Interview with Farzan Athari: Swedish Iranian Male Model, TV Host who sang his way out of prison
Farzan Athari speaks with Detained in Dubai, following his release from Dubai Central Jail...
Farzan Athari was serving 10-year jail for possessing 21 grams of cocaine when he was at the Burj Khalifa in 2013. He was released in December 2016 after being granted a pardon as a result of his campaign and particularly his popular song (recorded from Dubai Central Jail) “Save my Life”. His release has been published extensively in the media and his arrival in Sweden televised by Swedish news. Since his return from the UAE, Farzan has spent time recovering with his family and is now ready to, not only talk about his experience, but is in the initial stages of producing a book that details his experience and aims to help as
many others as he can.
Radha: Thanks Farzan for talking to us about your recent experience. There has been widespread press since your return to Sweden. Now that a little time has passed and you´ve had a chance to reunite with friends and family, we´d like to talk to you more about the last few years. Would you describe the events that lead to your arrest?
Farzan: On the night of my arrest I had a gathering with some friends at my apartment. One of my so called "friends" who had been at my apartment that night called me on the phone and said he had left an envelope at my place and that he was in a hurry and asked me to bring it down so he didn't need to come up. Without much further thought I went downstairs and made my way towards his car. As soon as I came out of the lobby area in the Burj Khalifa, approximately 10 people ran towards me and handcuffed me and took me into a private car. They drove me to the CID (Central Intelligence) department.
Radha: So it is obvious the arrest had been planned. How was your treatment during the arrest?
Farzan: Whilst I was in the car they threatened me and one of them hit me on my shoulders and head. Once we arrived to the CID department they pretended to search me but went directly for the envelope in my hooded jacket pocket. Inside they found 10-11 plastic bags of cocaine according to them. I was kept in a cell without ANYTHING (limited food) for 14 days.
Radha: Were you able to contact a lawyer?
Farzan: I wasn't given the right to contact my family, lawyer or embassy. They forced me to sign an Arabic document that I didn't understand. I later learned that many of the facts in the statement were incorrect such as the statement that I had stood outside of a club looking for different customers to sell drugs to.
Radha: Statements made to authorities under coercion can have great impact on the outcome of proceedings. In your case as I understand it, you were originally threatened with the possibility of a more serious charge that possibly carried the death penalty. Tell me further of how this process seemed to be extrajudicial.
Farzan: My so called friend was just a chess piece in the whole set-up, I know that there must have been someone else very powerful behind this who had the
power to change my files. Change my so called "crime" to Business (selling drugs) where I almost got the death penalty. This same person later had the power to stop any kind of connection that I found to try and get my case heard.... I literally heard this from 5 different powerful people who tried to help me. Any kind of research could have proved my innocence.... No witness, No Buyer, No Money, No trade of drugs, All my tests were clean, No investigation, No sms or phone calls, No records, Clean Background etc.
Radha: The UAE judicial system has been open to sabotage, manipulation and corruption. A lot of this is due to the lack of evidentiary procedure laws and the relatively new system of law and you´ve experienced it first hand. Judicial failings aside, what was the general climate in the UAE?
Farzan: The general climate varies throughout the UAE. For example emirates such as Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are much stricter than Dubai. I haven't spent too much time in the other Emirates but I can say that Dubai appears to be very easy going and lax in terms of law enforcement. People are breaking the law all the time and most of the time a blind eye is turned for certain things, but there have been some very unlucky people who have come across the wrong person and they have been jailed for the most petty offences. There was a guy who was in jail for around 6 months because of farting in the elevator. They freed him at the end as his case was closed but he spent time.
Another example is that most couples in Dubai are living with their partner. However not many people know that this is actually against the law and that you could actually end up in jail because of this. In Dubai there are no responsible service of alcohol laws, so you could basically be served by a bartender regardless of how intoxicated you are. However if you leave the venue in a drunken state, you can be arrested for not having an alcohol license. Most people don't know that if you are involved in a car accident and you have alcohol in your system (which shows up up to 72 hours) then you are at fault. So technically you should not drive for 3 days after you have been drinking! Even if you take a taxi after being out after having a drink, if the taxi driver feels or sense that you are drunk, he can take you to the police station and he will get rewarded for it and you get jailed and fined. There are so many examples, I could write a book about it...
Radha: Do you think it is easy for foreigners to play along with what is normal there, despite the behaviour being illegal?
Farzan: Yes most people are not aware that they are doing something illegal because it appears to be so free. Kissing in public is highly forbidden but it is quite common to see it because a lot of the time it is not enforced. Also homosexuality is also illegal but very common and as I said earlier you could do some serious jail time if you come across the wrong person. Also many people are not aware that if they have had any illegal drugs in another country for example Holland, they can still be jailed in Dubai for up to 4 years if it shows up in their blood test. I have met many people in jail like this.
Radha: Do you feel that the reality of living in Dubai is different to how it is marketed?
Farzan: Yes and no. It is a very luxurious city that is full of opportunities. Dubai is always striving to be the best...to have the biggest mall, to have the tallest building, to be the most luxurious etc. I think this is a great thing and it is one of the reasons that I was attracted to the city. However as I mentioned earlier I do feel that people are unaware of the laws and they are generally unaware of the consequences that their actions could have. The laws in Dubai is reflective of the Sharia laws that you can find in the extreme muslim countries. Also the other thing you don't see in the marketing campaigns is how the poorer classes live in Dubai. For example the city was built on workers from india and surrounding countries who work for very low wages and do 12 hour shifts in temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius. They used to drop off buildings from heat exhaustion. Most people don't know that the passport you hold determines the type of job that you will have and the wages you receive. There are also so many poor Emiratis that we never see in the society we are presented in.
Radha: Do you feel that it is easy for foreigners to wind up in judicial proceedings or prosecution?
Farzan: Yes I do feel that mostly because the majority of people are really not aware of the laws and looking around you would not think such laws are in place. For example having codeine in your system or with you from your home country even though you might have doctors description can put you in jail. Sex outside of marriage is illegal etc....
Radha: Thank you for your time Farzan. We have spoken about your three year experience in prison briefly and helping others who have been mistreated by the judicial system. We will go into more detail with you on this another time and look forward to hearing more from you soon and more news on your possible upcoming book!
Press Contact: Radha Stirling, CEO - Detained in Dubai, +4420 7060 6900 firstname.lastname@example.org Skype: radha.stirling
Radha Stirling Interviews Farzan Athari - January 2016
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