- By Region
One of Dubai’s highest profile prisoners, US citizen Zack Shahin, has gone on hunger strike to protest a lack of due process after spending more than four years in jail without a conviction.
His protest marks a broadening of a three-week hunger strike by other foreigners imprisoned in Dubai on financial charges, shedding an uncomfortable light on the emirate’s judicial system as its economy starts to recover after the financial crisis.
More than a dozen other inmates in Dubai’s Al-Awir jail have over the past month launched hunger strikes to protest their incarceration for bouncing cheques, a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates.
Mr Shahin, the former chief executive of Deyaar, a property developer, has been in detention since the UAE government launched a probe into real estate corruption in 2008, just before the emirate’s property market crashed.
“I am going home, whether I walk out or leave in a box,” Mr Shahin said from a prison pay phone. “Most likely in a box.”
Mr Shahin says his hunger strike marks his refusal to go along with the “circus” of his 1,500-day detention, in which he has faced several trials, none of which have reached a conclusion.
After posting bail in 2009, he was rearrested pending another investigation.
His original misdemeanour charge was also dropped for a more serious felony case after public prosecutors decided to try him as a public official because of the government’s part ownership of Deyaar.
There are now three open cases pending a trial date, with the threat of another one looming, say Mr Shahin’s lawyers.
A spokesman for public prosecution declined to provide an immediate comment.
According to Mr Shahin’s lawyers, tne embezzlement case he faces refers to $100,000 he is alleged to have taken from Deyaar, which he says was an approved bonus payment signed by his chairman, Mohammed Kharbash.
Mr Kharbash, a former finance minister, was at the centre of the anti-corruption investigation launched in 2008. He has denied any wrongdoing.
When Mr Shahin was first detained by the authorities, he says questions focused on the relationship with his former chairman, Mr Kharbash.
A government audit report has alleged Mr Shahin and Mr Kharbash had “reciprocal interests” – a claim Mr Shahin denies.
Mr Kharbash has also faced trial, but like other Emirati defendants caught in the corruption probe, was freed on bail, which has not afforded to many expatriates, such as Mr Shahin.
“How can this be justice?” he asks.
Blaming the US government for abandoning him to an unfair system, Mr Shahin said he was tiring of the consulate’s inability to influence his situation.
“The US is more interested in saving people in other countries, like China or Libya, than helping a US citizen here,” he said. “Their political and economic interests appear more important.”
An embassy spokesman says the US is concerned about Mr Shahin’s situation and has repeatedly raised the need for due process and a swift resolution to his case at the highest level of UAE government.