Former Leeds United managing director David Haigh '˜coming home' after being acquitted in Dubai over tweet charge

The former managing director of Leeds United has been acquitted in the United Arab Emirates of criminal charges relating to a tweet.

David Haigh, who has been in prison in Dubai since 2014.
David Haigh, who has been in prison in Dubai since 2014.

David Haigh has said he hopes to be reunited with his family for Easter after spending nearly two years in custody in Dubai.

Mr Haigh was due to be released in November last year after being convicted of fraud, but was charged with a further offence of slander in relation to comments made on Twitter while he was in jail.

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He will now be freed after being in custody since May 2014.

A human rights group described the acquittal as a “positive step” but say many other people remain at risk of similar treatment because of the cyber-slander laws in the United Arab Emirates.

Ian Monk, Mr Haigh’s spokesman, said: “David is delighted that the nightmare of almost two years in jail, which began when he was tricked into flying to Dubai on the pretext of being offered a new job, is now coming to an end.

“David now hopes to be reunited with his family in the UK for Easter. He will have more to say then.”

Mr Haigh, who was a director at Leeds United for just over a year in 2013-14 after leading GFH Capital’s negotiations to acquire the club, was originally arrested in Dubai on May 18 last year.

He was initially detained without charge for 14 months and had his worldwide assets frozen before being convicted in August this year of misappropriating items of monetary value from a position of trust from his former Dubai-based employer.

He was sentenced to two years in prison – the majority of which he had already served – but is reportedly considering seeking a retrial of his criminal conviction.

Earlier this year, Mr Haigh’s case was taken up by Human Rights Watch, which said authorities in the UAE should drop the slander charges, release Mr Haigh and scrap the law that criminalises slander.

The influential human rights organisation criticised the Middle Eastern nation’s “repressive” cybercrime laws and said Mr Haigh has had hearings to consider his case postponed six times since being detained in November.

Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director for HRW, said: “If UAE businessmen can have their partners locked up when they don’t like the tone of their tweets, one has to question whether the UAE is a safe place to make any form of criticism.

“The UK government should make very public calls for David Haigh’s immediate release and scrapping of the criminal slander law.”

According to HRW, which describes itself as a “non-profit, non-governmental human rights organisation” Haigh has been charged with slander on the basis of comments made about Leeds United’s former owners GFH eight months earlier on his Twitter account.

HRW says Article 20 of UAE Federal Law No. 5 of 2012 on Combating Cybercrime, which makes it a criminal offense to make slanderous comments online, is “at odds with international human rights law”.

Nicholas McGeehan of HRW said today: “David Haigh’s acquittal is a positive step and shows that the UAE’s courts standing up to absurd invocations of its cybercrime law, but many more will remain at risk of similar treatment unless repressive provisions of this law is repealed.

“The UK government should ensure any allegations of mistreatment are fully investigated.”