DUBAI (Reuters) - A Dubai court sentenced three Britons to four years in jail on drug charges on Monday, a decision that may overshadow a visit to Britain by the United Arab Emirates president because of allegations that the defendants were tortured.
The three were convicted a day after British Prime Minister David Cameron voiced concern about the allegations and his spokesman said the case would be on the agenda of his talks this week with UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.
Grant Cameron, Karl Williams and Suneet Jeerh, all in their 20s, were arrested in July 2012 during a holiday in the UAE. Police said they had found a form of synthetic cannabis in their hire car.
All three had pleaded not guilty to charges of possessing and intending to sell illegal drugs and said police had subjected them to beatings and threatened them with guns - allegations the police deny.
UAE Judge Ali Attiyah Saad found the three guilty in Dubai Criminal Court and sentenced them to four years in jail each.
Defence lawyer Issa bin-Haider said the sentences indicated the court had dropped the charge of intent to sell illegal drugs, which would have carried a more severe punishment.
Abdel-Hamid Mahdi, who represents Grant Cameron, said he planned to appeal against the sentence, asking for clemency. It is common for convicts to be pardoned during UAE national and religious holidays, particularly first-time offenders.
In London, David Cameron’s spokesman said the case of the three Britons would feature in his discussions with Sheikh Khalifa, who was to arrive for a state visit on Tuesday.
“We have asked for a full and impartial independent investigation into these incidents,” the spokesman told reporters. “The state visit is primarily a chance to develop and strengthen relations between our two countries. As part of that there will be opportunities to raise a wide range of issues, including concerns about these cases,” he added.
In a letter to Reprieve, a London-based legal charity which campaigns for prisoner rights, Cameron said on Sunday that Britain had repeatedly raised concerns about the torture allegations with the UAE, saying the authorities’ failure to organise a full medical examination of the men was worrisome.
“We continue to press for evidence of a full, impartial and independent investigation,” Cameron wrote.
At a hearing in the case in March, police officer Osman Ali Abdulla, who took part in the Britons’ arrests, denied any of the men were abused or beaten and said they were treated well.
There is zero tolerance for drug-related offences in the UAE, a regional business hub and tourist destination where millions of expatriates live and work. There are severe penalties for drug trafficking and possession.
Reprieve investigator Kate Higham urged Cameron on Monday to push for their release during his talks with Sheikh Khalifa.
“The central fact of this case remains that these men were tortured by police, but there has been no proper investigation into their abuse,” she said in a statement.
During his two-day visit to Britain, the UAE leader will be hosted by the Queen at Windsor Castle, hold a meeting with Cameron and have tea with the Prince of Wales. He will be accompanied by a high-level government delegation.
Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths in London, Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Mark Heinrich