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Manchester Resident Plane Spotters Arrested in the UAE for "National Security" reasons
March 2, 2015
3 men have been arrested in the UAE for "suspicious behaviour" while participating in their lifetime hobby of plane spotting.
Radha Stirling, Founder of Detained in Dubai comments as follows:
“We understand that 54 year old Mr Conrad Clitheroes and 45 year old Mr Gary Cooper from Manchester travelled to Dubai on the 18th of February and were to return to their homes in the UK on the 22nd of February. They checked in to the Sheraton Deira for two nights then stayed with a former work colleague. All three friends have a shared hobby of plane spotting and were keen to see Fujairah Airport, where many older and rarer aircrafts can be seen.
The practice is legal in the UAE though not widely understood, nor appreciated by authorities.
The three hobbyists drove out to Fujairah airport on the Saturday. The group, being driven by their friend who is also a British National, attracted suspicion from an off duty police officer as they slowed down to note the numbers of planes. The Officer called for colleagues to assist and the group was taken to Fujairah police station for further questioning.
The police examined their belongings, including ipads, phones and cameras and did not find any photographs as the men were aware photography was prohibited. Police told the men were "not in big trouble" and that they would make their flight, scheduled for the following morning. They were then told they would be allowed to leave once they had signed a declaration stating that they would never come and plane spot again. The men signed the document in Arabic, a language which they do not understand, without the assistance of a translator. Following the execution of their declarations the men were however, retained in custody overnight and put in front of a Prosecutor the following morning. The men were then to their surprise, moved and placed in detention at Fujairah prison.
At this point, Conrad's wife became concerned for her husband's health as he requires daily medication for high blood pressure and a heart condition. She contacted the British Consulate who relayed this information to the prison.
The families of Gary & Conrad have now been advised that the matter has been escalated in concern to that of "national security" and has been transferred to higher authorities in Abu Dhabi. They were also advised that the men may physically be transferred to Abu Dhabi jurisdiction, where CID headquarters are.
The families are in obvious distress at how a simple and common hobby behaviour can turn into a prison ordeal. Conrad's wife stated that the men are "upstanding citizens with full time jobs and families in the UK" adding that they had "never been in trouble and have both plane spotted since childhood".
A quick look at Conrad's social media presence confirms his enthusiasm for planespotting and the last photo that can be seen on his facebook page, is a photo diary of his plane spotting endeavours at the Sheraton in Dubai, prior to his arrest.
In this prison context especially, we are very concerned about their health and safety. The prisons are known for severe overcrowding, and even human right violations, lashings and torture. The men have have been in the same clothes and only given a bar of soap after 5 days. They reportedly had their blankets stolen by other inmates.
People should be reminded that the UAE is a country in the Arabian Gulf bordering Saudi Arabia, it has a dictatorship not a democracy, and foreign visitors face a full range of unfamiliar threats.
We call upon the UAE government to release the three men who have committed no unlawful act and have simply visited the UAE as tourists. The UAE has positioned itself as an international convention, tourist, and cultural destination— with a strong emphasis on promotion of all kinds to the West at a scale that is unprecedented. At detainedindubai, after advising on many similar cases, it is clear to us that the UAE is a country with very, very different laws.
National governments need to properly warn their citizens.
We call on national governments to immediately initiate a communications campaign to properly warn their citizens of the unusual and unexpected risks of stopping over, vacationing, doing business, investing, etc. in the UAE until the country modernizes its laws. At the same time, we call on the UAE government to issue “Do’s and don’ts” cards on flights to the UAE, now including details about not only laws but the consequences of such behaviours in the country, associated fines, expected detention and jail terms. This would parallel the country’s full-on initiatives to attract foreign visitors, vacationers, employees, etc. Until the UAE modernizes its laws, we very strongly advise all foreign nationals to avoid travel to and through the UAE, because the risks are simply not worth it.”
The detainedindubai not for profit organisation was formed in 2007 after founder Radha Stirling helped a close friend, a foreign tourist, in a desperate situation in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Detained in the notorious Al-Wathba prison, he was accused of a crime he did not commit. Awaiting trial, she feared for his safety with reports of human right violations, lashings and torture at the site. Trained as a lawyer and based in the United Kingdom, Stirling unexpectedly entered the realm of advocacy and speaking to the media, and learned a great deal about the practical ins and outs of the UAE judicial system. Fortunately her friend was released without charge, in part due to the media campaign, and was able to return to the UK, although with substantial UAE legal bills. Since this life-changing experience, she has helped over 100 foreign nationals in similar, desperate situations in the UAE, has advised on a daily basis well over 1000 people, and tirelessly advocates for modernizing the laws of the UAE. In 2010, Stirling was invited to speak to the Australian Parliament concerning the vote for a UAE-Australia extradition treaty.