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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Young man jailed over drugs in friend's car seeks pardon to continue studies

Briton was just 19 when he was arrested over a tiny amount of cocaine in his friend's car. The others he was with have since been pardoned but the student who once saved a little girl's life remains behind bars. 

Ahmad Zeidan was a student at Emirates Aviation College when he was arrested and all he wants to do is go back to his studies. Courtesy Zeidan family
Ahmad Zeidan was a student at Emirates Aviation College when he was arrested and all he wants to do is go back to his studies. Courtesy Zeidan family

The British family of a young man sentenced to nine years in prison on drug charges are pleading for a Royal Pardon and his release as his health is deteriorating, they say.

As a 16-year-old, Ahmad Zeidan and his school friends hit the headlines for rescuing a 5-year-old girl locked inside a parked car in Dubai’s summer heat.

Just three years later, in 2014, he was in a friend’s car when the vehicle was stopped and searched by police, who found 0.04g of cocaine, with a UK street value of about 3.15 pounds, or about Dh15.

The Emirates Aviation College student was jailed for nine years but the other men he was with have since been pardoned.

Now 23, Zeidan’s family, from Reading, are concerned for his health.

A family spokesman said Zeidan is depressed but has not given up on being released early from a Sharjah prison.

“Ahmad is having seizures again that he first suffered when he was detained,” the spokesman said.

“He feels he is being discriminated against since all others in the same case were pardoned except him, as the only Briton.

“At the same time, the UK government has not formally asked for his clemency or pardon.”

Zeidan is allowed a short monthly phone call that lasts a few minutes and terminates automatically. The family have no way to contact him from the outside and he has no access to news or the internet.

“We have been through the legal process but, sadly, he was also denied a Supreme Court hearing to appeal his case,” the family spokesman added.

“We have delivered numerous letters to UAE and Sharjah officials requesting his pardon, as he was under 21 when he was arrested. He just wants to finish his studies and get his life back.”

The family have spent hundreds of thousands of dirhams on his court case and application for a Supreme Court hearing that has since been denied.

Zeidan is visited monthly by British consulate staff and representatives from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although there has been no formal request for a pardon, despite a bilateral meeting between the UAE and UK in March 2016.

Another family member said they have not given up hope of his return and are pleading for a pardon from the Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

“We have lost a son, a brother and a bright student who loved the UAE and showed his character and care for the Dubai community when he risked his safety to save the life of an infant,” she said.

“Ahmad simply wants to finish his studies and pursue a career in airport aviation management.”

His case is similar to that of Farzan Athari, a Swedish actor and model who was charged with a much larger quantity of cocaine possession. Mr Athari was granted a pardon after three years’ imprisonment.

Radha Stirling, chief executive of Detained in Dubai, a group acting on behalf of expats held in UAE prisons, said visitors must be aware of the strict laws in the country.

“It is important to recognise even being in the vicinity of others who possess drugs can lead to custodial sentences,” she said.

“In the confusion of an arrest, foreigners are likely to sign documents in Arabic without understanding the content and believing that they can later dispute it.

“It is important to ensure a lawyer is present when signing any documentations that could be used in evidence. A signed confession can be enough to secure a conviction.”

Ms Stirling said anyone who is arrested or charged should seek immediate legal advice before signing documents they don’t understand.

“Although all legal avenues to appeal his case have already been exploited, Mr Zeidan still holds hope for a compassionate pardon,” she added.

“I think it likely that he will be granted a pardon, particularly given the very low quantities of drugs involved.

“He is a young student and should not have to languish in prison for his entire youth.”

A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: “We continue to assist a British man who was arrested in the UAE in December 2013. The welfare of British people abroad is an important priority for the FCO.

“Then minister for the Middle East, Tobias Ellwood, raised the case with with his opposite number in 2016, and we continue to regularly raise this case with the UAE Government."