United Arab Emirates: Two Lebanese nationals sentenced to severe penalties following unfair trial

United Arab Emirates: Two Lebanese nationals sentenced to severe penalties following unfair trial

On January 15, 2018, Abdelrahman Chouman and Ahmad Sobh, two Lebanese nationals who both lived and worked in the UAE, were arrested after being accused of setting up a terrorist cell with links to Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Following their arrest, both were sentenced to heavy penalties by the Federal Supreme Court after an unfair trial involving six other defendants, on May 15, 2019.
Latest Updates
September 26, 2019: MENA Rights Group seized the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).
May 15, 2019: Federal Supreme Court sentences Abdelrahman Chouman to life imprisonment and Ahmad Sobh to 10 years in prison.
February 27, 2019: Chouman and Sobh charged with setting up a terrorist cell with links to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
February 13, 2019: Trial opens against Abdelrahman Chouman, Ahmad Sobh, and six other defendants.
January 15, 2018: Adelrahman Chouman and Ahmad Sobh arrested by State Security.

Abdelrahman Chouman and Ahmad Sobh, two Lebanese nationals living in the United Arab Emirates since the early 2000s, were both arrested by members of the State security on January 15, 2018. Following their arrest, they were taken to a secret detention center to be questioned, where Chouman reported being severely tortured by his interrogators. Although Chouman was denied contact with the outside world for more than a year while detained, Sobh was allowed to contact his family three months after his arrest following their transfer to Al Awir Central jail in March 2018.

Chouman and Sobh were never presented to a judicial authority before the opening of their trial on February 13, 2019. They were only informed of the charges held against them at the second session of the trial, on February 27, 2019, when the State Security Prosecutor accused them of “communicating with Hezbollah in favor of Iran and collecting sensitive security information from the UAE’s ports and airports.”

Their trial, where neither of the defendants were allowed direct access to their lawyers, was characterised by the non-observance of fair trial norms. The court did not allow them to access the prosecution file and the evidence against their clients, in breach of the equality of arms principle. Under such circumstances, it was extremely difficult for the lawyers to prepare their cases and represent their clients adequately. To make matters more concerning, Chouman told the court that during the trial he was forced to sign a statement under torture. Similar claims were made by the other defendants in the case but the judge did not order an investigation into his claims.

On May 15, 2019, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Chouman to life imprisonment and Sobh to 10 years in prison on the exclusive basis of unlawfully obtained statements. Another defendant was sentenced to 10 years in prison while the other five were acquitted. Chouman and Sobh are now detained in Al Wathba, while they await their decision on the appeal that will be rendered by the Federal Supreme Court.

The Federal Supreme Court is a court of first and last instance, competent in matters of State security and terrorism. Following a country visit to the UAE conducted in 2014, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers highlighted that the exclusive competence of the Federal Supreme Court, in certain criminal cases without the possibility of review by a higher judicial court, was in breach of international human rights standards. Thus, the Federal Supreme Court should not be considered as an independent and impartial tribunal insofar as the president and judges of the Court are appointed by decree.