A British human resources manager in Dubai has been told she could face a £100,000 ($137,307) fine in addition to a two-year jail sentence for swearing at her flatmate in a WhatsApp message.
The 31-year-old woman met with the police chief in charge of her case today in the hope of resolving the complaint filed by her Ukrainian former flatmate.
She faces charges under the UAE’s strict cyber-crime laws for writing ‘f*** you’ when the pair rowed on WhatsApp over the use of a dining room table during lockdown.
The Briton, from Gloucestershire, was arrested leaving Dubai at the weekend when she was informed of the complaint which the flatmate has refused to withdraw.
The 31-year-old, who has asked not to be named, says she is running out of money, sleeping on a friend’s sofa and ‘banging her head against a brick wall’ over the case.
She also fears she will lose her new job back in Britain as she will be stranded for weeks until a flight ban is lifted.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, she said: ‘This is just a nightmare and the thought of losing my new job is too much.
‘I’ve no apartment and no job and no money. My visa to stay here runs out on February 12th and the police just don’t seem to understand.
‘I’m banging my head against a brick wall. No one cares.’
The Briton, who has asked not to be named, has been told the criminal case against her will not proceed until her mobile phone has been examined by forensic teams with Dubai police.
She has admitted sending a ‘f*** you’ message during a row over the use of a dining room table last October.
But prosecutors have yet to bring a case as they are waiting for a forensic report into her phone.
The woman said: ‘ They cannot send a report until the forensics compiles the report on my phone, even though I said the word and did not deny it. The prosecutors still need the report but no one knows when that will be done. I call every day.’
‘I’ve no idea what is going on, what is coming next and how long it could take.’
The Briton had already shipped her belongings home and was securing herself a seat on one of the limited flights when she was pulled aside by airport authorities.
She was then told she could not leave and that there was a police case against her.
The HR managers plight is similar to that of a mum Laleh Shahravesh who was charged with making a defamatory statement over a Facebook post calling her husband’s second wife a horse.
Shahravesh, from Richmond, Surrey, had flown to Dubai after the death of her husband.
It was only when she attempted to leave she found out her ex’s second wife had made a complaint over the Facebook post made two years previously.
Shahravesh was fined £625 after a court appearance and was allowed to leave Dubai in April 2019.
The HR manager has appealed to the British Embassy for help but they are unlikely to get involved and intervene in the Dubai justice system.
Detained in Dubai CEO, Radha Stirling, who is representing the woman, said: ‘This is a terrifying situation for anyone to face. She had to attend several different police stations, where staff have limited English and communication is difficult.
‘Every officer seemed to have a different take on what would happen to her, how long it would take and if she’d be allowed to go. Most people find this experience traumatising.
‘The police confiscated her passport and her mobile phone to gather the evidence,’ Stirling added.
‘The police took the woman’s statement which admitted the rude word, but they still feel the need to process her phone through their forensic department, a process in itself, that can take weeks or months.
‘Nothing is clear and nothing is logical. If she’s admitted the crime in her statement, do they really need to drag her through a lengthy evidence gathering process?
‘We have approached the British consular office for assistance, and the UAE’s Ambassador to Britain to investigate the matter.
‘Without intervention, the woman is likely to spend months in the UAE, awaiting judgment which may or may not be a prison sentence. This is no way to treat visitors and expats in Dubai’.
The woman told the Sun yesterday: ‘I can’t believe what my flatmate has done — she has been so spiteful.
‘I pleaded with her to withdraw the complaint but she said, ‘This is a criminal case’.’
Speaking yesterday to Detained In Dubai, she added: ‘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.’
Her lawyer had previously criticised the UAE’s ‘overarching cybercrime laws’.
Stirling said: ‘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.
‘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.’