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Imprisoned American on strike

Florida Voices
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 04:35 PM

A recent column I wrote detailed the warm relations between the United States and the United Arab Emirates. It's been a wonderful love affair that has been financially and strategically beneficial for both countries. Here's the downside.

There's an American in prison in Dubai who the UAE says has stolen lots of money. He's been there for four years and can't get bail and has not been brought to trial.

He's so desperate he's gone on a hunger strike. He hasn't eaten in more than a month.

I found out about Zack Shahin because an editor at the Columbus Dispatch sent me an email asking me if I knew anything about the case. I was embarrassed to reply that I had never heard of him. There's not much media coverage here about the penal system.

But the editor sent me a link to the "Save Zack Shahin" site www.freezack.com and that prompted me to contact his attorneys. Since then, I've interviewed the attorneys and Zack himself.

I have no idea if Zack stole any money. But his guilt or innocence is not the point. Dubai authorities don't like Zack and have used the dysfunctional legal system here to punish him.

Since he's been in prison, he's had 220 court appearances; 200 of them lasted less than three minutes.

"I'm doomed. I would rather go home in a box than continue to bang my head against this wall," said Zack, who has a wife and two daughters in Houston.

What's most interesting about the case now is the strategy he and his attorneys are employing after four years of futile legal efforts in Dubai. With Zack having stopped eating, his attorneys are pressing the U.S. government to force the UAE to provide due process. This quote from the legal team sums up the argument:

"Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton has the moral authority to publicly demand a country follows the rule of law and affords defendants due process rights. She has publicly spoken out in support of Ukrainian politicians, Chinese dissidents, and Russian oligarchs.

"Now is the time for Secretary Clinton to support a U.S. citizen in need. Secretary Clinton, do not allow your legacy to be tarnished with the death of a U.S. citizen languishing for four years without bail, trial, or conviction in a Dubai prison cell — publicly demand that UAE authorities grant Zack Shahin immediate and reasonable bail."

This has got to be a real hemorrhoid for the State Department. The UAE sells us lots of oil and then buys billions of dollars of our weapons with that money. Further, both countries are terrified of Iran and have considerable "mutual strategic interests."

Zack and his attorneys have raised legitimate issues. It will be interesting to see if our diplomats can get justice for an American while keeping a prickly ally happy. And get it done before Zack goes home in a box.


A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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