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Pot-smokers need to steer clear of Dubai

By Hempology | March 26, 2008

Mon, 24 Mar 2008
Times, The (UK)
Murad Ahmed


A speck of dirt invisible to the human eye was all it took to land Cat Le Huy in a Dubai jail.

Officials at Dubai airport claimed they had found 0.03 grams of hashish in the Endemol television executive’s bag after he had travelled to the United Arab Emirates to visit a friend last month.  They accused him of possession – — which would have led to a mandatory four-year prison sentence had he been convicted.  After he spent six weeks in Dubai’s jails protesting his innocence, prosecutors dropped the case this month.

Mr Le Huy, 31, a German citizen living in London, claims that Dubai officials are paid a “bounty” for arresting drug offenders, a practice confirmed independently to The Times by sources who did not wish to be named.

“People shouldn’t go to Dubai until the laws change,” Mr Le Huy said.  “They are running a risk.  Even if you’re innocent and know about the laws, if they suspect you of anything, you run the risk of incarceration.”

His experience is common, according to Fair Trials International, a legal charity, which says that drug-related arrests have increased rapidly since 2006, when the laws changed in Dubai so that trace amounts of banned substances picked up by airport detection equipment were deemed to indicate possession.  “People are being subjected to very thorough searches,” said Saima Jirji, a solicitor at the charity.  “Even seams in their clothing and the fluff in their pockets is being checked.”

Mr Le Huy claims that he was also approached by a detective asking whether he knew any drug-takers back in Britain and whether he could coerce them into coming to Dubai.  He alleged that at least two other foreign inmates had been approached with similar requests.  The UAE Embassy in London refused to comment.

At first he was accused of smuggling heroin after officials found pills in an unmarked container that turned out to be jet-lag medicine sold freely over the counter in Dubai and the US.

He was strip-searched.  Officials claimed to have found a trace of hashish in his bag and detained him.  He was asked to sign letters in Arabic, which he could not read.  Only after being told that he would at once be deported if he signed did he do so, but he wrote “under duress” beneath each signature.

Instead of being deported he was put in solitary confinement.  Because he was dehydrated and forbidden from drinking he was only able to produce a urine sample after eight hours.

Last year 59 British people were detained in Dubai over drugs offences, and so far this year the figure is nine, according to the Foreign Office.  Keith Brown served nine months after customs officers found a 0.003 gram trace of cannabis stuck to his shoe.  This month the BBC Radio 1 DJ Grooverider, whose real name is Raymond Bingham, started a four-year sentence for possessing 2.16 grams of cannabis.

Fair Trials said the list of prohibited substances included everything from antidepressants to a cough medicine for children.  Even those in Dubai on transit to another destination can be arrested under the regulations.

Mr Le Huy denies that there were ever any drugs on his person.  “Hashish isn’t something available in my social circle — the idea it was in my bag is absolutely ludicrous,” he says.

He was pressed by the authorities to plead guilty, but his refusal left him in a legal limbo.  After a persistent campaign by his friends in Britain and after negotiations with his lawyer in the UAE, the Dubai authorities agreed to drop the investigation.

He had initially spent two weeks at the airport jail, where he couldn’t shower because of the condition of the bathrooms.  To compensate, he “discovered the magic of Dettol”, using the disinfectant to shower.

At Dubai Central Jail he suffered even worse conditions.  Inmates slept eight to a cell.  Because of the poor food he lost 15 kilograms in weight ( more than two stone ).  “Every day was a bad day when you wake up and realise, ‘I’m still here.’ ” When he was finally released, he was taken to a police station to pick up his passport, only for detectives to put him in a bloodstained cell for another four hours.

During the six weeks he had found solace in the company of other English-speaking inmates such as Grooverider.  Mr Le Huy said that foreign inmates were treated with “distant contempt” by guards, who “played mind games” with them.  “They’d ask us to go out in the courtyard at 1am, then take four hours to search all our cells.  There was a lad from London who had a bronchial infection.  They made him wait in the rain for four hours even after we asked the guards if he could stand in the corridor.”

“The laws and punishments of a nation are theirs to set,” he emphasised, adding: “My point is that you will be detained for a minimum of 21 days if they suspect you of anything, whether or not you’re innocent.”

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