Smoking ban led to prison riot, court hears

DUBAI // A riot at a detention centre was partially triggered by an officer who banned inmates from smoking because he had quit and wanted them to “follow in his footsteps”, a court heard yesterday.

Eleven men have been charged with arson and causing more than Dh200,000 worth of damage during the disturbance at the facility in Al Qusais on December 8 last year.

Trouble initially flared when a police captain, accompanied by about 20 officers, carried out an inspection of Ward B of the detention unit, which triggered a scuffle between the prisoners and officers, prosecutors said.

The officers then called for back-up from the riot division. When the riot officers arrived, one of them told the detainees that they were not allowed to smoke, the defence lawyer Saeed Al Ghilani told Judge Hamad Abdul Latif at the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance.

When the men objected, officers threw tear-gas canisters and used instruments that resembled cattle prods to administer electric shocks, Mr Al Ghilani said.

The eleven men, between 19 and 39 years of age, have all denied charges of arson in an occupied building and causing Dh201,699 worth of damage.

They have already been convicted on charges of endangering lives and assaulting police officers at a separate hearing at the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours.

Prosecutors said the men, 10 Emiratis and a stateless man, set fire to their sponge mattresses and to the furniture in Ward B.

Six of the men said yesterday they “didn’t burn or damage anything”, while all 11 said they wanted to call more witnesses.

A Dubai police captain, AY, 31, testified that the detainees had tried to assault officers conducting an inspection.

He said the officers used pepper spray to disperse the prisoners and called for back-up. Twenty riot squad officers arrived, but the detainees blocked the ward’s door to stop them from entering, he said.

AY added that smoke then began pouring from the windows and the Civil Defence was called.

Mr Al Ghilani said no order had been found authorising the inspection and there was no record of a riot in Ward B.

The inmates “were being provoked by riot police, mainly when smoking was suddenly banned because a riot police officer quit smoking and wanted them to follow in his footsteps”, the defence said.

“How was it established that these 11 men took the action when a police witness testified that the firestarters were masked?” asked Mr Al Ghilani.

He added that no DNA evidence had been found linking his clients to the fire, nor did the forensics lab confirm how the fire was started. That, he said, meant police were wrong to claim they knew how the fire started, or whether his clients were involved.

The next hearing will be on October 13.

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