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Lebanese and UAE foreign ministers speak after man dies in custody

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon’s foreign minister spoke Saturday with his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates following the death of a Lebanese citizen while in custody in the oil-rich Gulf nation, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said in a short statement that Lebanon’s ambassador to the UAE, Fouad Dandan, spoke by telephone with the wife and brother of the late Ghazi Ezzedine, 55. The envoy later received a signed letter from the family saying the man died as a result of heart problems.

Ezzedine’s death had earlier raised questions about his possible mistreatment by authorities in the UAE. Earlier this week, a committee of family members of Lebanese citizens detained in the UAE, including the man who died earlier this month, alleged in a statement that Ezzedine had died as a result of being tortured.

The foreign ministry statement said UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan told his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bouhabib that Ezzedine’s family can leave the UAE or stay if they want. The statement did not say whether the family will be allowed to take the man’s body for burial in Lebanon following reports that they were prevented from do so.

Sima Watling, a researcher with Amnesty International focusing on the Arab Gulf country, told The Associated Press on Friday that according to Ezzedine’s family, he had been arrested on March 22 along with eight other people, including two of his brothers, on unknown charges.

Ezzedine died on May 4, she said. His family was only notified several days later, when his son was asked by authorities to come to the cemetery and identify the body, she added. Ezzedine’s son was only permitted to see his father’s face, while his body was kept covered.

UAE authorities denied the family’s request to bring him back to Lebanon for burial, Watling said. The two brothers who were detained along with him were subsequently released from detention but banned from leaving the country.

UAE authorities have detained dozens of Lebanese, mostly Shiites, in the past over alleged links to the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. The UAE, like other Gulf Cooperation Council members, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

In 2019, the UAE sentenced one Lebanese national to life in prison and two to ten years in prison on charges of links to Hezbollah.