A woman has been in prison for two months in Abu Dhabi for allegedly insulting the government.
According to an article in The National, which is a government-owned English-language daily newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, an American woman has been in prison since February 23 for allegedly insulting the United Arab Emirates while waiting for a taxi.
The article reports that the 25-year-old U.S. citizen, who the article did not name, is being charged with “insulting the country and its leaders through verbal assault” when she was approached by two men while waiting for a taxi cab. The two men “did not like the way she spoke to them” according to The National, though the woman told the judge of the Federal Supreme Court that nothing happened and she didn’t understand why she was on trial.
“The men tried to help me. I had another flight to catch at 1:29am. I refused to engage with them and nothing happened,” she said.
The National says that the matter “is being treated as a misdemeanor so a lawyer was not required,” and that the woman has asked the judge if she could just pay a fine to get out of jail. A verdict is scheduled for May 2.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi stated that it is “aware of the case and is providing consular services” in response to a query by the Associated Press.
The United Arab Emirates is liberal on some issues and has given women some amount of legal protection in recent years, but laws restricting freedom of expression remain stern. Defamation is treated as a criminal charge instead of being treated as a civil matter as it is in most Western countries, and insulting the country and its leaders can carry prison sentences and steep fines.
Sharia law forms the basis of the UAE’s legal system, which the campaigning organization Human Rights Watch has found treats women in an unfair and discriminatory manner in that nation. Some crimes such as adultery and alcohol consumption can be punished by public flogging and even stoning. In May 2014, an Asian woman was sentenced to death by stoning in Abu Dhabi after having been found guilty of adultery.
In 2008, an Australian woman who was working in the UAE was sentenced to prison for “extramarital sex” when she reported being drugged and raped by co-workers in the beauty salon she was managing at a resort in that nation. In 2010, a woman who accused six men of gang rape in Abu Dhabi was forced to recant her allegations when she was threatened with a public flogging for having sex outside of marriage. In 2010, a British couple was arrested for kissing in a Dubai restaurant, and in 2013, a Norwegian woman was sentenced to prison for 16 months in Dubai for perjury, consensual extramarital sex, and alcohol consumption when she reported her boss to the police for an alleged rape, though she was later pardoned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum after public outcry arising from the harsh sentence.
The American woman is reportedly only being charged with a misdemeanor though it’s unclear what sort of sentencing is expected in that situation should such a verdict be reached by the Federal Supreme Court in May.
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