Rape case puts UAE laws in spotlight

Rights groups angry woman charged for drinking after reporting sex crime.

Expatriates often find themselves on the wrong side of the country's strict laws in Dubai. Photo / AP
Expatriates often find themselves on the wrong side of the country's strict laws in Dubai. Photo / AP

A British woman who was allegedly kidnapped and gang raped by three men in Dubai has been prosecuted for drinking without a licence, throwing a spotlight on the United Arab Emirates' archaic legal system, which rights groups say does not do enough to protect victims of sexual assault.

The woman claims she was raped repeatedly by the three men who filmed the attack after they lured her into their car as she returned from a night out with friends.

After reporting her ordeal to the police, the 28-year-old found herself in the dock because she admitted she had been drinking earlier that night.

Human Rights Watch has called on the UAE to improve its judicial practices for rape victims, saying those reporting crimes too often end up being charged themselves.

Lulled into a false sense of security by the drinking culture encouraged in the five-star hotels that line the shores of the oil-rich Emirate, expatriates often find themselves on the wrong side of the country's strict laws.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says British nationals are more likely to be arrested in the UAE than anywhere else in the world.

However, the legal system's treatment of victims of sexual crimes has drawn particular condemnation.

"In the UAE, there have been multiple cases over the past few years where the state has charged women with criminal offences after they have reported rape," said Samer Muscati, a researcher in the women right's division of Human Rights Watch. "When it comes to seeking justice for sexual violence, women in the UAE still face formidable and often insurmountable barriers."

In 2010, the case of an 18-year-old Emirati - who was sentenced to a year in prison for illicit sex after she reported that she had been gang raped by six men - drew international outrage. Dr Rima Al Sabban, an assistant professor at Zayed University who specialises in women's issues, said that the system can discourage women from reporting rape.

"Potential rapists can take advantage of this, knowing that the woman is in a weak position and might be afraid of being prosecuted," she said. "Women become double victims."

The woman in this latest case had been drinking for six hours at the Rock Bottom Cafe, a local bar known for its cheap drinks. A Pakistani taxi driver who picked her up at 3am said that she was "totally drunk" and fell asleep on the back seat. The woman, who works in a managerial position, asked to stop at a cash point, but after failing to withdraw money she was unable to pay the fare when she reached her building in the upscale waterfront community of Jumeirah Beach Residence.

The taxi driver said a red Hyundai then pulled up, and two men got out. They said they knew the woman and paid the fare.

"I saw her sitting in the front seat next to the driver. After that I drove away," he said.

The woman says she was then taken to an apartment where the men repeatedly raped her.

"I noticed one of them filming me and I begged them to let me go but they ignored my pleas and laughed at me," she told the court, according to the National newspaper.

The victim's 26-year-old French flatmate said the woman returned home at around 8.30am and appeared "confused". She took her to a police station to report the assault.

Two 20-year-old Iranian men are on trial for the assault, while the third has not been traced. They deny the charges. Their lawyer claimed that the woman had fabricated the claims.

First Corporal Marwan Salem, who investigated the incident, said one of the defendants had said he had been scared of kidnapping "a British woman" but had been convinced by his co-defendant that she would be too drunk to recognise them.

The woman says she drank three glasses of wine. Drinking without a liquor licence is technically illegal in Dubai, though the document is never asked for at bars and hotels. She was fined 1000 dirhams ($326).

- Independent

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