TV executive tells of Dubai prison ordeal

Katie Davies A Hampstead TV executive has told of his harrowing 40 days locked up in a Dubai prison with HIV risks, unsanitary conditions and violent inmates for a crime he didn't commit. Cat Le-Huy, 31, head of technology for Big Brother makers Endemol

Katie Davies

A HAMPSTEAD TV executive has told of his harrowing 40 days locked up in a Dubai prison with HIV risks, unsanitary conditions and violent inmates for a crime he didn't commit.

Cat Le-Huy, 31, head of technology for Big Brother makers Endemol, finally returned home last Thursday after being thrown behind bars on a holiday in the UAE in January.

Airport officials claimed he was carrying 0.03 grams - less than a grain of sugar - of Hashish in his suitcase - a charge that could lead to a four-year prison term in the country.

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But the charges were dropped last week and on his return to his Garnett Road home he told the Ham&High of his horrific experiences behind bars and his new campaign to get others freed.

"It doesn't seem real now, it seems very far away, like it happened to someone else," Mr Le Huy said. "In prison we talked about how we would kiss the first person we saw in British passport control. Passing the last duty free shop in Heathrow, I just thought I'm home."

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Mr Le-Huy was held in the airport detention facility in Dubai and later the Al Wathba

prison where he shared a cell with Radio 1 DJ Grooverider, who was convicted to four years in jail for carrying a small amount of cannabis on February 19.

In both he met a large number of European residents, who also claim to have been wrongfully imprisoned, including three others from the Belsize and Swiss Cottage area.

"A very small percentage of them were guilty of trying to bring something across but by and large they were innocent. These people are sitting in a foreign prison and are losing things in their life like their jobs or mortgages. During the Dubai shopping festival we were getting about nine foreign nationals sent in every day.

"Most others weren't serious criminals, but one was a paedophile, which was particularly nasty. We had a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old put in the prison as well and they weren't kept separate from him. We took care of them but one night he kicked down the door of another guy's cell - it was pretty disturbing."

The men were also being held in unsanitary conditions, according to Mr Le-Huy, which made health problems a growing problem.

Mr Le-Huy continued: "There was a hepatitis and HIV scare at the detention centre.

"You get tested when you arrive and there were three men found positive, but it took the guards to sort out who they were and move them.

"There was also some drugging. One guy came in he was screaming all day and all night and kept everyone up. He would just lie in the middle of his urine and faeces. They put him in solitary but he got better and said he had been injected by guards.

"Another guy came in with the same thing - we fed him food and water through the bars, but he didn't improve.

"The bathrooms were absolutely filthy - the toilets were overflowing. There was a Salmonella outbreak, but the prison denied it was happening."

The prisoners also had to deal with the guards who changed their rules "on mood" -

forcing them to stand outside for hours in the rain while they searched their rooms, or confiscated all reading material.

Mr Le-Huy added: "We only had what people left behind and had to keep it hidden - I've read every John Grisham novel going which I never thought I'd say.

"After the shock you have to learn to live with it, but you know you're in too long when you start dreaming of prison.

"Now I keep stopping just to watch people go by. It's like being born again and you have a new level of appreciation."

Mr Le-Huy is now supporting the campaigns to free others he met there and hopes pressure will build on the country to change its legal system.

"You have to be level-headed about things," he said. "There will be cases of people wrongly imprisoned in any judicial system, but if you give an unbiased system, which allows representation, it will limit it. Dubai has a promising future if it can maintain its Islamic views, while also bringing in some sort of representative justice system. It has to realise what it is putting people through - something needs to change.

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