February 20, 2013 11:23 pm

Britons allege torture after arrest in Dubai

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The UK is looking into claims made by three Britons that they were tortured after being arrested in Dubai on drugs charges seven months ago.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it has requested a “full, impartial and independent investigation” from the relevant authorities in the United Arab Emirates, declining to elaborate further.

But a UAE official said the Dubai police, working with the British authorities, had already appointed an independent committee to investigate the claims, which had found no wrongdoing.

Upset between the UAE and UK over this sensitive topic threatens to complicate bilateral relations at a time when London is seeking to further boost trade, including the sale of Typhoon jets, with its close ally.

The three holidaymakers face a trial hearing in Dubai on Thursday on drugs charges, according to Reprieve, a London-based pressure group that aims to defend the human rights of prisoners.

Last July, police arrested the holidaymakers after they said they found synthetic cannabis, known as “spice”, in their car. The Britons, who are in their 20s and have pleaded not guilty, signed documents in Arabic, a language that none of them understand, after police beat them and threatened them with guns to their heads, Reprieve said.

The charity says they claim to have been taken to the desert and tortured, before being taken to a hotel.

Spice, a popular mail-order “legal high”, was outlawed by the UAE authorities last July, prompting a wave of arrests, including scores of Britons. Those convicted of selling the drug, which is also known as “space” and “K2” could face 15 years in jail.

Reprieve’s Marc Calcutt called on the Dubai authorities to release details of their investigation, and for independent experts to examine the detainees.

Dubai is a popular sun-and-shopping tourist destination for Britons, who also form a large expatriate community of about 100,000. British tourists and residents often find themselves in legal trouble in this conservative Islamic society, on alcohol, drugs and sex-related charges.

Dubai, which is undergoing an economic resurgence, remains a popular destination for expatriate workers in the oil-rich Gulf thanks to its liberal atmosphere, but the legal system clamps down hard on misbehaviour.

The UK has been working to minimise such disruptions to its close bilateral ties with the UAE.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited the UAE last November after BP had been excluded from bidding for the extension of its 75-year-old oil concession in the capital, Abu Dhabi.

Analysts said that spat may have arisen from UAE concerns that London was not taking a hard enough line on the rise of Islamism in the aftermath of the Arab spring.

BP was later readmitted to the bidding process.

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