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2019 saw UAE & Gulf Abuses intensify - Detained in Dubai


The risks posed by the United Arab Emirates, once only a problem for visitors and expats, have spread over the past year to endanger even people outside the country. 2019 has seen an intensification of the UAE’s Interpol abuse and the extra-jurisdictional application of the country’s vague and invasive Cybercrime laws. Meanwhile, the routine occurrence of false accusations, forced confessions, and wrongful detentions have continued at pace.

Notable cases during 2019, designated by Dubai as the “Year of Tolerance”, include that of British national Robert Urwin, detained in Ukraine over a bounced cheque in the UAE. The cheque, a blatant forgery written months after Urwin left the Emirates, resulted in a Red Notice against the elderly man and months spent fighting deportation. Detained in Dubai successfully appealed against the Interpol listing and coordinated the campaign that eventually led to Urwin’s safe return home.

“The Urwin family suffered needlessly the entire year,” Detained in Dubai CEO and Interpol Abuse expert Radha Stirling says, “The UAE did not properly investigate the case, and Interpol accepted the Red Notice request without scrutiny. Robert was stuck for months in Ukraine even after the Notice was deleted, because the UAE continued to seek his extradition at the behest of HSBC. The habitual misuse of the Interpol system has not abated over the past year, but rather has accelerated to a point that legislatures around the world are beginning to doubt the efficacy and integrity of the agency itself.”

In the Spring of 2019, the case of Laleh Shahravesh highlighted the threat posed by UAE Cybercrime laws to social media users across the globe. The divorced single mother had posted a derisive comment on Facebook in the UK, only to find herself under arrest upon entering the UAE to attend her ex-husband’s funeral. “Laleh’s case showed that the UAE believes the jurisdiction of its Cybercrime laws extend to anyone, anywhere for their online activity,” Stirling commented. “If someone in the UAE is offended by something you have said online, regardless of where you are, you can potentially be subjected to a criminal complaint, which could lead to a conviction in absentia and even an extradition request.”

Another case which dominated coverage of UAE Cybercrime laws in 2019 was that of American Traci Nichole Coffel who was convicted over WhatsApp messages to her employer requesting unpaid wages. Coffel had been injured on the job by her employer’s horse, and gone without her salary for months. In her messages she had admonished her Emirati boss, telling her that it was “haram” to refuse to pay what she owed; using the Arabic religio