Johnson George stands accused of a crime for simply doing his job. His story serves as yet another damning indictment of human rights standards in the UAE.
In meeting Johnson George, one is struck by his friendly, laid-back demeanor. He is a family man and a professional. But his kindly disposition and stellar professional track record hide a sadder truth. Johnson has been detained in Ras al Khaimah (RAK), one of the seven Emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE), since January, 2018. He stands accused of a crime allegedly committed by his employers between 2005 and 2006. Johnson is one of many trapped in the UAE, his rights suspended, uncertain of his future.
Johnson’s story began in 2002, when he joined the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ) as a legal manager. His work mainly involved the drafting of contracts between RAKFTZ and investors, under the direction of the then-RAKFTZ CEO Oussama El Omari. As so often in the UAE, his work began positively – Johnson’s salary was enough to provide a comfortable life for his wife and two children, as well as his elderly parents in Kerala, India. Things began to turn sour in 2012 when the new ruler of RAK, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qassimi began to purge the RAKFTZ and RAK Investment Authority in order to stamp his mark on those institutions. Many individuals who had worked for his father and predecessor, Sheikh Faisal, were summarily dismissed.
As a pretext for the dismissal of El Omari, Sheikh Al Qassimi accused the CEO of corruption. El Omari fled to the United States, where he continues to fight to clear his own name (that is covered in another story). Under these difficult circumstances, Johnson decided to resign and start his own private consulting firm. He was later hired as a general manager by the Umm Al Quwain Free Zone in 2013.
Five years later in January, 2018, Johnson was arrested—it came as a complete surprise to him. He had worked in the UAE entirely without incident since 2002. He was told that he was being prosecuted for an alleged breach of trust on a 2005 contract, committed by his former CEO at RAKFTZ, El Omari.
El Omari had allegedly been overseeing a contract, which Johnson had written for him, between the RAKFTZ and another of El Omari’s companies. The contract concerned a hotel called the Hayat. El Omari maintains that Sheikh Faisal was aware of this conflict of interest. Johnson says he was unaware of the connection between El Omari and the other hotel. Regardless of who knew what, Johnson is now paying the price.
Johnson George Johnson “had nothing to do with the contracts, nothing to do with the deals; he just typed them—because it was his job,” says a close friend of Johnson’s. “The authorities could not arrest his former employer, so they are taking it out on Johnson.” Johnson, accused of misusing the powers of the state (powers he never had), has spent the majority of his detention without so much as being charged.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, explains: “We have seen many false prosecutions coming out of the RAKFTZ since the new ruler came to power. The Public Prosecutor and the courts understand that these cases are essentially being made by the ruler himself to tidy up the mess left by his purge of the people appointed by his father, so due process is non-existent. Johnson George is being detained and charged for no reason except that the RAK authorities are unable to extradite his former boss.”
When Johnson was denied bail in August 2018, he broke down in tears in the courtroom. After hearing the news of his son’s imprisonment, Johnson’s 78-year-old father suffered a stroke. Due to Johnson’s imprisonment, his family in the UAE and in India are struggling to pay their living costs—his wife has been forced to send their son, 16, to live with her sister, and, Johnson’s mother cannot afford a caregiver for his father. She herself has since been diagnosed with cancer.
“There is no one to take care of her back home,” Johnson told Inside Arabia. “I wish I could go home and see her at least.”
The RAK Supreme Court heard and rejected Johnson’s final appeal on April 23, 2019. He was sentenced to three years in prison, to be followed by deportation, and he must pay a fine. His only possibility of escaping this fate is if he receives a pardon. While this happens in some cases, there is little or no suggestion that a pardon will be forthcoming in his. Johnson George is a model of professionalism, dignity and courage. He is a man completely undeserving of his current ordeal. His is another in a long line of alleged outrages that are a stain on the reputation of the UAE and of the gulf region more widely.
It is Johnson’s hope that shedding light on his case may contribute to bringing an end to such injustice, if not for him then for others.
* * * This is part of a series of articles that appear on Fridays on the treatment of foreign nationals and others whose human rights and civil rights are being violated every day in the United Arab Emirates. More at Inside Arabia