A gay former shoe shop manager, alleged to have committed theft, has won his fight against extradition to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) amid fears he would be “unfairly” trialed and face “torture” because of his sexuality.
Michael Halliday, 32, was working as the manager of footwear retailer Level Shoe District in the posh Dubai Mall in the UAE when he was accused of theft in January 2013.
He allegedly took £118,342 worth of UAE currency from shop safe before fleeing the country next day.
While some UK human rights campaigners hailed this as a success or setting a precedent, UAE based LGBTI activists raised concern over the possible negative impact of “playing the gay card”.
The UAE then made an extradition request in June 2014 for Halliday who has been fighting to stay in UK since as he fears he would be in danger if he was imprisoned there and unfairly trailed.
In addition, Halliday pleads innocent and rejects the allegation of theft made by the UAE authorities.
The extradition was refused under the Human Rights act which enshrined Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights people are protected from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment and Article 6 provides the right to a fair trial
The Westminster Magistrates Court district judge Jeremy Coleman said: “I find that Mr Halliday’s sexual orientation is an additional factor in considering his Article 3 rights were he to be extradited to a society where homosexual practices are very strongly condemned.
“I find that Mr Halliday has proved to the required degree that in the event of extradition there is a substantial risk both his Article 3 and 6 rights would be breached.
“I therefore discharge Mr Halliday from these proceedings.”
Homosexuality is illegal in the UAE and punishable with a 10-year prison sentence, although this law has not been enforced for several years and many LGBTI people can and do live in the country.
“I’m extremely worried. If I was sent back I don’t believe I could defend myself in court or have a fair trial. The fact that I’m openly gay would mean that there would be prejudice against me,” Halliday told The Guardian.
He added that he faced eight months of “uncertainty not knowing if I would face extradition to the UAE to face accusations I firmly believe I can prove I am not guilty of.
“It is not the clearing of my name that I feared. It was more a serious question as to whether there was a realistic prospect of me being able to prove my innocence at trial given the UAE’s unfair justice system and their poor track record in the treatment of foreign prisoners, particularly members of the LGBT community.
“I am grateful to my legal team and the charities that have provided support and submitted to the courts that my rights as a gay man will be violated due to the outlawing of homosexuality in the UAE, their draconian punishments and attempts at ‘corrective’ measures.
“Thankfully after today’s outcome I can now continue with my life without fear of the prospect of extradition.”
The UAE government have 14 days to lodge an appeal against the decision.
Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell hailed the ruling as a “success” while the Edinburgh based LGBTI rights activist, Scott Cuthberston tweeted that he hopd “this will set a precident [sic].”
However, LGBTI rights campaigners from Dubai raised concerns over the ruling and cautioned against praising this case as a precedent.
Speaking with KaleidoScot, Abdulla, chair of the UAE LGBT Rights Group said: While We respect judge Jeremy Coleman’s decision, Mr Halliday’s sexuality is a non issue and shouldn’t have been factored into the decision, for the mere fact that he was already living and working there, as do many British LGBTI citizens.
“While I do not presume to know the facts about the case or the evidence presented regarding if he did commit any wrong doing, I believe coming out in public and using the ‘gay card’ was a cheap ploy to escape the allegations, and sets a bad precedent.
“It has a chilling effect on a number of issues pertaining the local LGBTI community in the UAE and how the government looks at us.
“Our country’s track record on human rights is not the greatest, we agree. However, over the past few years, and through hard work through our successful campaigns, authorities have toned down the anti LGBTI rhetoric.
“The UAE government has moved away from the previous model and slowly recognised that there are financial benefits to being inclusive and accepting specially to foreign LGBTI residents who visit or live and work there.
“Mr Halliday’s judgment undoes everything, and puts our community in the spot light once again, for the very wrong reasons, his sexuality was never an issue, facts and evidence should have been the only deciding factor to whether he was guilty or not.”
A lesbian Dubai based LGBTI rights campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous, told KaleidoScot: “I agree there are problems with the UAE’s Human Rights records, but we haven’t killed or harmed people for their sexuality now for years.
“But this just paves the road for people using their sexuality or gender identity as a scapegoat. It’s a misguided and dangerous persecution complex which could be used as a smear campaign against the UAE when it’s next convenient.”