An American academic has been ‘held hostage’ in the Middle Eastern city state of Dubai over an unpaid debt for more than a year and suffered a stroke while behind bars, his family revealed Tuesday.
David Oliver, 62, from Cincinnati, Ohio, was stripped of his passport and thrown in a prison cell by airport guards who allegedly bragged: ‘Look, we got an American.’
The creative writing lecturer had been living in Dubai with his ex-wife, working at the American University in the emirate.
But after 20 years in the region he was locked up when he lost his job and failed to repay a $70,000 debt. The country criminalizes debt and banks and landlords can send someone to jail with a document showing a check bounced.
Oliver’s nightmare stemmed from a $70,000 debt he incurred when living in Dubai with his then wife.
He took a loan out with the Sharjah Islamic Bank in 2014, but after he lost his job following a dispute with an Emirati co-worker and his then-wife, who is originally from Iran, flew back to the U.S.
Shortly after they were back on U.S. soil she asked for a divorce so he boarded a plane back to the Middle East to seek work in Bahrain.
But he was detained during a layover in Dubai as he flew from Bahrain to Kathmandu and ordered to repay the debt – which has now reached $100,000 thanks to charges – immediately.
Oliver claims he thought his ex-wife had been paying it off through their joint bank account, but says she had stopped.
He is banned from leaving the country until he repays the loan but has been stripped of his passport and visa so he can’t get a job.
The professor was put behind bars for two months at the notorious Sharjah Jail, where he suffered a mini stroke. He was freed to a mental hospital where he lived for seven months.
Oliver was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder and has suffered from depression. His family say that he is desperately in need of healthcare – and is not getting help from the U.S. government, they told DailyMail.com
His sister Beverly Thornton, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told DailyMail.com: ‘David has already been jailed for two months, then held for another seven months in a primitive mental hospital.’
Oliver’s sister said: ‘During the time in prison he was subjected to awful violence. Another prisoner even stole his front teeth implants.
‘He is mentally ill anyway and now trying to deal with the effects of a stroke.
‘He has been told he cannot return to the USA until his debt is paid. With the crazy interest and collection agency fees, the amount claimed has risen to USD $100,000.
‘Our family doesn’t have anything like that kind of money and we have been told David will soon be sent back to prison and stay there for good, or until the debt is paid in full.
‘We miss him terribly. This is a death sentence for a mentally ill man and stroke victim.
‘I just wish our government would do something to help, but all the embassy has done is give contact details for lawyers we can’t afford.
‘It’s as though the US government was more interested in trade deals than the safety of its citizens in Dubai.’
The family has set up a Go Fund Me in the hope of being able to help.
She added: ‘He was doing very well. He was married, working hard in a good job. But the stress of all these misfortunes at once has hit him hard.
‘David has tried to take his own life before and he sounds so down that I fear for his safety again.’
According to criminal justice campaigners Oliver has had three court hearings and each time was ordered to, ‘pay the banks or go to jail.’
Radha Stirling, CEO of the British-based NGO Detained In Dubai and managing partner of Stirling Haigh who is representing Oliver, called for the UAE to reform its financial laws.
She said Oliver has ‘zero chance’ of repaying his loan, adding: ‘He took the loan in good faith, but his circumstances changed beyond his control.
‘If the UAE had operational bankruptcy laws, David would likely be home already.
‘While there has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about implementing modern bankruptcy regulations, movement so far has been ineffective.
‘Unfortunately we have many similar cases in the UAE with people who can neither pay their debts nor leave Dubai to seek employment elsewhere.’
Stirling continued: ‘We are dealing with a number of people who are looking at spending the remainder of their lives in prison.
‘Even the people currently outside of prison are not allowed to work and when whatever money they had runs out, they are forced to beg for food or rely on charity.
‘Holding a debtor hostage in the hope they have a wealthy relative to bail them out is both immoral and unfair.’
She added: ‘When I spoke to David, he had clearly been emotionally damaged by the time in prison and the separation from his family.
‘He could not see any way out but holds hope that he will be reunited with his family again soon.’
The US embassy in the UAE is yet to respond to requests for a comment.
Dailymail.com, Shanti Das For. “EXCLUSIVE: American University Lecturer, 62, Is Being ‘Held Hostage’ in Dubai over Unpaid $70,000 Debt – Where Authorities Refuse to Free Him despite Suffering a STROKE in Jail.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 28 Nov. 2017, www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5126465/American-lecturer-held-hostage-Dubai.html.