The recent news that two more foreigners have been arrested in The UAE for impersonating a woman will come as no surprise to many.
The UAE’s draconian laws around cross dressing, transgenderism and homosexuality are well publicised and easily breached. The inconsistent way the law is enforced is causing confusion which result in arrests like these, detention and human rights abuses.
The Emirates has a significant gay and transgender community including many overtly gay bars & clubs. Because it appears to be out in the open, it is afforded a false air of acceptability and legality. This dual standard has lead to numerous arrests and charges being brought, tourists and those travelling on business can easily believe homosexuality and transgenderism are acceptable in The Emirates.
For instance, there is a vibrant underground gay scene in Dubai despite there being no officially licences gay clubs or bars, however practicing homosexuality remains a punishable offence.
Being openly gay is safer in a club, rather than in public in the street, but it is by no means safe.
The police’s response to these venues is also inconsistent; partygoers have claimed that the police will simply disperse crowds if a gay club is busted, others recount much harsher actions in similar situations.
Detained in Dubai regularly represent UK and other nationals who have become embroiled in these dangerous situations. In February 2016 a British man was arrested at Dubai Mall for alleged crossdressing, he was given a 5000 Dirham fine for wearing a ‘tinted foundation’ in public.
In 2007, the horrific case of 15 year old french boy, Alexandre Kafakaesque who was kidnapped and raped at knifepoint by three men in Dubai. He could not speak out or go to the police without admitting that he had been involved in a homosexual act. Regardless of the fact that this young man was the victim of brutal rape, the homosexuality laws still override the rape laws and he risked being charged if he spoke out.
Individuals who present as HIV+ can also face wholesale discrimination in The Emirates.. The law provides that foreigners with HIV or foreigners who have committed homosexual actions are to be deported, or so it seems. Prosecutors however, have rejected these accusations as untrue.
However the numerous instances of this occurring over the last five years speak for themselves.
Radha Stirling of Detained in Dubai, an NGO which works in defence of human rights, many of them involving the LGBT community, supplied the information for this blog post, adds that several of their UK clients have had their extradition to the UAE blocked by UK courts “on the basis of the likelihood that they would face human rights abuse due to their sexuality”.
As can be seen from the general air of confusion and archaic anti-LGBT sentiment in The UAE, the Singapore pair face a very uncertain and possibly dangerous time inside the Dubai prison system. One of the defendants identifies as a woman, but because they still have a male passport, they will be held in an all male prison.
It's time for The UAE to catch up with the rest of the world and recognise the rights of different minority groups and their rights to freedom of expression. If The UAE want their economy to continue growing and to appear as a modern, welcoming place for all, reform must begin immediately.