Following the recent, frightening arrest and detainment of British family man Billy Barclay, another Scot, Jamie Harron has also fallen foul of the contrary UAE legal system, this time a cultural misunderstanding has left a young man stuck in Dubai for 3 months facing years in jail, jobless and hugely in debt.
Jamie, from Stirling in Central Scotland, was holding a drink, moving through a crowded bar, and held a hand in front of him to avoid spilling drink on himself or others. He touched a man on his hip to avoid impact. He was arrested for public indecency. His passport is held by police, he has spent over £30,000 in expenses and legal fees, His entire £20,000 savings are gone plus another £12,000 on a credit card. He faces jail and a hefty fine. His company has sacked him and he is relying on a friend for accommodation. Jamie was only in Dubai on a 2 day stopover as he was flying back to work in Afghanistan where he works as an electrician.
He had been to Dubai many times on holiday and Jamie knows and respects the laws of the country. He has friends who work in Dubai and was having a drink with some of these friends at the Rock Bottom Bar, a popular venue for young people in the Tecom area of Dubai.
Crowded. Dubai's Rock Bottom Bar in the fashionable Tecom area, where Jamie's nightmare started
After Jamie and his friend had bought their first drink, they noticed a Jordanian man who was looking over at them from the edge of the dance floor in a confrontational manner.
They decided to go get a table at the opposite side of the dance floor to avoid any aggravation. Jamie had to walk past the man, and as he passed, Jamie placed his hand on the right hand side of the man’s hip top to ensure that when passing they didn't bump and spill drinks in a move familiar to most UK patrons of crowded pubs. There was no intention to upset the man in any way. The man said nothing and didn’t show any reaction.
Once Jamie and his friend had sat at the new table, they looked over to see the man was now shouting and swinging his arms around, clearly agitated. Jamie asked his friend if he thought the man might be shouting at them. Unsure, but not wanting problems, the British pair moved to another table, even further away.
The incident was seemingly over; Jamie and his friend relaxed for another 20-30 minutes chatting when suddenly, the police appeared outside the bar. The man went out to meet them, and he began animatedly talking with them, pointing at Jamie. Jamie got up and went to see what the problem was.
The man, his friends and the police were all speaking in Arabic. The accuser occasionally shouting in English, “he's been drinking, and he touched me improperly, I will get you deported, do you know who I am?”
The police asked Jamie to apologise which he gladly did to the man. The man was not mollified and urged the police to arrest Jamie; Jamie was arrested and in and out of jail for the next 8 days with no idea of the charge.
After several days Jamie had a meeting with the prosecutor who told Jamie that the charge is twofold, drinking alcohol and "public Indecency." Jamie denies this latter charge vehemently, restating that his only intention was to avoid spilling a drink.
When Jamie was in his prison cell the night of the arrest, his friend accompanied him to the police station. The accuser and his friends were also there. The accuser had some English speaking friends who were telling him to just drop the matter, and that he had taken it too far. Jamie’s friend was sitting next to them all and heard the whole discussion. Jamie was held for the next 5 days in the notorious Al Barsha prison, where he was not allowed to wash himself or brush his teeth for the entire period. He was left in a foul smelling cell with another 8 nationalities sleeping on the floor with one revolting mattress between them all.
Jamie's friend came to the police station for 8 days in a row, trying to give his statement in support of Jamie. He waited 3 or 4 hours each time and the police kept telling him to go away, before eventually capitulating and taking his statement. The Jordanian man's Middle Eastern friends were allowed to give all of their statements on the night of the arrest.
After this period of incarceration, Jamie was bailed, but his passport was confiscated so that he could not leave Dubai.
Luckily for Jamie his Dubai based friend was able to bail him out, otherwise Jamie would be in jail to this day, with no hope of leaving prison.
Since the initial arrest, Jamie was dismissed from his job in Afghanistan and is now relying on charity from friends for accommodation.
Jamie’s friend is acting as his witness, as is the sympathetic security worker of the pub where the incident happened. The bouncer saw the whole incident and confirms Jamie's version of events.
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained In Dubai, the British based NGO who is leading the campaign to help Jamie, released the following statement: “I have spoken to Jamie today who is under immense pressure and stress. He was expecting to appear in court this Sunday, the 6th of October but the court moved the date without telling him or his lawyer. This led to a sentence of 30 days imprisonment for failing to present himself at the hearing”.
Jamie said in a phone call to Stirling “Of course if I had known there was a change in the court date, I would have been there. I have been waiting for months to appear and now it looks as though I will be arrested when I go to the hearing on Sunday. It is completely unfair and I can’t understand how I can be sentenced for failing to appear when I was not even informed of the hearing”.
Ms. Stirling continued, “Jamie has been advised by his lawyer that he is at high risk of being jailed for a duration of up to three years. It is quite outrageous that he has been held in the country for so long already. This is another example of how vulnerable tourists are to arrest and detention in Dubai and at how drawn out and disorganised legal proceedings are.
"We have received a wave of new cases of British nationals detained in Dubai and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office need to increase travel warnings to citizens intending to visit or live in the country. If Jamie is sentenced to prison, he faces human rights violations and torture. The English High Court has ruled against extradition to the UAE based on the ‘very real risk of unfair trials and torture’ but the UK government has refused to increase warnings, largely due to their financial and diplomatic ties with the UAE”.
Tourists who consume alcohol at licensed venues can still be arrested for having alcohol in their system; Most tourists are not aware of this fact. A number of British nationals have been caught out by this contradictory application of the law.
Both Jamie and his family are anxious for him to be back home in Stirling, Scotland as soon as possible.
27 year old Jamie has been held in the UAE since the 15th of July 2017.