A doctor with the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has been named in a lawsuit filed against an international law firm accused of human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates.
A court document seen by The Ferret says that Dr Alan Mitchell visited a prisoner in the UAE called Jihad Quzmar, who alleges that Dechert LLP was involved in “acts contrary to UAE and international human rights law and causing significant harm to Mr Quzmar and to his family”.
Quzmar, a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian origin, is the second man detained in the UAE to accuse Dechert of human rights abuses this year.
Dechert strenuously denies all the allegations. A spokesperson for Dechert said: “The allegations against the firm and its personnel are completely without foundation and we shall be vigorously defending ourselves against them.”
Quzmar and another UAE prisoner called Karam Al Sadeq, both claim that Mitchell was asked by Dechert to produce favourable reports on conditions at a detention facility where they were held, but he refused to do so after visiting them.
Mitchell is a commissioner with the SHRC. He is also a general medical practitioner at Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre, and a member of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Both Quzmar and Al Sadeq are lawyers who have been imprisoned for six years now after being detained during a major fraud investigation. They were both detained in September 2014.
Quzmar was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment in 2015 for his involvement in an allegedly favourable lease agreement. But he says he was wrongfully convicted and that the proceedings in RAK were part of a politically motivated campaign by the regime.
Quzmar’s action was lodged this month at the high court of justice in London. He is a former legal adviser to the ruler of Ras al Khaimah (RAK), Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi. RAK is one of the seven emirates of the UAE.
In 2013 RAK hired Dechert to conduct an investigation into alleged frauds committed against the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority.
Quzmar was detained and interrogated as part of that investigation. He has been in prison since 2014.
His high court claim alleges that Dechert and its senior partner Neil Gerrard orchestrated, or were involved in, “acts contrary to UAE and international human rights law”.
It alleges that wrongs committed against Quzmar included “the forcible extra-judicial abduction of Mr Quzmar from his family home in RAK during the night of 6/7 September 2014 in the presence of his wife and 10 year old son.”
The claim also alleges that the “unlawful imprisonment of Mr Quzmar for the last six years since September 2014” amounts to “torture and/or inhuman and degrading treatment”.
Quzmar’s claims says he was held in solitary confinement initially for 23 days, in a “dirty cell measuring only two metres by two metres”. The cell had “no or little sunlight, no opportunity to exercise, and no ability to tell the time or the purposes of prayer”.
The conditions at Al Barirat detention facility allegedly led Quzmar to suffer from “severe health conditions”. He has been hospitalised on “at least 12 occasions” during his imprisonment, the claim says.
It also claimed he suffered injuries to his face and mouth after being blindfolded and that he was denied “timely surgery for a severe hernia”. It also claimed he suffered severe constipation as a result of lack of movement, severe aches and pains, and abscesses in his mouth, nose and back.
He alleges there was “unlawful interrogation” by Dechert lawyer Gerrard, who investigates white collar crime.
The claims says: “The conduct for which Mr Gerrard was responsible included the requirements for Mr Quzmar to be masked and/or hooded and his hands cuffed when being transported to and from his cell, for his feet to be shackled during interrogations, for his hands to be cuffed when outside his cell even when using the toilet, attempts to denigrate Mr Quzmar, and the threat that if Mr Quzmar did not provide information that would satisfy Mr Gerrard, he would be imprisoned ‘indefinitely’, and there would be ‘severe implications’ for Mr Quzmar and his family.”
Quzmer says Mitchell visited him in prison on 29 October 2015, after the Scots human rights expert had been “engaged by Dechert to produce a report stating that the conditions in the Al Barirat Camp were adequate and did not breach the detainees’ human rights”.
The claim says: “In advance of Dr Mitchell’s visits, the conditions of Mr Quzmar’s detention were artificially improved, for example, through sudden and unprecedented cleaning, the placement of books on shelves to give the impression that the detainees had access to reading materials, and the installation of tables.
“This was intended to give a false appearance that detainees were not being mistreated and that the conditions were compliant with human rights obligations and consistent with the standard of RAK prisons generally. However, after discussions with Mr Quzmar and Mr Al Sadeq, Dr Mitchell declined to write the report on the basis that the conditions were not adequate.
The claim continues: “Dr Mitchell asked Mr Quzmar for how many hours per day he was permitted to exercise and go outside. When Mr Quzmar informed Dr Mitchell of the limited extent of permissible exercise (at most, a few times per week), Dr Mitchell stated that he could not write a positive report, and the conditions in Al Barirat were not even compliant with the RAK Ministry of Interior’s own regulations concerning prisons.”
On 23 November 2015, Quzmar wrote a letter to the head of the Al Barirat Camp, complaining about his conditions.
Quzmar wrote: “As you know, I have been arrested and imprisoned in this local prison for a year and three months in complete isolation from all creatures in a manner that violates the divine laws, local laws and international conventions of human rights.
“Visits are prohibited, newspapers are forbidden, television, telephones, and contacting my mother, wife and my scattered children in the far corners of the earth are strictly prohibited. Exercising is once every two days for less than an hour, with the removal of Friday from the days of the week, and that was only after the illnesses and pains I suffered from and after many conversations and appeals.
“I only leave the cell or the solitary room cuffed to go to the toilet, or to go to the court with a thick black blindfold, and this goes against the established laws and systems.
“Denying me these basic rights and putting me in solitary confinement since arresting me is not only a blatant breach of the divine laws and the international conventions which the state has adopted regarding human rights, but also a flagrant violation of the UAE’s law regarding prisons, which requires observing these basic rights and services for all prisoners, including murderers and drug traffickers who pose the greatest danger to society.”
Quzmer’s allegations follow those of Al Sadeq, who started a lawsuit against Dechert in April. A lawyer from Jordan, he also alleged human rights breaches.
Al Sadeq was being held on fraud allegations, which he denied. He is suing Dechert and three current and former partners in a case being heard at London’s High Court.
The firm and all three English lawyers named in the civil claim strongly deny any wrongdoing.
Dechert has offices in 26 cities across the world including London, Moscow, Paris, Washington DC, New York and Beijing.
Its clients include corporations, financial institutions, sovereign states, quasi-sovereign entities and “private and high-net-worth individuals all over the world”.
Dechert also represents more than 200 private equity and investment firms.
A statement on the firm’s website says: “Dechert has a longstanding tradition of providing pro bono legal services to individuals and organizations who cannot otherwise afford legal counsel. Lawyers in all our offices and in all our practice groups make a difference every day by contributing their talents to providing pro bono legal services.”
Gerrard is a partner in Dechert’s “white collar, compliance and investigations practice”.
The firm’s website says: “Mr Gerrard focuses on white collar crime relating to the corporate sector, with an emphasis on regulatory investigations and prosecutions undertaken by UK, U.S. and EU regulators including the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue & Customs, the Department of Trade & Industry, the Department of Justice, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Office of Fair Trading.
“He has advised on many of the largest, most high-profile investigations carried out by key European regulators and is often called upon to conduct investigatory work as an independent specialist on behalf of these regulatory bodies.”
SHRC said: “As Dr Mitchell was not acting in his capacity as a commissioner when he undertook this work it would not be relevant for us to comment on this matter.”
Mitchell did not respond to our request for a comment.
Image thanks to iStock.
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National.