Everyone who follows presidential politics agrees that Ohio will be a battleground state again this year. President Obama has visited there numerous times in recent months and formally opened his reelection campaign at Ohio State University. Mitt Romney knows that no Republican in recent decades has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
One wonders, therefore, why a shocking human rights case involving an Ohio citizen in a distant land isn’t getting top-level attention from Mr. Obama or his rival.
It involves Zack Shahin, a businessman who built a successful career in property development in Dubai during the years it was booming. Suddenly, in March 2008, he was kidnapped and thrown into jail without being charged, held incommunicado and forced to sign Arabic documents he could not read, in the face of threats to his wife and children. This was a time when some of the Dubai government’s investments were heading south. Its prosecutors alleged he had misappropriated $100,000 from his company. His board, however, had unanimously voted the money to him as a bonus. This was confirmed by his company’s outside auditor, Ernst & Young.
Dubai, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, has laws that on paper seem to provide the same citizen guarantees as ours. In practice, they are honored in the breech. Time after time, for years on end, the court gave the prosecutor permission to hold Shahin in jail 30 days, then another 30 days, ad infinitum, in order to gather “evidence.”
It has been over four years now that Zack Shahin has been in a Dubai prison. To read a summary of all the legal activities is to read of a land that has made a sham of its own laws and professed respect for human rights. After several requests, a judge told Shahin that bail would be granted for $135,000 and he was to have it ready the next day. The next day, the judge was mysteriously removed from the case and replaced by another judge who reset it at $5 million.
The case has involved delayed hearings, charges made then dropped, and admitted perjured affidavits by prosecution witnesses. Altogether, Sachin has had 200 court hearings. Only 17 of these lasted longer than three minutes and none longer than 40 minutes. Still, no bail, and no trial in over four years.
Meanwhile, Shahin’s health has declined. At times his medicine has been withheld when he dared complain. An angiogram and knee surgery required him to be hospitalized. The doctor recommended six-weeks of recuperation and physical therapy. Thereupon, Dubai security agents moved into his room and kept the TV on at high volume 24 hours a day. They said they were carrying out orders and that the only way for him to have a quiet recovery was to ask for hospital discharge and return to jail. It was pure harassment. This harassment then carried over to the U.S.
Dubai authorities maneuvered to have the Texas subsidiary of his old company, Deyaar, sue him. This would have required “discovery” under U.S. law that might be used — or so they hoped — to gather evidence against him in the Dubai cases. Then, when Deyaar was about to have its Texas case dismissed by Shahin’s U.S. counsel, it dropped both its Dubai and Texas suits against him.
With no end of his travails in sight, Shahin has begun a hunger strike. Local reports indicate that lately there has been a wave of hunger strikes in UAE jails by men locked up for alleged financial crimes.
Has the U.S. government done anything about Shahin’s long-running travesty? Not nearly enough. The U.S. ambassador and consul made several inquiries, including a request for a meeting with the ruler of the UAE (not granted). Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder brought up the matter in bilateral meetings with their UAE counterparts; however, no positive action resulted.
Contrast this with four cases over the last year where high-level intervention by the U.S. worked in four human rights cases: Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese activist; Arkadi Gontmakher, an American business man in Russia; some women journalists trapped in North Korea. and the three American hikers who were captured at the Iraq-Iran border.
Even though there is some security sensitivity regarding the UAE (U.S. defense forces on its territory), the UAE is not immune to international opinion or law. What is called for, after all the private conversations have failed, is a public rebuke of Dubai’s egregious violations of its own due-process procedure, in addition to a demand by the U.S. government for due process rights, immediate bail, and a trial for Zack Shahin. In this case (hint) the victim is a businessman from Ohio — Presidential candidates take note.
Mr. Hannaford is a member of the board of the Committee on the Present Danger.