A member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family who brutally beat an Afghan grain dealer in a graphic video aired by ABC News has been acquitted on charges of sexual assault, endangering life and causing bodily harm in the 2004 attack.
In a surprising move, the three-judge panel that cleared Sheikh Issa Bin Zayed al Nahyan, instead found two American businessmen who went public with the tape guilty of the attack. Issa's defense team had argued that he had been drugged and blackmailed by the U.S. business associates.
"The verdict is a farce, and shows why the world should have no confidence in the UAE justice system," Tony Buzbee, an attorney for Ghassan and Bassam Nabulsi, the American businessmen who the judges sentenced each to five years in jail and a roughly $2700 fine for the attack, said.
The video of the beating shows Issa brutally abusing Afghan grain dealer Mohammed Shapoor, beating him using a stick with protruding nails, shoving sand down his mouth, and running over him repeatedly with a car, with the assistance of a man dressed in a police uniform.
No criminal charges had been filed in the case until ABC News aired footage of the beating. Shapoor, who attended the trial as a witness, had agreed to a financial settlement from Issa prior to the criminal case.
The tape was also submitted as evidence in a Texas lawsuit against Issa by Bassam Nabulsi.
The Nabulsis had been the focus of Issa's defense, as his legal team argued the two had drugged and coerced him into abusing Shapoor in order to use the tape for extortion. During the trial last month, a medical witness for the defense pinned Issa's behavior on his medical history and prescription, saying they could cause "anger, suicide, violence, depression and loss of memory."
"Sheikh Issa says he does not recall what is on the tape and he [pleaded] no liability because he lacked free will at the time that this incident took place," Issa's attorney Al Mulla said in court. The Nabulsi brothers, he said, "controlled the medication of Sheikh Issa for quite a long period."
Al Mulla said now the Nabulsi brothers had been found guilty of the attack, he expected an Interpol warrant would be issued for the Nabulsis.
Issa attended the hearing at the Al Ain Criminal Court two hours from Dubai. The U.S. Embassy, having expressed concern over the case in a 2008 State Department Human Rights Report, also had a representative there. After the hearing, an attorney for Issa told ABC News that justice had been served.
"The fact that the trial is even taking place is a message from the government…that no one is above the law," said lawyer Habib Al Mulla.
Following the verdict, Human Rights Watch called again for the UAE government to implement an "independent body with authority to inquire more broadly into the prevalence of abuse and torture by security personnel, others in position of authority, and private citizens."
"If the UAE government really wants to stop torture and to restore its sullied image, one trial will not be enough," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director for Human Rights Watch.
The organization has also called for the UAE to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Issa's case was unprecedented in the UAE, where the misbehavior and problems of ruling elite are kept far from the public eye. The closed-door trial began unannounced in October, but ended this weekend with reporters filling the seats of the Ail Ain courtroom.
The verdict will have "devastating long term consequences" for the UAE's image abroad, Gulf expert Christopher Davidson told ABC News.
"They had to make promises that the trial would happen," Davidson said. "But [the verdict] confirms that this is a traditional monarchy that had built up a façade of formal institutions…when it comes down to it, decisions are being made being closed doors."