Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is the latest Brit to criticise Foreign Office for their incompetency and dwindling diplomatic influence in the Middle East. Her criticism comes after a stream of Brits complained about their arbitrary detention abroad.
Ms Ratcliffe said she did not agree she should be thanking the foreign secretary for her return after a long six years of detention in Iran’s notorious prison. This is the same sentiment that most Brits have shared upon their return home and it’s time the FCDO is held to account.
The first thing most foreign nationals do when they experience problems abroad is to contact their embassies. It is fair to say that people expect their countries’ diplomats to swoop in and protect them with all the weight of their governments behind them, particularly citizens of Western democracies. The experience of British nationals in the UAE could not be further from this expectation.
British grandfather Albert Douglas is in exactly the same situation now. The UK has alleged that he is their “top diplomatic priority” and yet, despite forensics proving his innocent and despite the independent confirmation of his torture and abuse, he is still locked up in a Dubai prison.
Charles Ridley and Ryan Cornelius just had an additional 20 years put on their 10 year sentences in Dubai. His case along with Albert Douglas and Billy Hood, have been raised in Parliament but nothing significant has been done to secure their release.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, who has helped free thousands of British nationals from wrongful detention in the UAE says that the FCDO is letting British citizens down. “Typically, consular staff just provide people with a list of local lawyers, visit inmates with inconsistent frequency, and help relay communication with their families,” Stirling explains, “There is no question that the FCDO has the power to intervene and resolve cases where injustice and abuse are obvious; as we saw in the Matthew Hedges case; but the fact is, the FCDO seldom gets involved.”
Stirling’s organisation has long lobbied the FCDO to increase their travel warnings about the UAE so that British tourists are better informed of the risks they face in the country, “Even after the death in custody of Lee Bradley Brown 10 years ago, and countless British citizens who have been falsely accused, detained, tortured, and abused after having committed no crime; the FCDO is still telling people that the UAE is safe as long as you respect the laws and culture. They do not warn citizens that the legal system in the Emirates is systemically rigged against foreigners, that there is no evidentiary standard for prosecution, no due process, no respect for human rights, and that you can go to jail for literally no reason whatsoever if a local decides they dislike you,” Stirling explains.
Analysts point to what they see as the shift in the balance of power between the UK and Gulf nations in recent years, with the UK increasingly concerned with trade deals and investment from the Gulf. The UAE is Britain’s leading trade partner in the MENA region, and pumps billions of pounds of investment into the UK every year. “Many of our cases involve media campaigns to highlight UAE injustice,” Stirling explains, “We bring attention to the uglier elements of the UAE government and legal system, and it appears the FCDO is as uncomfortable with that as is the UAE, and perhaps that is why they discourage people from contacting us. Ultimately, the British government has to ask itself if the economic ties between the two countries are more important than the safety of British citizens.”
Tensions between the FCDO and the families of British citizens unjustly detained in the UAE, as well as growing public outrage over the abuses Britons have suffered in the Emirates is reaching a boiling point. Protests erupted over the continued detention of British citizen Albert Douglas, arrested over bounced cheques written by his son. Douglas has reportedly been tortured, beaten, and denied medication for both his injuries and a chronic heart condition. “Consular staff claim that Albert is being helped and has been given medicine,” Stirling says, “But Albert himself says otherwise. We are no longer living in a world where information can be kept secret; the government cannot say they are involved and assisting when they are not. This is not a matter of being better at PR or spin, the FCDO has to actually take action because we will all know when they don’t.”
The case of Albert Douglas, and the unresponsiveness of the FCDO, has been brought up by Members of Parliament Baroness Whitaker and Andrew Slaughter along with Radha Stirling, who have also written to the UK-UAE Business Council over their concerns. “We are pressing for intervention for Albert Douglas, but beyond that,” Stirling explains, “We need to see the Foreign Office take a stand for all British citizens in the UAE; to no longer abandon them when they get unjustly swept up in the UAE legal system, and to adequately warn them of the dangers before they travel to Dubai. We need to see accountability, and we need Britons to be genuinely protected. Gulf investment in the UK should not act as a pay off whereby those countries have a licence to abuse our citizens who land on their shores.”
Young footballer Billy Hood was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a visiting friend left CBD oil in his car when being driven to the airport. His brother Alex has found dealing with the FCDO horrendous and has followed Albert Douglas’ family in filing an official complaint against their liaison officer, Rahat Ahmed, who they have described as “difficult, negligent and dismissive”.
Nazinin’s experience with the FCDO confirms the need for the UK to invest in services to citizens and increase its diplomatic influence. Albert Douglas’ son Wolfgang has commended the UK government for supporting Ukraine but criticised them for ignoring British citizens at the same time. “The UK is enjoying the positive media coverage for their intervention in Ukraine while blatantly neglecting British citizens like my father, who has been brutally beaten and tortured. He has been left permanently disabled and is living in prison with broken bones. Why is Ambassador Moody focusing on Ukraine issues when his actual remit is to help British nationals in the UAE?”