Thursday, July 06, 2006

Dallas Who?

I couldn't let this pass without throwing in my twopennyworth. US hip hop producer Dallas Austin (sorry I'd never heard of him before - apparently he is personally responsible for producing an awful lot of music that I simply cannot stand) has spent the last three weeks in a small room with a thick, locked steel door at Rashidiya Police Station. The reason? He brought a bit over a gramme of cocaine into the UAE 'by accident'. He admits he knew it was illegal to do this.

A few days ago there was a trial (very speedy by Dubai standards); he was sentenced to four years in jail, and a few hours later he was pardoned by a higher authority.

Today's Gulf News carries a story about an Omani who was picked up on arrival at Abu Dhabi from Bangkok. 'Traces of hashish' were found in his wallet. He was acquitted by the Abu Dhabi Criminal Court, but the Public Prosecution appealed and the Court of Appeal sentenced him to four years followed by deportation. A pardon is not expected.

The UAE, of course, has the sovereign right to do whatever it likes, and I am but a humble guest here who nobody listens to. But I'll say this anyway.

The UAE is now sending out very mixed signals about its attitude to narcotics. We will likely see more people bringing in illegal substances because they think they can get away with it (as long as their wasta/bling factor is high enough). But many visitors to this country are ending up in jail because they are not experts in UAE law.

One example: did you know that the UAE system can prosecute you for offences committed outside the country? You might expect that to be up to the legal systems of the country where the offence took place. But there are numerous cases of people who have been jailed because residue of banned drugs was found on their person, their clothes or their possessions. The Omani guy mentioned above is a case in point. He had no actual useable hashish on him. He may have had some in Thailand, or it may have been planted on him by some Kuwaitis, as he claims. And he gets four years. Residue of some drugs can be detected in your bloodstream for months after the initial consumption. I might add that hashish is a drug that is generally considered less harmful than tobacco.

Another example: who knew, before the Tracy Wilkinson case last year, that possession of readily available medicines containing things like codeine or tamazepam without a prescription, can get you locked up? I certainly didn't, and I've lived here twelve years! It should be noted by the cops and the courts that people generally take their prescription to the pharmacist, who keeps it in exchange for the medicine and the money. Expecting visitors to make a copy of their prescription, translate it into Arabic and keep it with them when in the UAE is just ridiculous.

And then there's this...

Increasingly we are seeing more and more examples of wildly inconsistent sentencing, especially for rape and drug cases. This needs to be looked at by the powers that be. If one guy gets four years for actual possession of cocaine but is let off, and another guy gets four years for possession of traces of hashish and will not be let off, what are we supposed to think?

I'll give you my view of Wasta in a future post if I don't get banned/blocked/deported for this one.