Indian citizens are more likely to be imprisoned in the UAE than in any other country in the world. “There are over 8,000 Indian nationals incarcerated in foreign jails,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Due Process International and founder of Detained in Dubai, “Roughly half of them are imprisoned in Gulf countries, with the highest number being in the UAE.”
Indians constitute roughly one-third of the Emirates’ total population, but Stirling says the alarming incarceration rate is not explained merely by demographic representation; but that the UAE justice system is fundamentally biased, and citizens of India are particularly vulnerable to false arrest. “There are approximately the same number of Indian nationals living in the United States, yet there are fewer than 300 Indian prisoners; and that in a country with the highest overall incarceration rate on earth. There are 2.5 million Indian citizens in a country like Malaysia, many of whom come from the same socioeconomic strata as those who migrate to the UAE, but Malaysia only has around 400 Indian prisoners. There are even fewer Indian citizens jailed in Pakistan than in the Emirates. There is clearly a systemic problem in the UAE criminal justice system that disproportionately targets citizens from the sub-continent.
“As political and economic ties between India and the UAE have grown over the past decade, so has the frequency of false arrests, arbitrary detentions, deportations, and Interpol abuse against Indian nationals by the UAE”, Stirling explains, “While one would normally expect better relations to be accompanied by greater respect, the opposite has occurred. We are not only talking about blue-collar labourers being targeted by the police – workers with no real rights or protections – as we used to see 15 or 20 years ago; today, it is just as common for high level Indian investors and professionals to be wrongfully prosecuted and hounded by abusive Interpol Red Notices over financial or contractual disputes.
“The pattern we have noted over our 15 years in the field, is that the UAE tends to see its relative economic and political usefulness to its allies as a licence to mistreat its allies’ citizens. The more the UAE becomes vital as a trading or strategic partner to a country, the more that country’s people are at risk in the Emirates. This has been the case for the United Kingdom, for the US, and it is increasingly true for India.”
Stirling says that the UAE habitually uses the Interpol system for data collection as a tool for harassment and as a method to expand its de facto jurisdiction by requesting abusive Red Notices, “The UAE is one of the worst offenders when it comes to Interpol abuse. Not only are they among Interpol’s top funders, they successfully campaigned to win the Interpol presidency for Emirati Ahmed Naser Al-Raisi, who is himself under investigation for torture and human rights abuse. We deal with hundreds of cases every year where a foreign national has been wronged in a financial or business dispute with a local, falsely accused and wrongfully convicted in absentia, who is then listed on Interpol ostensibly to pursue extradition. These disputes are not criminal in nature, and the absentia convictions are completely rejected according to international norms of due process; but the UAE essentially uses Red Notice to extort victims by bringing their lives and businesses to a screeching halt through an Interpol listing. They are treated as wanted fugitives and detained at all ports of entry wherever they go, usually just to satisfy a vindictive Emirati ex-business partner or local bank that does not want to reschedule payments on a loan. We have seen a significant surge in precisely these types of cases involving Indian investors and entrepreneurs in the UAE. The Emirates appears to believe it is too important to India for New Delhi to protest this mistreatment, and it appears they are correct.”
Stirling says that 8 years ago approximately 20% of Detained in Dubai’s financial dispute and Interpol clients were Indian nationals in the UAE, today she says they are the majority. “Well over half of the Interpol abuse cases stemming from business or debt-related issues involve Indian citizens,” She explains, “These can pertain to minor disputes or cases in which million-dollar companies have been destroyed, sabotaged, or seized by Emirati partners. We have clients who were close advisors to ruling families, and people who literally helped build the economy of the UAE over the course of decades – there is no exemption or preferential treatment afforded to Indian citizens regardless of their contribution to the country or their economic status; and unfortunately, the consular support of the Indian Embassy has become increasingly hands-off.”
Recent rulings in India curtail the likelihood of extradition to the UAE, Stirling says, however, Indian authorities can still prosecute the accused locally if the charges are also considered crimes in India. “Most UAE Red Notices arise from financial disputes, debts, or bounced-cheques, which Emirati authorities creatively frame as fraud, this is also a criminal offence in India. Thus, even if India will not extradite citizens to the UAE, they will prosecute locally based on the UAE’s mischaracterisation of the disputes. The backlog of court cases in India is enormous and someone can be subjected to years of proceedings, or even years of remand incarceration, before ever settling such matters; all as the result of an abusive UAE Red Notice.”
Stirling’s organisation offers an Interpol Prevention service to clients to help them avoid the issuance of a wrongful Red Notice, as well as Interpol Removal expertise to appeal against Notices that have already been issued. “We are proud to have a 100% success rate in having abusive Red Notices deleted from Interpol’s database,” She says, “We have developed a good working relationship with Interpol over the years, and are intimately familiar with the UAE’s evolving methods for abusing the system. Indian nationals need to be aware of the risks they face in the Emirates, but if and when they do encounter problems, we have a long track record of providing solutions.”