediate action of UAE authorities. Based on the information we have received to date about the Ministry of Interior's response to the brutal events depicted in the video, we regret that the Ministry has failed to properly investigate and prosecute or discipline any of the perpetrators in this incident.

We are in receipt of a copy of the Ministry's letter sent on April 8, 2009, in which the Ministry did not characterize the abuse in question as torture, but simply as an assault that the parties (presumably Shaikh al Nahyan and Mr. Poor) subsequently settled "privately."

The case is now receiving a high level of international attention, and has even clouded negotiations over a nuclear deal between the UAE and the US, which President Obama has yet to sign. Washington has not made any official comments about the tapes, although a 2008 Human Rights Report on the UAE makes mention of 'reports that a royal family member tortured a foreign national who had allegedly overcharged him in a grain deal."