Lawyers like me don't often come across cases that impact the world. Such opportunities are incredibly rare, but every once in a while we end up taking a case that represents much more than the sum of its legal parts.
I became the lead defence counsel for several men of Libyan origin who were disappeared by the United Arab Emirates' (UAE) State Security Service (SSS) in 2014. I knew at the time that our position was a just one, but I didn't realize how much the fate of my clients would impact the conduct and reputation of nations.
Our case is a daunting one. I lead a team of international defence lawyers in defence of one Canadian-Libyan, 45-year-old Salim Alaradi, along with two U.S.-Libyan nationals, Kamal and Mohamed Eldarat, who were all essentially subjected to enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention when they were locked up by the SSS in secret prisons for several months.
Nobody knew where these men were and why they were taken, other than that all had lived in the UAE and had strong ties there. After 16 months of waiting, our clients were brought before the UAE Supreme Court under allegations that they provided material support for Libyan groups described as terrorist organizations. This was a preposterous allegation. None of these men have any ties to terrorism and are well-known businessmen with long records of international commerce and philanthropy.
We were convinced that the Supreme Court would rule on our side and acquit them, especially when we discovered that the prosecution had built its case almost exclusively on fabricated evidence obtained through torture. Our resolve was further strengthened when in March the court had ordered the release of several other Libyan men who were locked up for similar reasons.
In fact, these innocent men were subject to numerous methods of torment by SSS, including electric shocks and beatings. Their families, upon hearing such news, decided admirably to not politicize this case in a way that would overshadow our main call for the court to recognize basic human dignity.
Tireless campaigning by family members and other advocates has resulted in global awareness of this case, prompting organizations and bodies like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN Human Rights Council to issue explicit condemnations against the UAE SSS's inhumane behaviour. This international exposure, which includes coverage by just about every mainstream media outlet one can think of, has certainly gotten the prosecution's attention.
Salim Alaradi appears in a photo provided by members of his family. (Photo: Free Salim)
During the home stretch of our trial before the UAE Supreme Court, right when we could smell the victory of justice, the prosecution decided to pull a legal stunt that made a true mockery of its own position. They decided to drop the terrorism allegations and to instead pin our clients with charges that were much less serious.
This shift in legal strategy showed just how preposterous the prosecution's case truly is. We had to rebuild our defence accordingly, but later discovered that the prosecution offered zero evidence to back up their claims. Literally nothing. This means we're left to argue against an empty-handed prosecution before the highest court in the country -- a truly bizarre situation.
On the flip side, our defence has only gotten stronger. We've acquired affidavits and testimonies from important Libyan officials, including the country's attorney general; the former president of Libya's National Transitional Council (NTC); the defence, interior and local government ministers; along with numerous mayors -- all of whom maintain that Salim, Kamal and Mohamed did nothing wrong.
Even Libya's chamber of commerce and the Red Cross, along with numerous other relief organizations, have spoken out on our behalf, noting our clients' support for their work during Libya's post-revolution chaos.
Our incredible legal team, made up of leading lawyers from the UAE, U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Switzerland and Libya presented our final defence last month. The verdict will be read on May 30 and the decision will be final, with no opportunity to appeal. We are cautiously optimistic and hope that this nightmare for our clients and their families will end with justice.
The whole process has been distressing and draining, and I've tried to keep silent as the leader of our defence team. It's been tough, having witnessed the kind of pain and trauma that such a blatant violation of basic human dignity inflicts. It's time for this dark episode to come to a close and for Salim, Kamal and Mohamed to be reunited with their families.
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