Brit detained in Dubai over WhatsApp message
A British human resources manager has been held in Dubai after her Ukrainian flatmate lodged a police complaint over a “rude” WhatsApp message sent over a petty household dispute arising from her flatmate’s intolerance to her use of the dining table to work from during lockdowns.
The woman, a professional from south west England in her early thirties, had lived trouble free in Dubai since 2018, but had decided to return home permanently to be close to her family and start a new job. After shipping all of her belongings and securing herself a seat on one of the limited flights home, she was pulled aside by airport authorities and told she could not leave, that there was a police case against her. After being shuffled between police stations, she discovered that her flatmate had quite unbelievably, lodged a police complaint against her.
“I would never have expected a European to take advantage of the UAE’s strict laws. We shared a flat and we were all casual with one another. I’ve never been in trouble in my life, and I’m shocked that I’ve been criminalised over a private WhatsApp exchange with someone whom I lived with. What’s worse, the messages were from months ago and only now, when I’ve shipped all of my belongings, booked a flight and when my visa is about to expire, do I even find out about this case. I tried to plead with her to drop the case, but she doesn’t seem to care about the impact this is having”, she told Detained in Dubai in a phone call today.
“We are assisting a British woman who has been held in Dubai over a private WhatsApp message that included a single swear word said in the heat of a stressful, lockdown-induced household dispute. The UAE’s overreaching cybercrime laws have been responsible for numerous arrests of foreign nationals. Visitors to the UAE can be arrested, detained and prosecuted over a swear word, an offensive statement or derogatory comment said in the heat of the moment, and the UAE’s cybercrime laws are extraterritorial, meaning that the statement could have been made from outside of the UAE as it was in the case of Laleh Shahravesh.
“Laleh Shahravesh was famously arrested for a facebook comment referring to her ex husband’s new partner as having a “horse face”, but she said this from the safety of England, years before she travelled to Dubai where she was arrested.
The absurdity of these laws allows for husbands and wives, colleagues, friends, school kids, vindictive and spiteful individuals and provocateurs to hold jail cards over people they interact with, and they don’t even need to know them. Complete strangers are able to report social media comments they find offensive to the authorities and under the laws, they will be prosecuted, fined and even imprisoned.
“Legal proceedings in Dubai are lengthy, and a frivolous case like this can take months to go through the local system, causing no end of suffering. With hotel accommodation, legal fees and visa overstay fines, an absurd allegation can quickly escalate into tens of thousands of pounds, loss of employment and in a worst case scenario, a prison sentence. The human toll is often unimaginable, especially when family members are separated.
“British national Scott Richards was detained for several weeks for sharing a charitable post on his facebook page and only after an international media campaign, did the UAE authorities intervene in what was clearly a ridiculous application of the terribly drafted laws.
“We hope the Emirati authorities specifically intervene in this case and the British consulate makes every effort to encourage a swift resolution with their diplomatic counterparts. Under the UAE’s Cybercrime Laws, almost anyone could be criminalised at any time. How is this an unacceptable situation for a country that continues to bid for our tourism and investment?”
Radha Stirling founded Detained in Dubai in 2008 and has since helped and advised more than 15,000 foreign nationals facing trouble in the UAE. Stirling is an expert witness, civil and criminal justice specialist, legislative, investment risk, business and policy advisor to the public and private sectors, speakerand host of the Gulf in Justice Podcast, covering the region in depth.