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Widely criticised “cybercrime” laws in Dubai mean that a London single mum has been arrested together with her 14 year old daughter at Dubai airport. She now faces up to two years in jail and a fine of £50,000 for two facebook posts she made in 2016 about her ex husband’s new wife. She made the two posts while living in the UK
Londoner Laleh Sharavesh, 55, was married to Portuguese husband Pedro for 18 years. They had lived in Dubai for 8 months where he worked for HSBC. She returned to London with their daughter Paris, and he was to join them once work commitments had been resolved.
A few months later, she was shocked and devastated to receive divorce papers. Shortly after, Laleh opened Facebook one morning and was shocked to see pictures of Pedro’s wedding to a 42 year old Tunisian woman called Samah Al Hammadi.
“I had no idea he was getting married again, and so soon after our own marriage broke down,” says Laleh. “I reacted badly. I lashed out and wrote two unpleasant comments about his new wife on his Facebook page. I know shouldn’t have. I should have behaved better, but I felt angry, betrayed and hurt. After 18 years of marriage, such a small amount of time apart, he was getting married so quickly. He didn’t even have enough respect for me to tell me in advance”.
The two offending comments were written in Farsi. They were:
“Khak bar sareh bishooret! Lanat be to. Mano vell kardi Barayeh in asbbb”
(I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse)
“Ba yek horse aroosi kardi ahmagh”
(You married a horse you idiot)
Laleh’s anger subsided and she made a new life together in London with her daughter Paris. They live in Richmond, where Laleh works at a homeless shelter.
Recently Pedro passed away from a heart attack on March 3rd at the age of 51. Laleh and Paris flew to Dubai on the 10th of March to attend the funeral and pay her respects to the father of her daughter.
“We were married for 18 years after all. And Paris wanted to say goodbye to her father,” says Laleh. “We flew to Dubai where we were intending to stay for just five days, and were arrested immediately upon entry because Pedro’s new wife Samah had reported my old Facebook post to the police.”
The police wanted to take Laleh straight to police cells in Jebel Ali, but didn’t want the negative publicity of jailing the 14 year old daughter Paris.
“The police kept telling me to call someone to take my daughter while I went to Jebel Ali,” says Laleh. “But I don’t know anyone here well enough for that. Eventually they let us go, but kept my passport.
“I am not allowed to leave Dubai. I have been to court once, where I was not allowed to defend myself. And a police station where we were kept waiting for 12 hours without any progress. I am due in court again on Thursday the 11th of April and face a fine I can never pay plus jail.
“I am terrified. I can’t sleep or eat. I have gone down two dress sizes because of the stress. And my daughter cries herself to sleep every night. We are so close, especially since her father left us and we only have each other. It breaks my heart to be kept apart from her”.
Laleh’s sister Laden takes up the story: “Laleh was treated badly by the police. The officer who took her statement kept talking with other officers while Laleh answered his questions. He laughed and joked with colleagues instead of listening. Finally he produced a half page statement in Arabic. When we had it translated, it bore no relation to what Laleh had said. For example it translated ‘horse’ as ‘bitch’. That word was actually written in English!
“Laleh and Paris were made to wait in the awful police station each time by someone new. Each time that person did not come back. The final time, after a policeman said he would be back shortly, Laleh discovered he had gone home for the night. They were in that police station for 12 hours with no food for 9 hours and very little water.”
“The embassy staff were ineffective, telling her they can’t intervene. All they did was recommend her an expensive list of lawyers When Laleh told them she can’t afford to stay in even a cheap hotel while she waits and is in danger of becoming homeless in Dubai, the FCO staff just told her she should ‘find someone to borrow money from’.”
Laleh has been trapped in Dubai since the 10th of March. 14 year old Paris had to fly home alone on her scheduled flight 5 days later, and has been staying with relatives while her mother is stuck in Dubai.
“I have lost everything because of this,” Laleh tells us. “I have no money left after paying to stay in a hotel here for over a month. I have lost my job and am unable to pay for rent on the flat I live in with Paris, because of this we are about to lose the flat. I am even in debt to my family for over £5,000. My life is in ruins, and that is even before the huge fines and jail I am facing here. All of that is less important than being separated from my daughter, and that’s all I want now, just to be back with her”.
Radha Stirling, CEO of human rights organisation Detained In Dubai is officially representing Laleh. She released the following statement:
“I have warned the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office that their advice to tourists is insufficient. When the UAE introduced Cybercrime laws, it rendered almost every visitor to the country a criminal. Visitors to Dubai are rightfully unaware that they could be jailed for a facebook or twitter post made from outside the jurisdiction of the UAE, and made years ago. The UAE’s cybercrime laws apply extraterritorially and retroactively. The Cybercrime laws prohibit sharing charities online such as Amnesty international, they prohibit fundraising, sharing photos taken in public, for example that includes a vehicle or other people. The laws further forbid anything “defamatory” against the UAE and this can even include the reporting of a news article and further prohibit the use of a VPN.
“We have made the FCO aware of several incidences of foreign nationals being charged under the UAE’s cybercrime laws. Some similar cases we have worked on include British national Scott Richards who was charged for sharing a charity on his facebook page and Jodi Magi, an Australian woman jailed for posting a photograph of a vehicle online.
“I have personally spoken extensively about the Cybercrime laws and have warned the FCO to increase their warnings in this area. Having looked at their advice today online, the advice is completely irresponsible and puts British nationals at risk of detention. The British government signed an MOU to assist the UAE in the marketing of their country in the UK, but have seemingly done nothing to ensure the protection of citizens abroad, not even an accurate travel warning.
“The UAE is the most likely place for British nationals to be arrested abroad and the Cybercrime laws have potentially rendered almost every visitor a criminal. The laws are enforced arbitrarily, which leads to even greater confusion over what is or isn’t a crime.
“I have spoken with Laleh, her mother, sisters and daughter Paris. Their experience is heartbreaking. Not only has Paris lost her father, but in going to visit him to say her final goodbye, she wound up in a frightening Middle Eastern police station, and is now without her mother. Every family member was teary and it was very emotional to speak with all of them. They are all extremely damaged by what has happened and I expect it will be a long and psychological recovery process for them.
“Paris is writing a letter to Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister of the UAE to appeal for her mother’s release. I also call on Sheikh Mohammed to ensure Laleh is swiftly reunited with her daughter in London and to review the content and application of the UAE’s cybercrime laws. I also call on Laleh’s MP Zac Goldsmith and Jeremy Hunt to enter into diplomatic discussions with the UAE to ensure Laleh’s safe return.
“It is simply unreasonable that a country wishing to attract Western tourism arrests and charges a woman for a Facebook post made years ago from outside of the UAE’s jurisdiction. The post would never be prosecuted as a criminal offence in England, and if the UAE intends to detain tourists for posts made from England, it will find itself rendered a no go zone to foreigners.
“With the cases of Princess Latifa, Jamal Khashoggi, Rahaf Mohammed and Hakeem Alaraibi, we are seeing an increased incidence of abuses in the gulf region. These high profile cases have highlighted violations that also applied to tourists, expats and investors. Fundamental freedoms and respect for the rule of law, already substandard, are rapidly eroding throughout the Gulf States; anyone can be at risk for literally any reason when the system operates in such an arbitrary and unpredictable way.”