*UPDATE: The Ruler of the UAE has pardoned her and allowed her to to return home. it is unknown what will happen to her alleged rapist, he is still sentenced to 13 months in Prison for extramarital sex.*
With its omnipotent skyline, beautiful beaches, and fabled nightlife, Dubai has been repetitively refereed to as a oasis in the desert. I’d always been told that this oasis extended not only beauty and culture to its visitors, but also tolerance not found in the region. Some people have gone as far to tell me that visiting Dubai is basically visiting a western country. So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that Marte Deborah Dalelv, a Norwegian Citizen living in Dubai, UAE has been sentenced to 16 months in jail after reporting being raped. And while I respect the culture and traditions of the Emirati, I couldn’t help but feel outraged.
News outlets are reporting that after she was raped by a work colleague, Marte had her passport confiscated and was imprisoned for four days. Authorities have since charged her with extramarital sex, consumption of alcohol, and perjury. She is currently taking refuge in a Norwegian church. Her alleged rapist has received 13 months in prison for similar charges.
As soon as I read about Marte, I took to the internet to find out more. I was horrified to learn that this was not the first time something like this has happened. In 2008, Australian Alicia Gali moved to Dubai to work in a hotel. Soon after her arrival she was drugged and then gang raped by three of her colleagues. Similar to Marte, She was sentenced to a year in jail; She was given 12 months in prison for consumption of alcohol and extramarital sex. Alicia Gali was later released 4 months early along with her rapists. Apparently, a rape can only be prosecuted in the UAE if there are four male Muslim witnesses to testify. Regardless of your political or religious beliefs, you must admit that the witness stipulation makes it nearly impossible to try a rape in the UAE.
As a global community, we shouldn’t stand for miscarriages of justice like these when right can be done. There is already a strong movement taking place in the online community to hold the UAE accountable for an legal system that does’t grant basic human rights to Women. let your voices be heard through any medium available.
Upon deciding to write about this, I wanted to learn more about how rules regarding personal behavior applied in Dubai. What I found was a complex and sometimes contradictory set of laws. These laws seem to have enough loopholes to entice foreign tourists, but carry strict punishments to appease the Muslim population. A guide to these laws can be found here. I hope pressure on the UAE might lead the nation to rethink some of its policies. It seems like there are a lot of things that are technically illegal, but generally overlooked – unless you happen to get screwed by the system.
This whole ordeal has definitely changed the way I will think about Dubai and my likelihood to visit the UAE. If I were to ‘misbehave’ I might end up spending months in jail. While all cultures have a right to their traditions, they should not overshadow the protection of human rights.