April 29, 2009 -- After first dismissing it as a private matter, the government of the United Arab Emirates today condemned a video tape showing a member of the royal family torturing a grain dealer, with the help of men in uniform.
The 45-minute video, smuggled out the UAE, shows a man the government has acknowledged to be Sheikh Issa, one of the crown prince's 22 royal brothers, repeatedly beating a man he claimed had cheated him. The tape shows the sheikh using an electric cattle prod and a board with a protruding nail. At the end of the video, the Sheikh drives his Mercedes SUV back and forth over the semi-conscious victim.
In an unprecedented statement issued today, the government of Abu Dhabi said it "unequivocally condemns the actions depicted on the video."
It said the Human Rights Office of the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department considers that the scenes on the tape "appear to represent a violation of human rights" and said it would review a possible case against those involved.
Earlier, the UAE Ministry of Interior said the matter was settled privately and that the police had operated within "the rules."
Today's statement represents a sharp change of course, and one person familiar with the matter told ABCNews.com, "the government would like to put the Sheikh on trial if one his victims makes a formal complaint."
Human Rights Watch
Sarah Leah Whitson at Human Rights Watch called the development "an important first step in accountability and restoring faith in the UAE's respect for the law."
"Equally important," she added, "is that the government implement policies and procedures that will prevent these abuses from happening again and conduct an overall review of police conduct in the UAE."
A lawyer for the Houston man who smuggled the video out of the UAE, Bassam Nabulsi, says he intends to file a criminal complaint with the UAE on behalf of his client and the man seen tortured on the tape.
Nabulsi, who is suing Sheikh Issa, claims he was tortured by UAE police when he refused to turn over the video.
"I am going to submit criminal complaints on behalf of Mr. Nabulsi and the man beaten on tape," said lawyer Tony Buzbee.
"We're going to see if the UAE will put their money where their mouth is," he said.
There was no immediate comment from lawyers for Sheikh Issa.