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A miscarriage of justice

The miscarriage of justice regarding the arrest of Dr Cyril Karabus in the United Arab Emirates continues to play out in a manner that reflects poorly on judicial systems partially or wholly based on sharia law. Under this system it appears there is a presumption of guilt, namely that one is guilty until proven innocent.

In other countries cases of this nature are usually civil cases brought against the hospital by the family of the deceased. In the Emirates they fall into the realm of criminal law, with the state being the plaintiff. There is also the precept of diyya, namely that heirs of victims are entitled to compensation, even if there was no premeditation to harm the victim.

Sarah Karabus this week issued an update about her father with a plea:

“Unfortunately things are not going well at all. He remains in Abu Dhabi on bail awaiting his next trial date, scheduled for Nov 20 (three months since his arrest). At the bail hearing on Oct 11 the court had ordered that a medical tribunal be appointed to review the medical file of the patient; also that a copy of the file be delivered to the lawyers in order for them to prepare for his defence. To date, the lawyers have been unable to establish whether the medical tribunal has seen the file or even been appointed. The lawyers received their copy of the file for the first time only on Sunday Nov 11. When the file was delivered, all of my father’s notes had been removed, as well as notes from the three weeks prior to him taking over the patient’s care. Everything is gone — there is not a lab report, the operation notes, the ICU notes/charts — nothing. The absence of these notes which would exonerate him is very disturbing and we are all feeling very disheartened. That the exact material required by the legal team in order to prove his innocence is the only material missing from the medical file, is particularly suspect. There is only a week until the next court appearance and with no evidence available, we are unable to mount a legal defence. I fear they will forge the missing evidence as they did in the case of Dr Eugen Adelsmayr three weeks ago when they convicted him of murder. Thanks again for all your concern thus far.”

The Adelsmayr case occurred in Dubai, which although also part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is excluded from the UAE federal judicial authority. Dubai has independent courts and judges.

On October 21 2012 a Dubai court convicted the Austrian doctor, in abstentia, of premeditated murder and sentenced him to life in prison after he apparently gave orders to switch off a patient’s life-support. According to Dr Ashra al-Houthy, who investigated the incident on behalf of the hospital, “the orders, which were issued verbally then backed up by writing, violated the medical practice code in Dubai”.

The court found that Adelsmayr, who in February 2009 was the chief medical doctor at the Rashid government hospital intensive-care unit, “allowed a quadriplegic patient, Ghulam Mohammed, to die after (he) shut down his life-support system”.
Fortunately for Adelsmayr his conviction occurred while he was in Austria, in 2011, with his ailing wife who was suffering from terminal cancer.

Although he returned to Dubai for a short time he was able to have his passport returned to visit his family over Christmas. In January 2012 his wife passed away and he attended her funeral. He decided not to return to Dubai thereby avoiding the legal consequences of spending the remainder of his life in jail. He currently lives in Austria and has published a book titled Of Someone Who Set Out. A reference to a Grimm Brothers fairy-tale about a youth who went abroad to discover what fear was.

He said the verdict was “a farce” and the judgement “unfounded” because it “ignored” evidence that would have exonerated him. “The verdict was shocking and not understandable,” he said. Based on a “falsified expert’s report”. He cannot appeal the verdict from abroad.

The book highlights another unsavoury aspect of life in the Emirates, racial and ethnic stereotyping and discrimination. Any expat who has spent some time there is aware that there is a strong hierarchical order. Seifert Verlag, the publisher’s homepage describes the racism as follows: “Every Emirati is a VIP, Americans and Brits rank on top, Pakistanis, Afghanis and Nepalese at the very bottom while central Europeans rate somewhere in the middle. When Adelsmayr evaluates his fellow doctors, two Arab physicians feel themselves unfairly judged and denounce him as a racist. A few months later a Pakistani patient dies and the same two doctors accuse him of being responsible. He is suspended and must surrender his passport unable to leave the country, even when informed that his wife is suffering from terminal cancer. His case comes to trial and the public prosecutor asks for the death penalty.”

The conditions of Indian, Pakistani and South Asian workers on many construction sites in the Emirates are akin to slavery. Many live in temporary shelters on the margins of society, without their passports, which are retained by their employers or their agents. This makes them constantly prone to exploitation and with no possibility of moving about to find more secure employment, or to enforce their “rights”, which under the legal system are very limited and in every event loaded in the favour of the employer or state.

The legal position of women migrant workers is even more precarious and some countries such as Nepal have since August 2012 banned women under the age of 30 from working in Persian Gulf nations amid increasing concerns over abuse and exploitation. Manesh Shrestha for CNN reported on August 10 2012 that “Nepalese women are among thousands of Asians who travel to the Middle East in search of employment. They often arrive willingly but subsequently face conditions that the US state department says is indicative of forced labour — the withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages for work up to 20 hours a day, threats, deprivation of food, sleep and physical or sexual abuse”.

These measures are just small steps to prevent the most serious cases of abuse. What is notable is that the measures have to be implemented by the states from which these migrants originate and that the law of the Emirates does not provide much if any protection to these expats. The thousands of deserted vehicles left at Dubai and other Emirate airports by expats fleeing the legal system is testament to the failure of sharia-influenced legal systems to deliver justice to the people residing there.