Outlook Magazine, September 2021
The man’s voice was shaking on the telephone, “I’ve just been held at the airport, they say it is on an Interpol Red Notice from the UAE, I haven’t even lived there since 2008!” The woman on the other end of the line replied assuringly, in a tone equally professional and compassionate; even as she scrolled through dozens of emails on her laptop; each with a nightmarish story, an emergency, or a desperate plea for help.
So begins a typical morning for the founder and CEO of Detained in Dubai, Radha Stirling. For over a dozen years, foreign nationals embroiled in legal dramas with the United Arab Emirates have found comfort in her calming, authoritative voice. She promises them solutions, and delivers.
Stirling has been involved in some of the UAE’s highest profile cases, including bringing media attention to the escape and capture of Princess Latifa, the daughter of the Ruler of Dubai. But, she says, most of her work is done out of the spotlight. “At least 60-70% of our cases involve financial and business disputes between Emiratis and foreign citizens who have been cheated, extorted, or wrongfully prosecuted for fraud, when local partners exploit UAE laws and a biased justice system to their advantage,” she explains.
The depth and breadth of her experience has made Radha Stirling the go-to legal and human rights expert on the UAE and broader Gulf region for major news outlets, such as the BBC, CNN, Sky News, and print media. She is a regular speaker and consultant with policy think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and her work requires almost constant liaising with government officials around the world. “I remember the appalling case of Canadian Andre Gauthier, who had been wrongfully accused and charged with a massive scam in the UAE which he himself had actually exposed. The real scamster tried to scapegoat Andre, and he spent over a year in prison. But we consulted with the Canadian government day and night, advising their diplomatic strategy for securing Andre’s release until finally the UAE dropped the charges on all counts and let him go home.”
Last year, Stirling expanded her work with the founding of Due Process International, which allows her to accept cases outside the Gulf, addressing legal failings throughout the Middle East, Asia, and beyond.
“Foreign nationals often do not know what they are getting into when they go abroad,” she explains, “This is particularly true for investors and business people. They typically examine a very narrow set of criteria before deciding to set up stakes in another country – the ease of investing, the procedures for obtaining visas, rules on ownership – but they seldom review the overall human rights situation, the impartiality of the judiciary, and the actual experiences of other foreigners who have landed in legal trouble there. Just as with tourists, business people can easily find themselves under arrest in the UAE, and many other countries where the legal system has not kept pace with business development; even if they have scrupulously followed the law.”
Calls like the panicked one she received in the morning, come in all day long. “The Gulf countries, the UAE and Qatar particularly, are habitual abusers of the Interpol system, having Red Notices issued as a form of harassment and even blackmail to force foreign investors and business people to pay off fabricated debts and exorbitant settlements,” Stirling cautions, “Our organisation has a 100% success rate in getting these abusive Notices removed. Being listed on Interpol is disastrous for anyone, being treated like a fugitive when you have done nothing wrong, but it can be especially devastating for a business owner with an international clientele or supply chain.”
Not only has Stirling been successful in the removal of her clients’ wrongful Red Notices, she has become the leading advocate for reform of the entire Interpol system, advising policy officials and legal activists on how the international policing organisation can improve.
“After years of supplying expert testimony in UAE extradition cases in the UK, detailing the corrupt, frequently brutal criminal justice system; the High Court of England finally has taken the position that Britain will not extradite people to the Emirates, due to human rights concerns. Nevertheless, people will still get detained and questioned in the UK over an Interpol Red Notice requested by the UAE,” Radha says, “In 2019, an Australian footballer, Hakeem Al Araibi, who is a refugee from Bahrain was arrested in Thailand over a Red Notice from Bahrain – the country he fled for political persecution. After considerable campaigning and communication with authorities, he was released; but it never should have happened. It is against Interpol’s own rules; but Interpol does not screen Red Notice requests before listing people. It can take months for Interpol to grant removal requests over Notices that never should have been issued. Even when a country routinely requests wrongful listings, Interpol does not revoke or suspend their right to request Red Notices. There need to be measures inside the organisation to check abuse of the system. Otherwise, countries like the UAE will continue to use Interpol as an instrument to expand their own de facto jurisdiction overseas”
That kind of overreach is something Radha Stirling has cautioned against for years. In one of her most talked-about cases, British national Laleh Shahravesh was arrested in the UAE over a Facebook post she wrote while in England. “The UAE’s Cybercrime laws are so vague and broad that literally anyone, anywhere, who says something online, can be charged in Dubai with a cybercrime if someone in the Emirates doesn’t like what they said. If they have never been to the UAE, it doesn’t matter. They could potentially be tried in absentia, and even reported to Interpol – all without knowing any of this has happened, just like Laleh.”
She is able to do what ambassadors, foreign secretaries, and diplomats cannot
- Outlook Initiative
After more than 13 years and over 15,000 clients, dealing with every imaginable type of case – from being jailed in Dubai over a selfie at the wrong time and place, to business disputes worth hundreds of millions of pounds, from foreign nationals forced to sign false confessions to family members being detained over a relative’s bounced cheque; there is no other organisation with the expertise or track record of Detained in Dubai, and no one with the experience, insight, and skill of Radha Stirling in dealing with seemingly hopeless cases. More than once, a wrongfully accused foreign national has been released from UAE custody just because a tweet or news article mentioned that Detained in Dubai had taken the case; Dubai’s Ruler has even intervened to overrule court decisions on behalf of Stirling’s clients. If someone is facing legal problems in the UAE, the Gulf, or indeed, with the creation of Due Process International, in any foreign jurisdiction anywhere, they should have Radha Stirling on speed-dial.
She is able to do what ambassadors, foreign secretaries, and diplomats cannot; and when you hear her calm voice promising you over the phone --as the police are pulling you aside -- that everything is going to be OK; you can be certain that it will be. There are thousands of people who have been in the same predicament who can attest to that.