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  • Writer's pictureDetained in Dubai


Dangerous. Easily abused Islamic laws make Dubai a minefield for the Western visitor

The CCTV footage shows a cordial encounter as a group of friends approach a woman whom they think they know. When they realise that she is someone else, everyone is polite, and the encounter breaks up, with each going on their way. But this is Dubai, a place where nearly any interaction can become a criminal case.

Back in September, four friends from the UK were on holiday in the UAE; while shopping in Jumeirah Beach, one of them thought he spotted a woman he knew, so he got her attention to say hello. After seeing that he was mistaken, he and his friend chatted with the woman for a moment and then they continued into the mall. The next day, police arrived at the friends’ hotel informing the group that the woman was pressing charges against all of them for insulting her. Suddenly, their holiday became a prolonged ordeal, a trial, a travel ban, and attempted extortion.

As the four faced a court case, with potential fines and jail time, the woman (who claims to be a prominent social media influencer) approached the men through a lawyer offering to drop the charges in exchange for AED 400,000. When they refused, her fee for withdrawing the case reduced to AED 200,000, or roughly £45,000.

“It is disturbingly easy to fabricate a criminal case in the UAE,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, “So much power is given to accusers that making false allegations can be a profitable endeavour particularly when directed against foreigners and tourists who vulnerable and so desperate to return home that they may actually pay the extortion. In this case, the men refused to submit to the demand, and were sentenced to just AED 5,000, but the complainant has appealed; they face a new verdict this Thursday, and we hope the judge will simply dismiss the matter since there are multiple witnesses and CCTV footage to corroborate that no conflict ever actually occurred.”

Stirling cautions that similar cases come to their attention frequently. “British citizen Laleh Shahravesh was jailed over a perceived insult on Facebook, Nichole Coffel was charged with slander when she asked her Emirati employer for her unpaid wages, Ali Issa Ahmad, also from the UK, was jailed for nothing more than wearing a Qatar football jersey in Sharjah; innocent people like Jamie Harran and Asa Hutchinson faced criminal charges over minor misunderstandings that became unjustifiably inflated into police matters, simply because it is so easy to escalate trivial issues into criminal charges in the UAE. It has happened more often than I can mention for an accuser to offer a withdrawal of the case in exchange for money paid out of court. Tourists need to be aware of the risks they face in the Emirates, even if they obey the law and respect the customs; the system is so severely flawed that everyone is vulnerable to false allegations and wrongful conviction.”

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