Government refuses to help tortured British student in UAE

August 24, 2015

The Prime Minister and the Foreign Office have refused to support a British student’s request to be released from a UAE prison, it’s been revealed – despite the fact that he was tortured into a false ‘confession’ by Emirati police.

Ahmad Zeidan, from Reading, was arrested in December 2013 in the emirate of Sharjah, along with seven other young men. During eight days of incommunicado detention, he was tortured by police into signing a document in Arabic – a language he doesn’t read or write. During a trial in which he faced a potential death sentence, the document was presented as his ‘confession’, and he was sentenced to nine years. He lost a subsequent appeal, while his allegations of police torture – common in the UAE – were never fully investigated.

The leaders of the Emirates recently granted a traditional Ramadan pardon to just under 900 prisoners across the UAE, including 200 prisoners in Sharjah jail, where Ahmad is held. The amnesty saw Ahmad’s co-defendants – none of whom are British – released, leaving him the sole remaining defendant from the December 2013 arrests to be still in prison. It’s now emerged that the Foreign Office refused to support a request by Ahmad for inclusion in the pardon – an apparent contradiction of an official UK policy to request clemency when a miscarriage of justice, such as a forced confession, has occurred.

It’s also been revealed that David Cameron met with the leader of the UAE, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in July this year, shortly before the pardon was announced. In a letter to human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Ahmad, the Foreign Office admitted that the Prime Minister had not raised the case at the meeting, saying “these specific issues were not discussed.”

Speaking to the Press Association, Ahmad said his experience had been “extremely traumatizing, for both me and my family. It’s taking a toll on me every single day, mentally and physically.” He added: “The torture at the beginning was one thing, that I live with every day; it’s now another mountain of pain I have to go through, knowing the UK government is doing nothing.” He appealed to ministers to “get me out of what I’m going through.”

Commenting, Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“Ahmad Zeidan has suffered a staggering miscarriage of justice at the hands of the UAE. His brutal torture and the use of a bogus ‘confession’ – signed in a language he doesn’t read or write – are more than enough reason for the British government to request his release. It is deeply disappointing that ministers have not yet done this – particularly as his co-defendants, from other countries, have now all been released. The UK government must use our strong ties with the Emirates to call for an end to Ahmad’s nightmarish ordeal, so that he can return to Britain and concentrate on his future.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

For further information, including copies of the Foreign Office’s letter to Reprieve, contact Reprieve’s press office: 0207 553 8140, or alice [dot] gillham [at] reprieve.org.uk