Libyan American father and son acquitted in UAE trial

AP News
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Posted: May 30, 2016 11:13 AM
Libyan American father and son acquitted in UAE trial

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Two Libyan Americans detained in the United Arab Emirates for nearly two years were acquitted on Monday of charges they illegally raised funds for a foreign entity and took hostile actions against a foreign country.

The family of Kamal Eldarat, 59, and his son Mohammed, 34, said after the verdict that the cast was "tainted with due process and human rights violations."

The Eldarats, who are successful businessmen and longtime residents of the UAE, were arrested in August 2014. The older Eldarat fled Libya with his family years before the country's 2011 uprising and moved to the U.S., where they were granted political asylum. They moved to the UAE in 1997.

Their arrest took place around the time that reports emerged of the UAE leading airstrikes against Islamic rebel groups in Libya. They were not formally charged until almost 18 months after their arrest, and their trial began in January.

The case included two other co-defendants, Canadian dual-national Sami Alaradi and Libyan national Issa Almanna, who were also acquitted of all charges on Monday.

The four were initially charged with supporting terrorist organizations in Libya, but the prosecutor withdrew those charges in March and they instead faced a maximum 15-year prison sentence on charges of illegally raising donations and taking hostile actions against Libya by sending humanitarian supplies without permission from the UAE government.

The defendants denied ever raising funds for Libyan rebels affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group, which is outlawed as a terrorist organization under UAE law.

Instead, the defendants acknowledged raising money for humanitarian supplies for Libya's National Transitional Council with documented approval from the UAE government. The NTC headed the internationally-backed Libyan opposition to longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi during the 2011 uprising and then governed Libya for a period of time after he was killed.

The four say they were tortured by UAE state security officers during their first three months of detention. Alaradi's lawyer previously said his client was beaten with hoses and other instruments.

A group of U.N. human rights experts said they received credible information that the detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions, and were allegedly held incommunicado in secret locations and in solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time. The judge later allowed a brief medical examination to take place during the course of the trial.

U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that Washington was concerned that the defendants were denied consular access and access to legal representation at the start of their detention. He said U.S. officials raised these issues, including allegations of abuse, with UAE officials and visited the Eldarats in prison, most recently last week.

The UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said earlier this year that U.S. consular officials were allowed to attend the trial and the defendants were allowed to contact their lawyers, diplomatic representatives and families.

After the verdict was announced, Amal Eldarat said the family is "grateful and overjoyed" that her father and brother were found not guilty, but that "this trial should have never taken place."

Speaking to reporters by telephone from the U.S., she said it could take a few days or several weeks for them to be released due to procedural issues.