UAE court overturns death sentences of Briton and Syrian for drug dealing

Court erupts in cheers as a Syrian and Briton sentenced to death for drug dealing have their sentence commuted to four years in prison.

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ABU DHABI // Tears of joy flowed in court today when two young men’s death sentences for drug dealing were commuted to four years in prison.

Relatives of M?B, 19, from Syria, and N?L, 21, from the UK, wept and cheered as the verdict was announced – and there were tears among even the most experienced defence lawyers, and policewomen. The Syrian teenager’s mother fainted briefly, before coming to and hugging the other young man’s mother.

Hugging the teenager’s mother, his lawyer Fayza Moussa said: “I told you we will look back at these days and laugh.” His sister said: “See, I wore red today to celebrate.” Ms Moussa, the boy’s other lawyer Ahmad Al Othali and their teams all burst into tears.

“I never saw her cry about a case until today,” said one of Ms Moussa’s assistants. “I’ve worked 12 years in the office and there are only two cases I will never forget. One of them is this.”

The Briton’s mother was similarly overjoyed, hugging members of the crowd.

The Criminal Court had sentenced the two to death after finding them guilty of selling Dh1,500 worth of cannabis to an undercover policeman in a park.

Today the Appeals Court cleared them of drug dealing, but found them guilty of using the drug and sentenced them to four years in prison then deportation.

The verdict was welcomed by the Briton’s lawyer Mohammed Al Azazi.

“This verdict was expected,” Mr Al Azazi said. “This proves the justice system in the UAE is fair and just.”

He said the defence was considering an appeal against the four-year jail term but was waiting to see the draft verdict.

Neither of the two young men was in court to hear the verdict. After it was read out, the Syrian’s mother called her son and told him: “Good news, good news, congratulations.”

Mother and son both broke out in tears as a court official took the phone from her and told the teenager: "It's OK, habibi, your mother is nervous now. Congratulations."

Outside the court, the Syrian’s mother said: “I’m happy, that’s all. He is my son. I don’t know how I will celebrate.

“I didn’t hear what the judge said at first. I didn’t hear the ‘acquitted and cancelling death sentence’ part, I only heard ‘death sentence’ so I almost fainted and started telling everyone to leave me alone.

“Then I saw everyone happy.”

She described her son as “very ethical and well mannered” and said he had never been in trouble with the law before.

When asked if she believed her son had used cannabis, she said: “If I find out he did, I will kill him.”

As she was speaking, her son called back. “Welcome, welcome, I’m standing outside, everyone is coming to me and saying congratulations,” she told him.

After the phone call, the mother said she had been speaking to the doctor who had delivered her son at the Corniche Hospital.

“She asked me, ‘What is worse, death or this court case?’ I told her, this case. If he had died I would have got over it eventually but this case I will never forget.”

Now, however, she has changed her mind because she can “see my child with my own eyes”.

She recalled the day the death sentence was issued by the Criminal Court. She said she remained strong and told her son to be tough.

“I told him, ‘Don’t be scared. No one chops off the head except he who created it’,” she said.

“I got to know the true hearts of people from this experience… many members of the legal system stood by my side.

"Everyone knew about this case and kept asking me how it was going – the baker, butcher, watchman … everyone."