Beneath the exotic grandeur and lavish elegance of Dubai’s architectural skyline lies a dark, corrupt underbelly which discriminates against foreigners with the most extreme prejudice.
Writing for the Independent David Haigh, a former managing director for Leeds United, exposed the unjust legal system which seeks to discriminate against non-UAE citizens and the brutal prison conditions he was forced to survive in.
Haigh’s expose on the experiences he suffered comes on heels of Scottish expat, Jamie Harron, who was facing three months in a Dubai prison for the crime of accidentally touching another man’s hip.
While Harron’s exoneration – via a pardon from the Vice President and Prime Minster of United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum – is cause for celebration, Haigh reflects on his own harsh experience of being thrown into a similar conditions.
In his article Haigh recounts his time in prison as nothing short of ‘hell’.
During his 22 month stint, Haigh wrote how he would:
… never forget it – the stench, the dirt, the smell, the heat, and the lack of any information whatsoever.
He goes onto describe his harrowing experiences of being:
… punched, tasered, beaten and raped. The worst of this abuse was perpetrated by the prison guards and police.
Haigh said he lost a considerable amount of weight due to the stress of being in prison, and described how one time he was hit over the head with a broom handle by a prison guard after he asked for some painkillers.
He wrote of his ordeal:
When someone’s beating you or hurting you in whatever form, in a weird way you can deal with that.
What I found more harrowing was seeing them do it to other prisoners in front of everyone.
He recalls one occasion where a man was brought in from the street, they threw him onto the ground and three guards stood on his neck. The constant abuse and danger he and the inmates endured was unimaginable, he also writes about how young prisoners, ‘young kids’, came in only to be raped.
The way they treated people from India and Pakistan was far worse. In that sort of environment, you’re surrounded by the most depraved depths of humanity.
Before his nightmare experience, like anyone going to Dubai, he was lured in by its bright lights and luxurious aesthetic.
Like Jamie, I was lured by promises of a cosmopolitan lifestyle in Dubai. For many years, it had been my dream ‘home away from home’ before it turned into the place of my nightmares.
As then-managing director for LUFC, he had been involved with the negotiations to acquire the club from a UAE-based company. However the deal ‘quickly turned sour’ and the club was forced to take legal action for breach of contract.
It should have been a legal dispute which should have simply been resolved. However when Haigh got to Dubai he was arrested and charged with ‘fraud and embezzlement’. The company also filed a criminal complaint against him for posting ‘abuse to them on Twitter’ while in jail.
The British Embassy in Dubai were no help either, failing to protect his rights as a British citizen. He even sought help from retired English judges who now worked for the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts.
In the article he explains how he:
… wrote to them on many occasions requesting that my case be heard, and pleading with them to help stop the torture and abuse. My complaints fell on deaf ears and I was completely ignored.
It was only in March of last year, after a six month trial – and enduring 22 months of hell prior – he was set free.
In the beginning of Haigh’s article he describes his ‘firsthand experience’ of Dubai’s justice system as ‘vindictive’, ‘unjust’ and ‘weak’.
He goes onto say:
It is a system rampant with corruption, bribery and nepotism, one that discriminates against westerners and especially Brits, and where the detention of a westerner and specifically a Christian seems to be some sort of macabre sport.
Aside from his and Harron’s story he says he’s seen cases where tourists and expats have been apprehended for holding hands, drinking in public or, in Haigh’s case, using social media – simple misdemeanours which wouldn’t even be considered wrongdoing in other countries.
Haigh concludes that:
Dubai is not a safe place, despite its shiny exterior. Beneath lays a brutal and cold system that is ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous UAE businesses. Mine and Jamie’s are not the only cases.
Each case follows a similar pattern: wealthy Emiratis taking advantage of weak laws and corruption, wrongfully extorting civil settlements and stifling any legal threat against them. Dubai is effectively the world’s first corporate jail.
Since his ordeal and return to the UK, Haigh has setup Stirling Haigh with partner Radha Stirling, which is a civil and criminal law advisory which specialises in helping those caught up in UAE’s legal system.
Even before the unjust case of Harron – and Haigh’s exposé on the depraved prison system – I myself was always aware that behind Dubai’s extravagant urban landscape there’s was a murky side lurking about which rarely gets exposed.
From personal experience, growing up I would always hear shocking stories of Filipino expats who labour and live in conditions a far cry away from their wealthy employers in the UAE. I would hear and read accounts of the shocking – in some cases sexual – abuse Filipino workers, mainly women, would suffer at the hands of their wealthy Arab employers.
While it’s not always the case with every Filipino and foreign expat, who are fortunate enough to find employers in Dubai and throughout the UAE who treat them as one of their own, it is nonetheless a recurring issue which is swept under the rug.
Furtermore, whereas it’s important that we hear these shocking accounts from the likes Harron and Haigh, and the injustices they suffered, it is worth baring in mind it’s been occurring long before the media outcry.
It’s only because Harron and Haigh have a media outlet and domestic justice system sophisticated enough to support them as opposed to the migrants labourers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines who have already been systematically emasculated both physically and psychologically.