• Detained in Dubai

Dubai relaxes Islamic laws but is the city safe for foreigners?

Updated: Dec 2, 2020

The UAE has announced a number of reforms but what does this mean in reality? Is Dubai safe? Radha Stirling, founder of 13 year old legal watchdog Detained in Dubai issued a statement on the new laws.



“After thirteen years and thousands of cases of injustice, it’s encouraging to see Dubai making steps toward positive change. Some of these changes were long overdue and we are keen to see them in operation, while others are the public relations endeavours of a country in serious economic hardship.


“It’s a positive step to oblige arresting officers to have a translator present if a subject doesn’t speak Arabic, but the conspicuous absence of procedural laws for police investigators and prosecutors means that the issues most tourists encounter will remain. A translator at the point of the arrest does not protect individuals from the common issue of forced confessions in Arabic and a case will not be dismissed because of a failure to follow this law at the point of arrest.


“In a city where prostitution is rife and cohabitation common, finally legalising consensual sex is a positive step towards preventing unnecessary criminal prosecutions, though there is no specification as to whether adultery violations will still be criminal and when there are conflicting laws, which will prevail.


“It is illegal to commit suicide in the UAE and people who have tried to kill themselves in the past, have been arrested, prosecuted and jailed. This is a disgraceful treatment of people who need help, but the UAE held off from decriminalising suicide. Instead, the courts have offered a possible alternative to jail, a treatment institution. Either way, anyone who attempts suicide will be ordered by the court into a prison or an institution.


“A number of expats have become suicidal when their passports have been confiscated and they have been forced to stay in the country but not allowed to work. Foreigners are at risk of homelessness if they are made redundant and default on any financial obligations which prevent them from leaving the country and from working. They become stuck in an endless cycle.


“Alcohol laws have been relaxed to ease prohibitions of muslims drinking, but the main issue for foreigners with alcohol, has been that it remains illegal to have any blood alcohol content in public and people are often arrested and charged with alcohol related crimes. If someone makes a frivolous police report, the subject can be charged with alcohol related crimes, even if unrelated to the core of the issue. This abuse will not stop. The prevalence of alcohol throughout the UAE paints a picture that alcohol is legal when in fact, anyone can be charged with alcohol possession if they have been drinking. Tourists should never consider that Dubai is Ibiza.


“There were no changes to protect investors, entrepreneurs and expat workers and no changes to decriminalise debt and eliminate travel bans. We still have a number of expats who are stuck in the UAE now, on the basis of outdated laws.


“These are steps in the right direction, but in no way are they comprehensive protections for visitors and expats. The UAE has been scrutinised for serious human rights violations, wrongful arrests, arbitrary detentions, the outright theft of foreign investment, money laundering, and torture.


“These are great headlines for the Emirates but should not make tourists or investors feel any safer for the time being.


“The UAE’s cybercrime laws that see visitors jailed for facebook posts, tweets, promoting charities or “insulting behaviour” have seen numerous foreigners arrested. Laleh Shahravesh was arrested for calling someone a “horse face” while she lived in England. An American woman was arrested for asking for her wages, and Scott Richards for promoting a charity cause on Facebook. The UAE remains a minefield for foreigners and short holidays can turn into permanent stays at the click of a finger.


“We will continue to see legal abuse, arbitrary arrests, business theft, debt hostages, and human rights violations in the Emirate but we hope over time, the UAE becomes a safer place for all.”