In an unexpected twist at a court hearing in Abu Dhabi Monday, terrorism-related charges against a Canadian businessman detained in the United Arab Emirates have been downgraded to lesser penal charges, his lawyer says.
Salim Alaradi, a 48-year-old Canadian-Libyan man, says he was tortured after his 2014 arrest.
He was initially charged with supporting terrorism through his ties with two Libyan militias, the February 17 Brigade and the Libyan Dawn.
However, with no prior notice, the prosecutor informed the court Monday that those charges were replaced with one count of collecting donations without proper permission, and one count of taking action hostile to a foreign government, by sending supplies to the two Libyan militias.
While Mr. Alaradi's legal team is still looking at what potential sentences are associated with the new charges, "these are significantly downgraded charges. Obviously a great development," Mr. Alaradi's lawyer in Canada, Paul Champ, said in an interview.
The defence lawyers had previously argued that Mr. Alaradi couldn't retroactively be accused under the Emirati's 2014 anti-terrorism law for events that allegedly took place between 2011 and 2013.
Mr. Alaradi denies that he supported the Libyan militias. He says he notified UAE officials that he was sending supplies to help Libya's transitional government after the fall of the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
Mr. Champ said the court also received a medical forensic report from a court-appointed doctor, who said there was no sign Mr. Alaradi was tortured.
The finding didn't surprise Mr. Alaradi's supporters because he met the doctor two weeks ago, who didn't ask him questions and examined him for less than 10 minutes, Mr. Champ said.
"Given that cursory examination, we didn't have a lot of confidence in the independence of this doctor."
Instead, the family has countered by releasing a secret report from Canadian consular officers who visited Mr. Alaradi. They described in vivid terms that he was very distraught and had visible bruises when they met him.
The report was obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
It says Mr. Alaradi had two-inch-wide bruises on his left arm and leg when Canadian consular officers visited him on Dec. 31, 2014, at Al Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi.
"As soon as consular officials asked the subject how he was, he became visibly upset. Twice during the interview, it was necessary for the subject to stop speaking in order to hold back tears," the report says.
The report stated that Mr. Alaradi told the diplomats that, until earlier that month, he had been held in a small solitary cell for more than three months.
He said he had been hung upside down and beaten and punched.
The beatings involved three or four guards at a time, who struck his head, back and the soles of his feet with batons.
He was also chained in stress positions and deprived of sleep.
"The subject also mentioned the use of hot and cold water," the report said. "At this point, he became upset and did not further explain."
The report also said he complained that he saw black spots as a result of the beatings and had lost feeling in the toes of his left foot and in his right leg.
A former Vancouver resident, Mr. Alaradi ran an appliances business in Dubai. He was one of 10 men of Libyan ancestry living in the UAE who were arrested in August and September, 2014, days after the Emirates launched air strikes against Islamist militias in western Libya.
The 10 men, including another Canadian-Libyan entrepreneur who has since been released, Refat Hadagha, all say that they were arbitrarily detained and tortured.
The next hearing is scheduled for April 11.