Amid the fanfare surrounding Brittney Griner’s Russian imprisonment and her subsequent return home in exchange for an international arms dealer, it has become easy to forget that her situation is not all that unique.
According to an article from Fox News, an American named Zack Shahin has been imprisoned in a jail in the UAE for 15 years, for crimes that Shahin’s family says he did not commit. It is easy to wonder why this story has received less attention than Griner’s, or why the Biden Administration fought so hard to bring back the WNBA star when they seem to be leaving other captives stranded abroad. Zack’s son Ramy has a very likely explanation for this, and he shared it in his interview with Fox:
“They completely abandoned us … they completely pushed us to the side. Maybe we’re not newsworthy enough for them — we’re not famous, we’re just an ordinary family — and they just left us.”
“My dad’s just an ordinary American guy who started working hard to make a name for himself. He took this little real estate company and made it what it became and built so much of what Dubai is known for. And then they just took him down.”
Ramy has been petitioning the government to work towards negotiating a release for his father, but so far it seems that nobody is willing to stick their neck out for Zack Shahin for fear of it causing tension during other political deals:
“My dad’s situation was an inconvenience to the U.S. When they were working with the United Arab Emirates and Russia to negotiate Brittney Griner’s release, I feel like they thought, ‘let’s not mention Zack Shahin while we’re working to get her out because it might not go right with them.'”
Another man, Martin Lonergan, a British activist, has also taken interest in this case. Lonergan has met with Shahin and spoken with him about the condition that the American faces in his UAE cell while the two were imprisoned in the same facility in 2020. According to Lonergan, this particular facility is “where you are pushed away to be forgotten about.” Lonergan continued, detailing the condition that Shahin faced, in an interview with Fox News:
“He is rotting. If you can imagine a man is dying because he’s rotting … they’re cutting bits of Zack away, and he’s dying trying to fight the infection.”
Fox News writer Teny Sahakian gave another recount of the layout of the cell that Shahin has lived in for 15 years:
“The bright fluorescent lights are always on in the concrete cell the American citizen shares with 60 other prisoners. The noisy air conditioner runs 24 hours a day. The air is damp, cold and smells like decaying flesh.
Zack sleeps on a plastic mattress with a dirty blanket and in clothes that have never been washed. Prisoners are rarely let out of their cells.”
The US State Department says that they are working to help the Shahin Family in this matter, though little tangible help has been received so far:
“We have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad and are providing all appropriate assistance.”
Featured image from Twitter user @bringzakhome
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