Afghanistan soldier with PTSD jailed in Abu Dhabi, reveals hellish prison conditions
A 44 year old PTSD sufferer and Afghanistan veteran (Army & Navy) has been detained in Dubai over a bank debt he was working to repay. The war survivor accepted a UAE government contract in 2012 following his role in Afghanistan. He relocated, settled in and like any new expat will experience, he was aggressively hounded by local bank ADCB, he decided to accept a loan to buy a property there.
The father of three and grandfather, Shannon Johnston, originally from West Virginia before moving to Alabama, was unexpectedly diagnosed with a neurological issue that caused him to urgently need to return to the US for specialist medical care. This left him in default and the bank immediately, as is standard, presented the security cheque provided by him when taking out the loan. “It is standard practice in the UAE for banks to request a blank cheque as security against a loan”, said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, who has been dealing with these cases for almost a decade and a half. “In the event of any default, the bank will present the cheque and if it bounces, it becomes a criminal offence, regardless of the circumstances”. Shannon was not aware of this.
Following extensive medical treatment, Shannon had to return quickly to work. He had tried to appease the bank, letting them know his situation and that he was getting a new job and would resume payments shortly. He accepted a new role with Lockheed Martin, a defense corporation in Huntsville which required him to travel overseas.
“Last year, dad was sent to the Philippines as part of his job. We thought we’d see him again quickly and had no idea what was about to happen”, Shannon’s 22 year old daughter Jasmyn recalled. “There was no heads up. We didn’t know this was possible”.
His flight to the Philippines had an unfortunate transit stop in Dubai. Shannon was taken from the plane with all of his belongings, unaware that he was about to end up in a Middle Eastern jail, notorious for human rights abuses. He was handcuffed and shackled and transferred to Dubai prison where he was told he was facing criminal charges over a bank loan he had taken in good faith. After surviving extreme and deadly situations abroad, living with PTSD and undergoing medical treatment, he was broken to learn that as he was getting his life back together, it was all going horribly wrong.
Dubai arranged for him to be transferred to Abu Dhabi Central Jail, a prison that has seen numerous foreigners complain of the horrendous conditions, including British veteran Andy Neal who was detained unfairly for over a year. Artur Ligeska, a Polish national wrote a whole book about the kind of abuse and torture he suffered in the same facility. Ms Stirling, who has helped many Abu Dubai detainees described the prison as “inhumane, overcrowded and seriously risky to detainees who face violence and human rights violations within the system”.
Jasmyn said “the judicial system is completely inadequate. It’s in shambles. They haven’t given him enough food. He has no hygiene products. His shampoo and glasses were taken by prison guards. He’s stuck in very poor, overcrowded conditions infested with insects and rodents. It’s disgusting. He can hardly ever use the phone and when he does, he has to pay for it. He hasn’t been allowed any daylight or exercise and he has no bedding or sleeping items. He is locked in a cell at night and not given any water. This is a desert prison and they don’t even give them water overnight. He’s suffered dehydration on a regular basis. He’s had no access to his medication and has been given no medical treatment. The list goes on.
“The US Embassy has done nothing either. This is a veteran who has served his country and he is just discarded like nothing over a bank debt? I can’t fathom how the US government can turn its back on him. He’s a Chistian and he’s not allowed to practice his religion, he has nothing to keep his mental wellbeing which is important to him after his past trauma.
“There was a fight in the prison and the people involved were handcuffed to the cell bars, with their hands above their head and their feet pushed into the bars so that they could not stand”.
Stirling added “it is completely unacceptable that the UAE, a supposed ally of the United States, is locking up American citizens over such trivial and frivolous matters that would be considered civil issues in the States. They are then being subjected to outrageous and demoralising treatment.
Christian, Shannon’s 19 year old son, has expressed his anger at America’s lack of diplomatic support for his father. “We are being told by the US government that they cannot intervene in a foreign legal system but now we have learned this is not true. They will not even do welfare checks on my dad and this is an insult. We are going to be contacting everyone who can help, Senators, Congress people & the US State Department, making sure we don’t just accept this kind of treatment. It’s not right”.
Ms Stirling confirmed “We are not asking the US to intervene in a legal system, but we are certainly asking them to diplomatically intervene in a situation of injustice where a military man has been unfairly detained over a bank debt. The US government has intervened in the past with American David Oliver, Peter Clark, Danielle Jeffries and others and managed to get them free.
“The UAE has on many occasions deceived the public into believing they have no instated working bankruptcy laws, that they have removed prison sentences for bounced cheques and that they will take the circumstances surrounding the cheques into account. None of this is true. Since our inception in 2008, bank debts, credit card debts, utility bills and bounced cheques have been the cause of thousands of detentions. Some people never make it out of prison and if they do, a corresponding civil case will put them right back in jail. If they are outside of the country, they will likely be reported as an Interpol Red Notice fugitive alongside drug lords and murderers, despite this breaking Interpol’s own rules.
“The UAE has invested significant money into legal and illegal lobbying into Washington DC and into the private sector, as well as major marketing endeavours that cover up the significant but regular human rights violations. The UAE Expo has just begun with the goal of attracting even more investors, skilled labourers or shall we call them, future victims? The European Parliament this month boycotted the expo based on human rights concerns and the treatment of women but what is the United States going to do?
“We will certainly be raising this case and others in DC and in English Parliament, as well as filing policy recommendations to the US with these regular occurrences in mind. If the UAE is going to make a substantial effort to attract foreigners and foreign business, they must start treating foreigners fairly.”
Shannon’s family are committed to bringing him home and raising this case within military and government circles but if their efforts fall on deaf ears, Shannon will never be able to leave the UAE, even if released from prison. In the UAE, debtors are not allowed to leave the country but are not allowed to work either, leaving them in an endless cycle which often leads to homelessness as in the case of US national, David Oliver.