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British student begins hunger strike in UAE jail over UK's 'lack of action' to free him

Ahmad Zaidan is refusing food after he accused the UK government of failing to act to free him from prison over a minor drugs charge
Ahmad Zaidan was imprisoned for carrying 0.04 grams of cocaine (Reprieve)

A British student jailed for possession of a tiny amount of cocaine in Dubai, has launched a hunger strike against the UK government's "lack of action" in freeing him from prison. 

Ahmad Zaidan, who is from Reading, was studying aviation in Dubai before being arrest by the police in Dubai in 2013. 

He was jailed for nine years in 2014 for drug possession, but claimed that he was tortured and threatened with rape by police officers to admit the charge. 

Zaidan was taken into custody after the police found him inside his friend's car with 0.04 grams of cocaine. 

While the other men in the car were given pardons or acquitted, Zaidan, the only British citizen, was jailed by Emirati authorities. 

His father, Manal Zaidan, claimed that his son was treated like a "third-class citizen" because he did not have an "Anglo-Saxon name".

The British Foreign Office said that it continued to "assist Mr Zaidan", but refused to confirm whether it was aware if he was on a hunger strike. 

"He is starting a hunger strike to protest the lack of action by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to raise a request for a pardon", Manal Zaidan told BBC Radio Berkshire.

"The UK government has previously requested people's release at the highest level," he added. "He feels he is being treated as a third-class citizen for no reason other than the fact he does not have an Anglo-Saxon name".

Britain's Housing Minister Alok Sharma, who is the family's local MP, raised Zaidan's case in Parliament which prompted a bilateral meeting between the UK and UAE in March 2016. 

But in an email shown to the BBC, a Foreign Office case worker told his father that during the meeting "it was decided that Ahmad's case did not reach the threshold for Her Majesty's Government to support a clemency request".

Zaidan claims his son was left in solitary confinement in prison for complaining about his conditions, and talking to the British Embassy.

"He's in a state of trauma, he's got severe depression," he said. "He was in the prime of his life as a student, he was in the middle of his studies, and looking forward to a career in aviation."

The UAE ambassador to the UK, Sulaiman Al Mazroui, told the BBC that his country "has the strongest rule of law of any country in the region, and among the strongest in the world."

The ambassador also added: "Abuse of detainees is a crime and any and all allegations of abuse formally registered with the appropriate authorities are taken seriously and thoroughly investigated".