The United Arab Emirates has suddenly dropped terror charges against a Canadian businessman detained and allegedly tortured in a secret prison, but Salim Alaradi's family and supporters are celebrating the news cautiously.
On Monday, the charges against the Canadian-Libyan citizen of supporting and funding terrorist organizations under the UAE's anti-terrorism law were replaced with new, less severe charges under the UAE's penal code of raising donations without permission of the UAE government and sending supplies to a group in Libya.
"Everyone was surprised when the prosecutor announced that they were dropping those charges, and laying new charges against Mr. Alaradi," his lawyer Paul Champ said over the phone Monday morning.
Alaradi was thrilled to hear the news, Champ said. "These are much less serious charges. They sound similar factually obviously, but under the law they're far less serious, and are obviously no longer alleging that Mr. Alaradi has any connection whatsoever to terrorism."
Alaradi, who has been detained in the UAE for the last 19 months, is accused of supporting groups that rose up against Muammar Qaddafi in the 2011 Libyan revolution. He admits to sending humanitarian supplies including food and medicine — but not money — to the National Transitional Council of Libya during the 2011 uprising, but says he did so with the UAE's permission, his family told VICE News.
His brother, Abdelrazag Alaradi, was appointed to the National Transition Council of Libya.
In the same courtroom on Monday, terrorism charges were similarly downgraded for three other men, Libyan Essa Manaa and Libyan-Americans Mohammed El Darrat and Kamal El Darrat.
Though Alaradi's family is relieved at the news, they know he's not out of the woods yet.
"I'm feeling good and bad at the same time," his daughter Marwa Alaradi said in an interview.
"It shows that my father is innocent," she said. "Of course it's better than my father having terrorist charges, but I feel like they have changed the charges because they feel that my father is going to get an innocent verdict, so they just made up new charges, just to complicate things."
When he first appeared in a closed courtroom in the UAE, Alaradi rolled up his sleeves to show marks on his arms and told the judge he had been tortured. The three other Libyan nationals did the same.
A doctor's report submitted in the UAE court on Monday concluded there were no signs of violence or torture on any of the four men, Champ said. But the lawyer was skeptical, saying Alaradi's doctor exam lasted less than 10 minutes and no tests were performed.
Alaradi took off his clothes to show the doctor marks on his body, Champ said. He has about 15 scars all over his body from alleged beatings in 2014, when he was held with his other brother, Mohamed Alaradi, in a secret location by state security guards. There, the brothers were interrogated about alleged affiliation with Libyan politicians. Mohamed was later released.
Salim Alaradi was repeatedly punched, hung upside down, and beaten with batons, his lawyer said.
Some of the scars on his body are two inches in diameter. The nails of both of his big toes fell off due to the beatings, said Champ, who had not seen the scars in person, or viewed photos of them.
Champ said the Canadian government found the allegations of torture "serious and credible," according to a report from diplomatic officials who visited Alaradi in 2014, shortly after the torture allegedly happened.
Global Affairs Canada has not commented publicly on the torture allegations.
"The Government of Canada is seized of the seriousness of Mr. Alaradi's case and is fully engaged in efforts to ensure a prompt and just resolution," Global Affairs spokesperson Rachna Mishra told VICE News by email on Monday.
Canadian officials have raised concerns with UAE officials about Alaradi's health, well-being, consular access and right to a fair trial, she said, but declined to comment further, citing privacy concerns.
"The Canadian ambassador was in the courtroom again today, and so we've been very grateful for his continued support. We think it sends a very strong message to the UAE authorities about how Canada views the case," Champ said, adding that Canada needs to continue to send the message that it takes this case seriously.
The case has been adjourned until April 11. "We think there's a reasonable prospect that he may be released before the end of next month," Champ said.
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont