I am unjustly imprisoned in the UAE – why won’t the UK government help me?
By Ahmad Zeidan
I turned 22 on Tuesday. It was my second birthday behind bars. Before my arrest in 2013, I was a typical 20-year-old: a few months off graduating from university, I had a girlfriend, friends, parties, music. I was really looking forward to completing my degree in aviation management and to my future in the field. If you’re a 20-year-old guy reading this, you get me. The old me.
In December 2014, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – a condition caused by the torture that I was subjected to when I was arrested. I try my best not to think about that night, when I was dragged out of my friend’s car by Emirati police officers as we parked outside a mall in Sharjah, but sometimes the memories come flooding back.
The beatings came fast, mostly across my face. I still feel pain in my jaw to this day. An officer ripped the chain from my neck and began whipping me. I heard them taunting me, saying how happy they were to “catch” a Brit. Then began eight days of beatings, often while handcuffed. I wasn’t allowed to contact my family or the British embassy.
I remember at one point being told to stand up, but being so exhausted that I collapsed. An officer grabbed me by the handcuffs and dragged me across the floor. I was stripped naked and they threatened to rape me. In the last few days, I was hooded and taken to solitary confinement. I asked where they were taking me, but they just beat me in response. Eventually, I was made to sign a document in Arabic, a language I don’t read or write – this was my “confession”. That piece of paper led to my jailing for nine years in Sharjah, but not before a long trial in which the state sought the death penalty on drugs charges.
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Last night, I had a panic attack. I’ve been getting them a lot in prison. I don’t sleep any more. I am desperately trying to preserve my mental strength, and trying to come to terms with the fact that I will be nearly 30 by the time I am released. What I can’t accept is the British government’s seeming refusal to help me.
UK consular officials know that my case, like many others in the UAE, involved a miscarriage of justice. They know that I was tortured into a bogus “confession” – they even helped my father, days after I was found, to file a complaint about my mistreatment, and to request that I be allowed to see a doctor – requests that the UAE authorities denied. And yet, the British government has refused to ask for my release. I am the only defendant left from my trial. My co-defendants – convicted of the same crime, but not from Britain – have all been freed.
I wonder what you would think if you could read my thoughts for a day in this prison? I am barely able to describe them myself. The thing that scares me the most are the flashbacks. They are intense, and leave me in constant fear. I relive the moments of my arrest and my torture like someone watching a DVD of that night on a loop – and I am just as powerless and helpless as I was at the time. I am afraid of being around other people and worse, I am scared that I am no longer myself – that I will never be the same person I was before. I ask myself every day, will I ever live a normal life again?
I respect the ruler of Sharjah and the decisions he makes. And I don’t blame the UAE; after all, I grew to love this country like a second home. The system is what it is here, and ultimately I have to respect that. But I can’t understand why the British government has failed me; why the UK – with its strong relationship with the Emirates – can’t support my request for freedom. My only conclusion is that the British government has other priorities in the UAE. I just want nothing more than to be back in the UK, to try to be a normal 22-year-old.
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A full version of this article is available on The Guardian.