Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Remind me never to get arrested

I spent yesterday in two courtrooms: One in Abu Dhabi (the city) and one in Al Ain. The afternoon case, in Al Ain, was speedy and well-organized. In hearing that took less than 10 minutes, a panel of three judges pronounced a member of Abu Dhabi's ruling family not guilty.

The morning hearing was longer and more tumultuous. It also made me think that if I ever found myself in the hands of the justice system here, it would be very hard to get me out. I guess having a translator would help, but shouted Arabic from a judge is just intimidating, no matter what is being said.

The room was laid out like just about any courtroom, with a gallery for visitors, a raised platform for the judge and some desks for the lawyers. One main difference I noticed right away, though, is that all the suspects sit in the gallery. Yeah. A bunch of guys in baggy blue outfits ("the ones with yellow stripes face life sentences; the guys with red stripes face death," said the reporter sitting next to me) were slouching in chairs about 10 feet away.

There were three types of guards present: regular police, federal police and soldiers. The soldiers were all women, and were wearing purple camo. The federal police had light green jumpsuit uniforms. The regular police had blue unis. One of the officers had a gun, but, the same reporter assured me, it was not loaded.

And finally, all the arguments are made via paperwork. The prosecutors hand the judge some papers. The defense lawyers hand the judge some papers. And then the judge tells them when he will issue a verdict. (The day I was there, however, both the defense and prosecution made oral arguments in a major human-trafficking case, which was both rare and entertaining. And yes, I had no clue what anyone was saying.)

So, yes. In a court where the rules seem to be made up as the go along--at least as far as I could tell--I'd be in big trouble if I find myself in a baggy blue prison outfit. If nothing else, I doubt the prison-issue flip-flops would fit my feet.

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