Radio Website Header-Waves 6 3.0.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

2 Americans In UAE Prison On Trumped Up Charges, Families Say

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now to a case that could strain relations between the U.S. and a key Gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates. The UAE has been holding two American citizens for a year and a half on what their family says are trumped-up terrorism charges. The two men - a father and son of Libyan descent - have allegedly been tortured, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Twenty-eight-year-old Amal al-Darat has seen her father and brother only twice since August of 2014. The first time was after her dad had been in custody for six months. And she said he had scars on his neck.

AMAL AL-DARAT: He came in, and it was a different person. He aged. I could see dark circles around his eyes. I could notice, like, torture marks on his neck. He lost a lot of weight. He was, like, barely able to walk.

KELEMEN: Her father, Kamal al-Darat, is a real estate developer - a man who fled Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya in the 1980s, moving his family to California before seeking business opportunities in the UAE in 1997. Her 34-year-old brother, Mohammed al-Darat, was running Subway sandwich stores in the UAE when he was arrested. She says he, too, is being mistreated and losing his hearing.

AL-DARAT: They used to put him in a room. And there was very strong, loud buzzing noises. And it just goes on for hours and hours and hours. And that caused damage to the eardrum. And State contacted me, and they told me that they're trying their best to ensure that Mohammed gets access to an ear specialist.

KELEMEN: That hasn't worked, though State Department spokesman John Kirby says the U.S. will continue to press for medical care and consular access to the al-Darats.

JOHN KIRBY: We have raised this case with UAE officials on multiple occasions and continue to call for a fair trial.

KELEMEN: The UAE's embassy here in Washington says the two men are charged with financing terrorist organizations in Libya and are being tried in accordance with the UAE's law, with access to lawyers, diplomatic representatives and their families. The UAE is involved in Libya. It's conducted airstrikes there against Islamists and is taking sides in an east-west civil war. Amal al-Darat says she thinks her family was just swept up in a crackdown on Libyans living in the UAE.

AL-DARAT: The UAE was aligned with the eastern side. We are from the west. Obviously, we have nothing to do with the events happening there, but we are just, I guess, guilty by association.

KELEMEN: She doesn't have much hope of a fair trial. At the latest court hearing, she was told that the government had just one witness - her father's interrogator.

AL-DARAT: During the cross-examination of the witness, my dad started shouting at the witness telling him, you're under oath. You know you were threatening me. You know you were threatening me, and you threatened to hurt my daughters and my wife, and that's why I said these things.

KELEMEN: Her father and brother could face the death penalty if convicted. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.