It was September 28th, 2014, when Moad Al Hashmi, a citizen of the State of Libya, was taken forcibly from a cafe in the United Arab Emirates by the State Security Department. At the time, Al Hashmi was twenty-nine years old traveling on business. He had been a British resident and had relocated to the UAE in 2008 to pursue opportunities in his line of work. He had been having a peaceful, normal day and had gone to the cafe with several colleagues. Without provocation, the cafe was stormed by several men wearing traditional Arab clothing and arrested Al Hashmi. They did not identify themselves as law enforcement.
Al Hashmi was forced into a vehicle in handcuffs and blindfold. He was driven around the city of Dubais for several hours before arriving at his apartment building. He was marched through the lobby and forced to watch as they tore apart his apartment. Not once did they explain why he had been arrested and his property was being searched.
He was then removed to a facility where he has left alone in a small cell, still with no explanation of why he was being imprisoned. He was not allowed to contact his family or the Libyan embassy. The cell was small and contained no furniture. Bare concrete was all he had to sleep on. While being held in this facility he was deprived of his dignity, health, and, at times, he was sure he would lose his life. His captors took his clothing early on, making it difficult for him to find comfort or keep warm in his cell. Often, they left him for several days without access to a bathroom, shaming him and lowering his situation even further.
Al Hashmi’s captors were convinced that he had been part of the political and social upheaval in Libya and wanted information about creating further instability in the nation. They questioned him about his business dealings even when it became apparent to Al Hashmi that his captors had no knowledge of his profession. They were often suspicious of any contract and physically punished him when he tried to explain. These men often resorted to waterboarding, electrocution, and other physical torture in their quest to get Al Hashmi to reveal something he did not know or to agree to act as an agent in his home country. He realized that they did not care about him as an individual, but as a symbol of his nationality and capitalist success.
Al Hashmi endured this torture and constant questioning even as his captors tried to poison him and kept him in these dire conditions. Remembering his time in captivity, he said, “I thought I was dead and being tortured in the grave.” Deprived of food, injured, and any sense of humanity Al Hashmi began to lose hope. It had taken ten months before he was able to contact his family to let them know that he was alive.
His family had looked for him after he disappeared and tried to get answers from the UAE about what had become of their loved one. When they heard from him and gained knowledge of his abysmal conditions, they called the local police and demanded to know what charges had been brought against Al Hashmi. They received vague responses and no definitive answers about where or why he was being held. According to the local police, he had not broken any laws at all. In reaction, they began the Free Moad campaign to gather support from around the world. Through petitions, demonstrations at UAE embassies around the world, and support from the international community they began to ask questions and get answers. Trouble by the lack of transparency in his case, he would be brought before an open court. Al Hashmi would get a chance to go to trial. He was not the only one to have been held. Nine other Libyan businesspeople had been taken in August and September 2014, four were released without trial, but Al Hashmi and five others were still waiting for their verdict.
These innocent men are political prisoners and were detained as part of UAE’s continued intervention in Libyan affairs. The UAE state security services kidnapped these men in the context of an intelligence exercise to collect information about Libya.
In July of 2015, the trial began. After nearly a year of being a captive, Al Hashmi finally learned why he was being held. The prosecuting lawyers were determined to paint him as a political radical. He was accused of inciting rebellion and pernicious international business dealings. His captors demanded the capital punishment. For months’ false evidence was brought against him trying to convince the judge and the world that their mistreatment of Al Hashmi was just.
In the end, the judge supported Al Hashmi’s case and was unconvinced that he had done anything illegal. In the UAE, Al Hashmi had never violated the law in any way, not even a minor traffic violation. On March 14, 2016, he was declared innocent. It was ordered that he would be released.
On March 28, 2016, he was free. But only for a moment. While he could not be held, the State Security Department has made him a virtual prisoner. His passport was seized, his bank accounts frozen, and all other forms of identification were taken from him. He is unable to pay his bills, perform any business, nor leave the country to return to his family.
While he can maintain a residence, he cannot embrace his life and is at the mercy of those who are trying to hold him unlawfully. His family and friends still await a verdict and reach out to the international communities to Free Moad and the other four Libyan businesspeople awaiting their sentences on May 30.