The president of the United Arab Emirates met Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday on a visit to Britain where Prime Minister David Cameron is under pressure to raise allegations that UAE police tortured British citizens.
Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan’s visit poses a delicate diplomatic challenge for Cameron who has already expressed concern about the torture accusations but is keen to boost lucrative trade and strategically important diplomatic relations in the Gulf. The two men are due to meet on Wednesday.
The three Britons, who were jailed in the UAE for four years on Monday for drug offences, said police beat them and threatened them with guns, allegations the police deny. Cameron has called for an inquiry.
Making matters tricky for Cameron is the UAE’s status as a key destination for British arms and other exports.
Hanging in the balance is the fate of a British bid to sell BAE Systems-backed Eurofighter Typhoon jets to the UAE, on which a decision is expected soon, and an energy deal expected to be signed on Wednesday with Emirati energy firm Masdar.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the torture issue. The Foreign Office said in a statement: “We remain concerned by the allegations of mistreatment on arrest and continue to raise these with the UAE authorities.”
New-York-based Human Rights Watch, which labels the UAE’s human rights record “increasingly poor”, said economic considerations should not stop Cameron pressing Sheikh Khalifa on the issue.
“David Cameron once promised that he would ‘stand against … regimes that persecute their people,’ so let’s see him do that for these men who have made serious allegations of torture in the UAE,” the rights group’s Sarah Leah Whitson said.
“The UAE has become a country where people who speak their mind get locked up, and those who get locked up face torture.”
Tensions between the West and Iran have increased the strategic importance of the UAE and other states that face the Islamic Republic across the Gulf.
Rights groups accuse Western nations of softening their criticism of abuses in allied Gulf states, including Bahrain, where crackdowns on pro-democracy protests in recent months have garnered a relatively muted response.