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Verdict near for imprisoned Britons allegedly tortured in UAE

By Leone Lakhani and Mark Morgenstein
April 29, 2013 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A verdict could come Monday for three Britons arrested in Dubai last July on drug charges
  • Human rights groups allege the three British nationals were tortured by Dubai police
  • Dubai police deny any torture happened
  • The UAE president is making a state visit to the UK on Tuesday

(CNN) -- Three British citizens held on drug charges in the United Arab Emirates since July could face a verdict as early as Monday.

Grant Cameron, Karl Williams, and Suneet Jeerh, all in their mid-20s, have pleaded not guilty to charges of consumption and possession of the synthetic cannabis product known as "spice."

The consumption charge holds a minimum sentence of four years. Possession with intent to distribute could lead to 15 years in prison. And if they are charged with trafficking, they could face the death penalty, their lawyers say.

But the case has earned notoriety for a different reason.

The men allege that police beat them and subjected them to electric shocks after their July 10 arrest, according to Reprieve, a UK-based organization that provides legal support to prisoners.

Williams and Cameron were visiting Dubai on vacation. Jeerh had moved to Dubai from Britain about six weeks earlier in hopes of getting a job in media, said Kate Higham, a lawyer for Reprieve.

The Britons were driving a hired car, and when they reached Jeerh's apartment building, they were arrested. The three allege they were then taken to the desert and subsequently to William and Cameron's hotel, said Marc Calcutt, who had earlier represented them on behalf of Reprieve.

"I remember that the police put a towel on my face so I could not see. They kept telling me I was going to die," Williams said in a statement released by Reprieve. "Then they took off the towel and I could see that there was a gun pointed at my head ... I started to believe that I was going to die in that room."

At one point, the police pulled his pants down and zapped his testicles with electric shocks, Williams alleged.

Calcutt also claimed that Williams' hand was kicked until it was broken and said he has X-rays to prove it.

The men were also pressured to sign documents in Arabic, without translation, after multiple beatings, Reprieve alleged.

Dubai police have denied any torture took place.

A "neutral party" appointed to investigate if any torture had occurred found the claims untrue, a Dubai police statement released in February said.

But Calcutt is skeptical.

"No one knows who that neutral party is. I have not seen a report. I would love to see any investigative report," Calcutt said.

The case is getting attention at the highest levels in Britain, where UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan is scheduled to arrive for a state visit on Tuesday.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reprieve have called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise what they call the "UAE's discriminatory and disproportionate response to peaceful criticism, its severe violations of due process and fair trial rights, and credible reports of torture -- including the alleged torture of three British nationals."

Cameron responded in a letter that Reprieve posted excerpts from on Sunday, saying "our concerns about the allegations of torture ... have been repeatedly raised with the Emirati authorities, including by the Foreign Secretary and (Foreign Office Minister) Alastair Burt." He added that "the absence of an independent medical examination (of the men) remains a concern," and that "we continue to press for evidence of a full, impartial and independent investigation."

Grant Cameron's mother, Tracy Cameron, said her son got to play soccer on Sunday and was in good spirits. She said she was "obviously really concerned but happy it's been taken to the highest level."

Tracy Cameron said she has appealed to a judge for her son's release. An independent expert could substantiate the allegations of torture if one were allowed to examine the defendants, and that could result in the charges being dropped, she said.

She said her son told her that police used a Taser on him and put guns to their heads, but she said she hasn't been able to get all the details because he is never alone.

In a statement issued earlier this month, she said her son "is managing very well despite the very basic conditions."

"This has been an exhausting and traumatic ordeal for our entire family, she said. "Grant is my oldest child, and he is missed beyond belief. It saddens me that in the 21st century, a few mindless police officers used barbaric abuse when arresting my son."

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