Asa Hutchinson, a 21 year old Dubai resident was leaving brunch with a group of visiting friends when she witnessed an argument between some boys who were in her party and a drunk Swedish man in his 50s who had been asleep on a couch in the hotel lobby. Since then, all of the visitors have left the UAE, but expat Asa, a "quiet, sensible girl" has been charged by the drunk aggressor and faces jail for nothing more than witnessing the argument.
Asa, originally from Chelmsford in Essex, was leaving Dusty's in the DIFC district when she saw the events taking place.
Asa tells us that some of the boys had taken selfies with the sleeping drunk, who is a technology company executive. "The man woke up and began punching the boys. I heard the commotion and came back to see what was going on." By this time the boys were running away, their high spirits having left them after receiving hard blows to the face and head from the enraged Swedish tech boss.
The youngsters left, believing the incident to be over. However, their attacker was not to be mollified, Asa continues. "He called the police and made official complaints about the boys for taking pictures of him," (illegal in Dubai) "and for being rude." (also punishable by jail time.).
The police got Ben's (Asa's ex boyfriend) name from the reservations list and a few days later the whole group found themselves at the infamous Bur Dubai police station, where British tourist Lee Bradley Brown was reportedly beaten to death in police custody after being arrested for allegedly being rude to a maid at his hotel.
It didn't matter that the Swede had been the person throwing punches. In the UAE, whoever makes the first complaint is the party who the police believe. It also helps if you are an important man, as evidenced by the charges brought against Jamie Harron by Nueman Esser CEO Emad Tabaza in October this year.
Ben and the other boys managed to get their passports back by paying cash deposits, which is very unusual in a Dubai criminal case. They took the opportunity to fly home and avoid jail. The Swedish man was incensed. When he found out that Asa lived in the UAE and was still there, he transferred the charges to her. The police are now charging Asa as though she were involved herself. The charges, she was told, are assault and theft. The man lost his glasses while striking the boys, and is accusing Asa of having stolen them.
Asa, a key account manager for global transportation company Time & Motion, is terrified of going to jail. "It is so unfair," she tells us. "I was not involved. I just happened to be there, but the police are not interested in anything I have to say. Once the man made his complaint it was taken as fact. I can't go to jail, I couldn't cope."
Asa's mum, Lucie, is beside herself with worry. "You always worry about your kids, especially in these Middle Eastern countries. There is so much on the news about the way they treat British visitors, but Asa was having a great time. She loved the work and made so many friends. She is a quiet, sensible girl and really is the last person to start any trouble."
Asa's dad, Iain is also worried. "This older guy was the one hitting everyone. He ought to know better at his age than getting into drunken fights with kids. And now he can't throw his weight around and get them into trouble, he is picking on my young daughter.”
Radha Stirling, CEO of the British NGO representing Asa released the following statement, "visitors to the UAE need to be aware that justice does not operate the same way as it does in countries with mature legal systems.
"In Dubai, if two parties are in dispute or arguing, the first person to speak to the police is usually the one who is believed. Often it is a race to get to the police first. By making this complaint, the man may have been safeguarding himself from being charged himself.
"Also, it is clear in this case that Asa was a bystander, not involved with the fight and is only being victimised because the alleged culprits have left the country."