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A group of UN human-rights experts is calling on the United Arab Emirates to immediately release a Canadian businessman and four others who have been detained for more than a year and allegedly tortured.

The plea was made as the trial of Salim Alaradi, a 48-year-old former Vancouver resident who was born in Libya, began Monday in the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in Abu Dhabi. Mr. Alaradi, who was running an appliances business in Dubai, has pleaded not guilty to three terrorism-related charges.

Married and a father of five children, Mr. Alaradi was among 10 businessmen of Libyan ancestry who were taken into custody around August and September, 2014. The arrests occurred days after the UAE launched air strikes against Islamist militias in western Libya.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention examined the cases of Mr. Alaradi and the four other men who remain in custody. The panel concluded the men had been arrested without warrants and were regularly beaten, waterboarded and deprived of sleep. Its findings have heightened calls for their release. "We have received credible information according to which the detainees were tortured and forced to sign confessions," Juan Mendez, the UN special rapporteur on torture, said in a statement.

The alleged torture and minimal access to medical care have caused most of the detainees to suffer serious injuries and health conditions, including permanent loss of sight and hearing, added Dainius Puras, the UN special rapporteur on the right to health.

The UN experts' condemnation and their request for the release of the detainees are significant developments, said Mr. Alaradi's Canadian lawyer, Paul Champ.

"We're hoping that this additional international scrutiny will cause the Emiratis to look at this case more closely and ensure that it is in fact handled in accordance with their own laws and international law," Mr. Champ said in an interview. "We're confident that if they do that, Mr. Alaradi will be acquitted and his charges will be dismissed."

The first day of his trial was brief, lasting about 30 minutes. The judge granted the local defence counsel's request for a medical examination of Mr. Alaradi to determine whether his injuries were the result of torture, said Mr. Champ, who was briefed on what happened in court. The defence will also be allowed to cross-examine Mr. Alaradi's interrogators. Mr. Champ said the Canadian ambassador to the UAE attended Monday's hearing – a gesture appreciated by Mr. Alaradi's family. "It sends a very strong signal to the Emiratis about how seriously Canada views this case," the Canadian lawyer said.

Mr. Alaradi's trial is expected to resume on Feb. 29. His wife and children are staying with relatives in Windsor, Ont.

With a report from Tu Thanh Ha