Sunday, April 04, 2010

Is This Justice?

During my thirteen years in Dubai, I usually had at least one friend or acquaintance who was in jail at any one time. Usually, they were found to be innocent of whatever it was they were accused of.

Farting in lifts, middle-finger-waving, driving with a miniscule amount of alcohol in your blood, having a poppy seed from a bread roll stuck to your jacket, even having smoked a spliff in a different country, not having the actual prescription (translated into Arabic) for the medications you have to take: these were all considered 'crimes' so serious as to justify a month in jail followed by deportation.

I consider myself very lucky to have avoided any personal incarceration during my time there (although I did have a scare when I once told an Iranian client to 'just pay the sodding bill' and a few days later received a letter from their lawyer).

So, the latest blot on Dubai's travesty of a legal system. A couple accused of kissing in public sentenced to a month in Al Slammer followed by a one-way flight home. The evidence in this case seems to be vague, contradictory and/or non-existent. It was the word of one Emirati woman, who didn't even turn up to any of the hearings. And who said, variously, the kissing was witnessed by her 2-year-old daughter (at 2am in a burger joint); or that she'd seen it herself.

Of course, the UAE is a sovereign country, and has the perfect right to make any laws it cares to. However, I do think the government (especially in Dubai) needs to think about the contradictory and negative image that cases like these are creating. On the one hand, they are desperate for tourist dollars, but on the other hand these stupid little 'crimes'  (which are just normal behaviour elsewhere) are punished out of all proportion to their severity.

And you can say 'well, tourists should learn about these things before they come', but it is not actually possible to do so. And if it was, I think a lot of people would just be too scared to visit.

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