Out of control Dubai drug crackdown leaves hapless “nice guy” restaurant manager facing 25 years jail
13 December 2020
Dubai appears to be making a huge effort to crackdown on what it sees as a drug problem in the emirate. Most visitors to Gulf countries are aware of the draconian punishments the region’s dictatorships mete out to offenders and Detained in Dubai has been fielding similar calls for almost thirteen years.
Over the last six months, the volume of drug related cases asking for help have increased by an alarming amount, and some of the cases give Gulf justice expert Radha Stirling cause for concern.
South African Xola Msomi is an educated, well spoken 31 year old who was working in Dubai to earn money for his 3 year old daughter’s future.
Popular Xola did not spend his money partying. He was focussed on sending money home and building himself a future. A fitness fanatic, he had no involvement with drugs but like most observant people, he was vaguely aware of shady characters who might be involved in that world.
Xola, like many middle income Dubai residents, lived in a house share where he could pay by the month for his room instead of paying a costly year’s rent in advance (the norm in the UAE). One of the other monthly “room renters” was called Shehab, an Egyptian with an unsavoury reputation.
“One of my friends told me that Shehab had stolen money from her,” says Melodie, a long time friend of Xola’s. “And another friend claimed that he had stolen some furniture from him. I disliked Shehab on sight, but Xola isn’t like me. He will see the good in everybody.”
Xola moved to a different house share after two months, and he and Shehab did not keep in contact, until one day Shehab began messaging and calling Xola during his work hours asking where he could buy some narcotics.
“I don’t know,” Xola told him. But Shehab would not let up. He harassed Xola for weeks by calls and messages, asking where he could buy drugs. Xola really didn’t know, but in the end, after being bombarded with calls and messages he suggested some shadier characters in the JBR area of Dubai who might be the types who could help Shehab.
“He really didn’t want to be involved. It’s not Xola’s world,” Melodie explains, “but Shehab was relentless and in the end, Xola thought the easiest thing to do would be to suggest the rough people for the drugs Shehab wanted. Once Shehab was in touch with those guys, surely he would leave Xola alone. With hindsight, it is clear to me that Shehab had been caught by the police for something, probably drugs. The police must have pressured him to get someone to sell him drugs so that they could get another arrest."
Xola and Shehab had a coffee together. Shehab had organised to meet these characters after their coffee and Xola hoped that would be the end of it.
“Shehab got increasingly agitated. He was getting very nervous and fidgety” continues Melodie. "After another hour, he got the message that the drug selling man was ready. Xola wanted to leave at that point and not be involved in the other men’s business but Shehab threw money at Xola, asking him to pay the men. Xola refused to do it but almost immediately, CID drugs officers appeared from everywhere and arrested Xola. They found the marked money Shehab had given him. They found no drugs.
“He had not gone to buy the drugs and Xola himself says he would not have done it,” says Melodie. “The police did not care, which makes me believe that they had been trying to set him up. Otherwise why get so excited about catching a man in possession of just some money?
"Shehab was taken somewhere else, separate from Xola.
"Xola now faces 25 years in prison for drug dealing, although he had no drugs in his possession, has no criminal history and has never sold drugs. He faces 25 years in prison because his ex flatmate is part of a police entrapment sting and threw money at him."
“This young man’s life is about to be taken away from him.” says Radha Stirling - CEO of Detained in Dubai. “This has the appearance of entrapment by a heavy handed police force who have been targeted with making drug arrests.
“Xola maintains his innocence. He didn’t obtain any drugs to sell Shehab. He didn’t have drugs on him or at his house.
“We know Emirati police are keen to secure convictions at any cost, even if by entrapment or where evidence is falsified or manufactured. Even third party and hearsay evidence will be accepted by Emirati courts in what seems to be an effort to line police and prosecution pockets with performance bonuses.
“We have seen in countries like the Philippines and Thailand the kind of horrific collateral damage that an unsophisticated legal system can wreak on people’s lives when hysteria is generated around drug crime. It puts enormous pressure on police to invent arrests and this is where innocent people’s lives are destroyed.”
The Gulf in Justice Podcast has released an episode on Xola’s case, interviewing his friends and family, while analysing the Dubai drug trap.
Veteran Middle East justice expert Radha Stirling launched her podcast Gulf in Justice in August 2020. Stirling has helped more than fifteen thousand clients over her thirteen years with organisation Detained in Dubai, which she founded in 2008. Gulf in Justice discusses up to date topical issues, interviewing a variety of guests and promoting change in the region.