A 23 year old British government IT worker is nervously awaiting his fate after being arrested for an offensive hand gesture. Dubai traffic can be chaotic at times with drivers from countries like India, Egypt and Pakistan where road order is almost non existent.
JM was in traffic when another driver dangerously cut him off. "As a reflex I may have lifted my hand in frustration at the other driver," he told Detained in Dubai in a phone conversation. JM did not think any more of the incident until he was arrested at DXB airport, returning home to England.
Radha Stirling, founder of Detained in Dubai and Managing Partner of legal advisory Stirling Haigh said, "it is illegal for anyone to display what could be argued to be offensive or insulting behaviour. We have dealt with a number of cases where traffic frustration has led to detention. We caution visitors and expats that they could face criminal charges for behaviour that would be common in their own countries".
One might think that the consequences for such behaviour would be no more than a slap on the wrist but a number of foreign nationals have been sentenced to months in prison. Such gestures are considered a public obscenity crime and the Federal Penal Law of 1987 provides that the custodial sentence should be not less than 6 months.
JM, who is now out in Dubai on bail, said that he was very worried about losing his employment and running out of money while waiting for his court date. He has not heard about any developments in his case since his arrest on the 10th of September 2017. He had not counted on being forced to stay in a very expensive city for what could be months. "I am worried about running out of money before I even get to court. No one plans to spend two months (or more) in hotels in Dubai".
Detained in Dubai has witnessed people become homeless while waiting for their court hearing. There is no government, social or charitable support for people in this position. If the court orders JM be jailed for the rude gesture, he has two weeks to appeal the decision and request a reduction in the sentence.
Stirling continued, "we hope that the courts in Dubai are lenient with their sentencing and issue JM with a fine at worst. Having to go through this stressful time, awaiting a potential sentence and paying highly, is punishment enough".
Detained in Dubai assisted a Danish man who was arrested under the same conditions. His sentence was a fine, not imprisonment. However, he was extremely frustrated by the entire experience. In his case, he was subject to false allegations. Stirling explains "If a local resident has driven recklessly and suspects another driver is going to report them, it is a common tactic to open an obscenity case against the other party. By doing so the local resident hopes that both parties agree to drop their cases or that the prosecutor will disregard the evidence of the other party. By this tactic the reckless driver can avoid being charged, despite the unsuspecting tourist or expat potentially being jailed for something they didn't do.
Unfortunately in Dubai, an accusation from one party, even without proof, is usually enough to secure a conviction. Radha Stirling explains, "people who find themselves in this situation suffer incredible stress, fear and emotional turmoil. They are facing an uncertain situation with potentially grave outcomes in a completely foreign location. They have been detained and questioned in a foreign police station and asked (or forced) to sign documents or confessions in Arabic.
Their hopes are dashed when they realise their own government can't assist and are left trying to negotiate the legal maze alone, often without the ability to pay for a lawyer. There is no legal aid or public defender.
We have helped people facing these unbelievable situations for ten years; Having this help and support is of tremendous use and comfort to people facing court proceedings.