The Cable

Charges Dropped Against British Woman for Reporting Her Rape in the UAE

International condemnation, not proper investigation, prompted Dubai to drop the charges, experts say.


The United Arab Emirates has decided to drop extramarital sex charges against a British woman who reported being raped in Dubai. The two men she accused of raping her have also been exonerated.

A legal expert says the Dubai public prosecutor likely dismissed the rape case in the face of international condemnation that was spurred by media attention — and not because of due process.

Last month, a British woman visiting the UAE told authorities two British men raped her. Prosecutors promptly charged her with breaking Emirati laws that prohibit extramarital sex. Punishment for violating the laws includes prison time, flogging, deportation, and stoning to death.

On Tuesday, “following careful examination of all evidence,” the Dubai prosecutor’s office dropped charges against the woman, identified as ZJM — and also against the two men she accused of raping her. Prosecutors said they decided there was not enough evidence to press forward on charges after reviewing a video seized from one of the suspect’s cell phones.

But Radha Stirling, a UAE criminal justice specialist who worked with the British woman’s family, said the rape case was dropped “as a direct result of intensive media condemnation, and not because the legal system in Dubai performed a proper investigation into the allegations.”

The UAE’s legal system has a heavy burden of proof for rape cases, including requiring a confession from the rapist and four adult male witnesses to corroborate the crime, according to the Independent. A 2014 Human Rights Watch study concluded the UAE’s legal system favors defendants of abuse allegations, and puts particular risk on women migrants who are victimized.

The UAE’s economy relies heavily on foreign labor, including highly skilled workers from Europe and the United States, as well as poor service industry laborers from the Indian subcontinent. Immigrants make up roughly 85 percent of the UAE’s population, according to 2015 U.N. data.

The large immigration workforce may make the government particularly sensitive to Western scrutiny; it is not the first time an alleged rape case landed the UAE in hot water. In 2013, Dubai officials pardoned a Norwegian woman who was sentenced to prison after reporting being raped when her case gained international notoriety.

Rape victims who are UAE citizens have not uniformly had the same protections. In 2010, an Emirati woman was sentenced to a year in prison after she reported being gang raped.

“It is unacceptable that the only semi-reliable safeguard to prevent wrongful prosecution and punishment in the Emirates is the intervention of world opinion,” said Stirling, head of the charity Detained in Dubai.

Photo credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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