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Acquittal of UAE sheikh on abuse charges 'lacked transparency'

Amnesty International questioned Sunday’s decision by a court in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to acquit a sheikh and member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family who was charged with causing the assault and rape of a man in 2004. Sheikh Issa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, was acquitted by a court in Al-'Ain of endangering the life, “causing bodily harm and rape" of Mohammad Shah Poor, an Afghan businessman with whom he had a dispute. The court ruled that he had been acting under the influence of drugs administered by associates who wished to film and then blackmail him, and that he therefore had “diminished liability” for the violent and sustained assault on the Afghan victim. At one point during the assault, the film showed one of his attackers driving a motor vehicle over Mohammad Shah Poor as he lay on the ground injured by the assault. “We were not in court and so cannot be certain as to the judge’s reasoning, but this does appear to be a very questionable verdict”, said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa programme. “It will do little to dispel concern that the sheikh’s position as a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family may have been the decisive factor in ensuring his acquittal, especially as it took the authorities several years even to bring the prosecution.” Sheikh Issa holds no official position in the UAE but he is a half-brother of the country's President. Film of the assault was first circulated several years ago but it was only in April last year, after part of it was shown on ABC television’s Nightline programme in the USA prompting calls for accountability, that the UAE authorities took steps to prosecute him. At the time, the UAE authorities acknowledged that they were already aware of the assault but said that they had not launched a criminal investigation because they had been informed that the matter had been resolved privately between Sheikh Issa and his victim. . The sheikh was charged together with six others, including Bassam and Ghassan Nabulsi, two Lebanese-American brothers who were formerly business associates of the sheikh. In his defence, the sheikh alleged that they had drugged him in order to have him commit criminal acts which they filmed in order to blackmail him. The Nabulsi brothers, who now reside in the USA, are both reported to deny this; however, the court accepted the sheikh’s allegations and convicted them in their absence, sentenced them to five years imprisonment and fined them 10,000 dirham (US$2,723). A Nepalese guard seen in the video was also acquitted by the court, but three other accused - a Syrian, an Indian and a Palestinian – were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. The former received a one year sentence for assaulting the Afghan, Mohammad Shah Poor, the other two were sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for sodomising him. The film footage shows Mohammad Shah Poor being shot at, having sand forced into his mouth and being struck with a cattle prod and a wooden plank with a nail in it, and having salt forcibly rubbed into his wounds, then being driven over by a car. The incident is believed to have taken place in the desert near Abu Dhabi where Sheikh Issa owns a ranch.  The assault is alleged to have been committed as a result of a business dispute between Sheikh Issa and Mohammad Shah Poor.