(Left) Anoud Sultan Al Suwaidi. Accused of creating false cybercrime charges to avoid paying American mother of 3 Traci Nichole Coffel (right) her wages
American mother of 3, Traci Nichole Coffel (Nichole), attended her first court hearing yesterday in Abu Dhabi over Cybercrime charges because she asked for her unpaid wages and compensation for medical bills over WhatsApp, after her employer’s horse bit her. Instead of paying Nichole what she owed, UAE jockey Anoud Sultan Al Suwaidi filed a complaint on June 9th against her with the police, alleging Nichole violated Cybercrime laws by insulting her in the messages she sent requesting her wages.
At the hearing, the judge asked Nichole whether she had cursed Al Suwaidi and insulted her online, to which Nichole replied that she didn’t, and that she had simply requested her promised wages and reimbursement for medical expenses resulting from the severe injury caused by Al Suwaidi’s stallion. She submitted a letter to the court, translated into Arabic, explaining the details of the case. When Nichole told the judge that she had not used profanity or defamatory language with Al Suwaidi, he asked her to prove it, adjourning the hearing until September 17th, which is slated to be the date of the judgment.
“The court has reversed the principle of innocent until proven guilty,” said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who represents Nichole. “He has asked her to provide evidence that she did not commit an offence, rather than demanding that the Public Prosecution prove she did. Nichole’s texts to Ms. Al Suwaidi were mistranslated specifically to substantiate Al Suwaidi’s claims; altering the word ‘haram’ to ‘harami’, which changes the meaning from ‘something forbidden’ to a colloquial term for ‘bastard’, though the text in English is clear.
“We were in consultation with Ms. Al Suwaidi over the course of several days, and she promised multiple times to drop the charges; but, just as she promised to pay Nichole over and over again, it seems she has not kept her word, and now Nichole is facing the possibility of a prison sentence for doing nothing more than ask for her wages and compensation for a serious injury for which Ms. Al Suwaidi is unquestionably responsible as her employer.”
UAE Cybercrime laws are vague and susceptible to vindictive misuse, with any online communication, or even social media activity, potentially interpretable as criminal. Sentences for Cybercrime offences can range from fines to several years imprisonment.
“We have been in touch with Nichole’s congressional representative from Missouri, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, and other American officials to seek their urgent intervention in Nichole’s case. First, she was wronged by being denied her wages, then she was severely wounded and denied compensation, and now she is facing the possibility of jail. All of this after Nichole and her family have been law-abiding residents of Abu Dhabi for years, volunteering in the community, and even establishing charitable animal rescue projects in the city. It is abhorrent that Nichole and her family are being put through this ordeal,” Stirling said.