Libyan-American businessmen Kamal Eldarat, 59, and his son, Mohamed Eldarat, 34, have been acquitted of charges in the United Arab Emirates that they supported militants in Libya. The verdict was handed down on Monday in the UAE’s highest court. Two other defendants, a Libyan-Canadian, and a Libyan national, who had been caught up in the same security sweep in 2014 also were acquitted Monday.
The Eldarats, who had lived and worked in the UAE for two decades with no problems, have been detained for 21 months. The father and son were targeted because they had taken aid to Libya, the country of their birth, during the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. Days after the UAE sent its warplanes to Libya for air strikes against Islamist forces in 2014, 10 men with Libyan roots, including the Eldarats, were arrested in the UAE.
The Eldarats were originally charged with providing financial and material support to armed terrorist groups in Libya under the UAE’s 2014 Anti-Terrorism Law. Prosecutors dropped those accusations in March. However, they were still accused of giving supplies to groups in a foreign country and did not have official permission to collect donations, charges that could have netted them each 15 years in prison. They spent many months with no access to lawyers and no regular visits from officials at the U.S. embassy there.
Amal Eldarat, the daughter and sister of the defendants, heard of the ruling in a call from a U.S. embassy observer in the courtroom. The two businessmen were not immediately released, but taken back to prison. The family is relieved at the verdict but have expressed concerns about the continued detention.
The imprisonment of the two U.S. citizens had drawn criticism from human rights groups. The men were held in prisons for 505 days without charges. The family told reporters that the two men had confessed to various crimes after being tortured with beatings, waterboarding and electric shock. The United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, said in February he found credible evidence they had been tortured in custody.
UAE officials denied the men had been mistreated. The UAE’s embassy in the US released a statement saying the men “are entitled to all of the due process guarantees under the constitution and laws of the United Arab Emirates in accordance with international fair trial standards.”
The State Department and White House both raised the case with UAE officials, straining relations between the United States and the Gulf country. The UAE is a U.S. ally in the international coalition fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. The US state department declined to say whether President Obama raised the Eldarats’ case with UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, whom he met on April 21 for the US-Gulf Cooperation Council summit.