Thursday, January 24, 2013

24-Jan-13: Time for the United Arab Emirates to know the world is watching

About an hour ago, we received a promotional mailer from Qantas, of whose frequent flyer club we have been members for years. It announces (again) the impending merger with Emirates and all the good things to follow for travelers who passing through Dubai on QF's London and Europe-bound flights.

We mention this in the context of a traveler who did pass through Dubai half a year ago and unwittingly entered into a Kafkaesque descent into physical privation, financial pressure, humiliation, existential fear and the almost complete loss of his freedom in the literal sense of all those terms.

The affair at the heart of this call is so starkly unjust as to make you think it was scripted in Hollywood. But the central figure, the victim, is no actor. He is a retired professor of medicine whose professional career was replete with lives of children saved, public hospitals successfully run, medical milestones achieved, and years of quiet dedication to the urgent needs of pediatric patients from all strata of South African society during and after the apartheid era.

The outrageous, high-handed treatment of this beloved medical hero at the hands of the police and the courts in Abu Dhabi entered a new phase yesterday. This is the result of a request from a Cape Town lawyer calling for action against the authorities in the United Arab Emirates.

Professor Cyril Karabus did not know it at the time. But when he accepted an offer to do a brief locum (a temporary medical posting) in a UAE hospital more than a decade ago, he set in motion a series of shocking events that eventually left him shackled at his court appearances, and forced to sleep on the bare concrete floor of a prison (Al Wathba) notorious for its torture practices. Did we mention that he is 78? And has a cardiac pacemaker?

We have reported on the deeply troubling affair several times since September 2012 including these blog posts:
To recap briefly: 
Prof. Karabus, traveling with his wife, was arrested on August 17. 2012, while traveling via Dubai  back to his home in South Africa after celebrating his son's wedding in Canada. The UAE authorities seized his passport (which has still not been returned) as he entered the transit lounge and notified him that he had been tried and convicted of manslaughter and of falsifying documents without ever having been told about it. A three-year-old terminally ill child from Yemen whom he treated at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical Centre in Abu Dhabi in 2002 had died, and without being put on trial or getting so much as a telegram about the charges, he was convicted, sentenced to four years of imprisonment, and ordered to pay a huge sum of cash which UAE law calls - without embarrassment - 'blood money'. Taken from the transit lounge of one of the most opulent airports in the world, he spent months locked up in a notorious Abu Dhabi prison, known for its human rights violations. After numerous unproductive court appearances and being obliged to pay a financial bond (equal to 240,000 Rand or about US$27,000), he was granted bail in mid-October but required to remain within the emirate. He has had fifteen hearing dates in a court where no English is spoken, and where the state prosecution continues - until today - to be unable to locate the file on the basis of which the charges were brought. Lawyers familiar with the case say there is no possible way for him to be convicted in these circumstances. But he remains an unwilling 'guest' of the United Arab Emirates, burning through what remains of his retirement funds, paying for lawyers, living costs and travel expenses for family members while the UAE legal system looks away and busies itself with protecting its dignity. The entire affair is an obnoxious disgrace to the good name of law and justice.
Now this, from South Africa's Cape Argus newspaper, yesterday - January 22, 2013 ["Prof’s legal team urges boycott of Abu Dhabi"]
Cape Town Professor Cyril Karabus’s legal team has called on event organisers across the globe to reconsider hosting events in Abu Dhabi in a move to put pressure on the United Arab Emirates authorities. Karabus’s lawyer Michael Bagraim said the legal team had asked several organisations responsible for hosting events such as sports tournaments and oil and gas seminars in Abu Dhabi to boycott the country.
“We are trying a different approach that will apply pressure internally. We are asking businesses and organisations to consider boycotting the country as they (Abu Dhabi) are unfairly holding Karabus,” he said. [more]
And this ["Boycott United Arab Emirates, health professionals told" - January 22, 2013]:
Urging health professionals to stop applying for jobs in the UAE, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, chairperson of the SA Medical Association, said: “This is for your own safety. We advise South African doctors and other health professionals to avoid working in the UAE. We ask that those already there to consider withdrawing their services in the interest of their own safety.” [more]
Sheikh Khalifa medical center: Do the glitz and oil wealth of
Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the UAE allow outrageous abuses
to escape notice?
If there is a version of this sordid narrative that is kinder to the UAE, then its officials are doing an exceedingly poor job of stating it. The impression is they don't give a damn - not about the professor, not about their international reputation. Assuming the facts are as they appear to be, Prof. Karabus is the innocent victim of a heavy-handed system that bears little resemblance to modern notions of justice and due process. As soon as it became clear that the prosecutors lacked the most basic files needed for their case, he should have been handed back his passport along with a personal apology from the appropriate senior official in charge of an out-of-control justice system, given assurances of appropriate financial compensation, and sent home flying first-class with Emirates Airlines.

Speaking of Emirates Airline, which is in the process of becoming Qantas' senior partner, consider what another South African publication wrote in November ["The Abu Dhabi nightmare continues for Dr Karabus"]
South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) has been particularly vocal in lobbying for Karabus’s release. In a statement released on Monday, it criticised the handling of the case by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation... The TAC has also targeted Emirates Airline for criticism, as Karabus was flying Emirates when arrested. “We are astonished that the airline failed to warn Professor Karabus that he was wanted in the UAE,” it said. Sarah Karabus says that at the beginning of their journey in Toronto, airline staff informed them that there was some form of security alert attached to her father’s name, but would not elaborate, and certainly gave no sense of its severity. Sarah says that her family asked Emirates if it would consider funding tickets for them to visit Karabus in Abu Dhabi as a goodwill gesture, but it declined. When the Daily Maverick approached Emirates Airline for comment, it was told: “This is a legal issue being dealt with by the relevant authorities and does not involve Emirates.”
Boycott or not, that's the sort of shameful statement we think Qantas customers need to hear. If this is what the people in Emirates' hometown can do right in the midst of their bright, shiny super-luxury airport terminal to people of Prof. Karabus' stature, then who is safe?

Frankly, we are not much in favour of boycotts, but we do believe in loud and clear protests when the mainstream news media fail to report on injustice and oppression. That's certainly the case with Prof. Karabus' ongoing plight. His friends and supporters are now upping the stakes and have spoken with the SA media about their evolving campaign [see "Bagraim brings a world of pain down on Emirates"]. They should be supported as widely as possible.

If you have business connections in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, or if you happen to own Qantas, this is the time to speak out and let the faceless representatives of UAE justice know the world is watching.

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