US citizen arrested in Dubai after exercising legal free speech in America
American citizen and former army captain, Sherif Osman, has been detained in the UAE and faces extradition to Egypt over social media content he posted from his home in Westfield Massachusetts critical of Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi.
Osman, 46, who is originally from Egypt, has lived in the United States for 16 years, spending most of this time in Texas where he graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio. He now owns a start-up company in Westfield and recently got engaged to be married.
Because his family, including his disabled mother, still live in Egypt, Sherif and his fiancé arranged a trip to Dubai for everyone to meet. Sherif’s mother, however, was turned back from her flight on November 5th by Egyptian authorities and prevented from leaving the country without explanation. On November 6th, Sherif was stopped by a plainclothes detective outside a restaurant in Dubai and abruptly taken into custody.
“Sherif has gained a moderate following on social media for his commentary about the political situation in Egypt,” explains Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Interpol and Extradition Reform (IPEX), an organization dedicated to combating Interpol abuse by undemocratic regimes globally, “He recently endorsed calls for a peaceful protest to take place on November 11th during the COP27 meeting in Egypt; and this, apparently earned him the wrath of the Egyptian government.”
If Osman is extradited to Cairo, Stirling warns, he will almost certainly be subjected to torture and possibly death in detention, “The El-Sisi regime is notorious for its brutality towards political opponents, even the ousted former president died in custody,” she says, “It is absolutely appalling that an American citizen, who simply exercised his Constitutionally guaranteed free speech from his home in the United States, to criticise an authoritarian regime, and to advocate for peaceful protest; can be arrested in a foreign country for that criticism. This is almost a replay of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, except that Sherif is still alive, and the US has a chance to intervene before it is too late.
“The UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, has bankrolled the El-Sisi government since the coup in 2013, and Egypt and the Emirates have had a symbiotic relationship politically and economically ever since. Sherif’s extradition is certain unless the US takes a stand.” There are currently some 60,000 political prisoners held in Egypt, with hundreds dying in custody every year. Inmates report being kept in filthy, overcrowded cells; being denied life-saving medication, and being subjected to torture repeatedly.
“Approximately half of all inmates in Egyptian jail cells are political prisoners,” Stirling explains, “Thousands more are being detained without trial. Even without violent abuse by the police, the conditions of the jails are themselves life-threatening, which is not even mentioning the inhumane conditions and systematic torture that exists in UAE prisons. Though he is being treated well now, Sherif’s life is in danger in Dubai detention, and if the US allows his extradition, we fear that his fate will be sealed. We cannot forget that the UAE was an alleged accomplice in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the disposal of his body in 2018. Now we have another political dissident grabbed from the street in the Middle East for statements he made under the protection of the US Constitution, except in this case, Sherif Osman is an American citizen.
Read Ms Stirling's Khashoggi analysis in :
“According to Interpol’s own rules, Red Notices cannot be politically-motivated, and extradition for political dissent is prohibited. Egypt and the UAE are once again abusing the Interpol system to expand their jurisdictions, creating a kind of authoritarian axis. The current president of Interpol, Ahmed Nasser Al-Raisi, is himself a former high-ranking Emirati official accused of torture; so, immediate and forceful intervention by the United States government is the only hope Sherif has to regain his freedom.
“We are reaching out to the American embassy in the UAE, and will be appealing to Sherif’s Senate and Congressional representatives as well, to urge their involvement in this outrageous case. Both the UAE and Egypt are American allies, and we expect the US government to secure Sherif’s release through urgent diplomatic intervention. There is no legal basis for his detention, and no grounds for his extradition; the Egyptian government does not get to punish Americans just because they don’t like what we say.”
Sherif's Finnish/American wife Saija is taken aback by what's happened. She never expected her family holiday would turn into the nightmare that has unfolded. "It's unbelievably stressful", she said, "we have been thrown in the thick of it, dealing with Interpol, the UAE legal system and Egypt at the same time. Sherif has not even been able to meet with his lawyer yet. If he gets sent to Egypt, he will never be seen alive again. We are begging for the US government to step in diplomatically. It's not right that he can be arrested despite having committed no crime. Egypt should not be able to have people detained who criticise the country from outside of their borders. Imagine the kind of slippery slope that would create? No journalist or activist would be safe".