Monday, July 26, 2010

Another Dubai Jail Story

The Times Picayune had this news about a local man who had been held in a Dubai jail for 4 years.

It started with vague threats and harassment, Lionel Lombard Jr. says. Then he noticed he was being followed. At night, as he walked around the small lake in his neighborhood, men would jump out of bushes to scare him. Things began to escalate when he was refused entry to the United Arab Emirates community where he was living and working. Lombard challenged the denial, only to see the harassment intensify.

That was only the beginning of a four-year battle for freedom that the New Orleanian living in
Dubai outlined in a lawsuit he filed in California this month against the owner of the property he used to call home.

Lombard, a public relations consultant, complained about the way his landlord, Emaar Properties, would go to keep him silent.

What began as intimidation culminated in what he claims were bogus criminal charges resulting in two years of imprisonment and torture.

In an e-mail message to the Reuters news agency, Emaar said simply: "The allegations are baseless and the company does not wish to comment."

Lombard said his troubles started when he was falsely accused of making a suggestive hand gesture to a woman. He was jailed for three months. When a friend bailed him out, the friend was told Lombard was not an American. Lombard said he was frequently mocked because of his race: "You are not an American, you are black," people said.

When he was released, he had lost his job and had been blacklisted from being able to find a new job, he said. He was also banned from leaving the country. Then he was evicted and denied access to his house, he alleges in the lawsuit.

When he went to the U.S. Embassy to seek assistance, his home was ransacked. The locks were changed. He relocated to neighboring
Abu Dhabi.

For the next year and a half, Lombard attempted to move on. He began to promote a new fashion label. ""I put it behind me and moved forward," he said. "That's how I am."

In May 2008, he went to meet with a potential investor. At the meeting, members of the Emirati Criminal Investigative Department approached him and told him he was wanted in Dubai.He was taken to the police station, where he was arrested in relation to a "financial dispute."

his lawsuit says he was shackled at the hands and the ankles for six days. During that time, he was harassed constantly and kept from sleeping, he alleges.

He remained behind bars for 20 months, according to the suit.

The U.S Embassy had a difficult time determining what the charges against him were. When Lombard tried to obtain a jail certificate, he describes being "savagely beaten by six policemen."

Dubai Deputy Police Chief Khamis al-Mazeina told Reuters the allegations about Lombard's treatment were untrue.
"We strongly deny those accusations. Dubai police does not torture anybody .... This is all a figment of his imagination and entirely baseless."

On Feb. 3, 2010, all charges were dropped and Lombard was allowed to return home to New Orleans. The exact chain of events and parties involved in his release remain a mystery.

By filing a lawsuit and writing a book about his experiences, Lombard said he hopes to bring attention not only to the mistreatment by Emaar of its employees, but also to the practice of holding foreigners without evidence.

"It goes beyond greed," he said. "Everyone knows what is going on but turns a blind eye. I refuse to turn a blind eye. I stood up to them even though a lot of people said, 'You will get yourself killed.'"

Some people may think this story is far fetched. As someone who has lived in Dubai for an extended period of time, I find it perfectly credible. One of the first things you learn in Dubai is that it is against the law to say anything negative about the Sheikh or his family. I know that sounds outrageous but it is true. The second thing you learn is that the Sheikh owns everything in Dubai. He is, after all, the Sheikh. Therefore, if you say something negative about any institution in Dubai, you are saying it about the Sheikh and you are breaking the law.

The news is full of people who have been jailed in Dubai for infractions we in the west find ridiculous - making out on the beach, giving someone the finger, drinking too much or having cold medicine in your baggage. And there are also stories about businessmen who unknowingly found themselves on the wrong side of a financial transaction.

The bottom line is that the laws there are much different and your status as an American is meaningless. And Dubai, for all their public relations, is not the free and open society they appear to be.

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