Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Laws, blind eyes & heads down

The latest legal case here making the news internationally is that of the British woman who reported a rape and was charged with having illegal sex.

That's actually the way it's being reported, the all-too-usual mix of truth and fiction which ends up giving the wrong impression.

She wasn't charged with having illegal sex in relation to the alleged rape nor was the rape claim ignored by police, although that's the way it's being presented and is what many people seem to believe.

The story is that she reported the rape, the complaint was ignored, she was subjected to humiliating tests and then charged with illegal sex and drinking.

It's actually somewhat different.

The brief background is that she was here with her fiance, sharing a hotel room, she got drunk and passed out in the hotel toilet. A waiter allegedly followed and raped her.

When she reported it to the police she and her fiance were arrested (they're out on bail) for drinking alcohol and having illegal sex.

To clarify, the police have said:

The rape allegation of a 23-year-old British woman was registered and investigated by Dubai Police with a full forensic report filed to the public prosecution, said a police official.

Contrary to what have been reported in many international media outlets, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Qadir Al Bannai, director of Jebel Ali Police Station, said: "I am aware to what have been reported recently. A case has been opened against the Syrian suspect who she claims raped her. He was detained and referred to the public prosecution.

"All the necessary procedures were undertaken. Our rules are clear in the UAE; illegal drinking and sexual intercourse is considered an offence, so a case was filed against the couple as well. But we didn't ignore the rape report," he said.

It's another example of what many people see as incomprehensible differences between what's illegal, which laws are enforced, what's allowed. It's also another example of people naively believing that the laws in other countries are the same as in their own country.

It is indeed illegal to have sex outside marriage. But as with any society it happens all the time. Unmarried couples live together, unmarried tourist couples are welcomed without question by hotels.

Alcohol is freely available, yet you can be jailed for drinking it.

People are confused by it all but I think it's actually very simple.

The laws are there but a blind eye is turned as long as you keep your head down.

That such laws are in place is no surprise. They're appropriate for a Muslim country, for a country in this conservative part of the world.

But Dubai in particular treats them pragmatically and the police turn a blind eye, allowing residents and visitors a relatively liberal environment. It's not ideal but it's the way it is.

The key thing to remember is that you have to keep your head down and not come to the attention of the police.

Drinking is OK, but cause a disturbance in which the police get involved and you're in trouble.

Unmarrieds living together is OK, but attract the attention of the police and you're in trouble.

I think this came about because Dubai from its beginnings has interacted with people from outside. They traded with, visited, resided in Dubai and the people here became comfortable dealing with foreigners.

As the society developed, laws were put in place and because lawmaking is official and formal they inevitably followed the religion and culture of the region. But the reality on the ground was tacitly acknowledged.

Turning a blind eye is not a new thing brought in as a result of greed for the tourist dollar either. It's been the same since the laws were written. As long as people keep their heads down.

I'm not suggesting this latest couple should not have reported the alleged rape, but they seem to have been unaware that their own actions were illegal and that they could be arrested.

Gulf News has it here.


CCTV footage confirmed that the waiter did not follow the woman into the toilet. She was not raped and subsequently dropped the charge against him.


Rami said...

I don't disagree with you that the law is clear on these things.. but surely some amount of compassion is called for here?

This reminds me of that case in Saudi a while back where a woman was gang-raped by 8 men.. and then sentenced to lashes for being in a car with an unrelated male beforehand.

I mean, if the point of putting someone on trial for a morality crime (such as sex/alcohol) is to punish them, you'd imagine that the person being raped could be a severe enough punishment.

This woman is going to need enough therapy without the incoming trial and possible jail time.

Anonymous said...

I'm a regular reader of your blog, but here I have to disagree with your simplistic view.
Problem is, what is the law exactly? I've been here a while and I still don't get it. Nobody can drink alcohol without a licence, really? Does this include tourists on a temporary visa -they NEVER have a licence, do they?
If the law is that stringent, then how come every bar or restaurant serving alcohol does not remind people on its menus or entrance that "alcohol is available only to people with adequate licence"? (In my home country there is by law such a such a sign in every bar serving alcohol: "alcohol is forbidden to patrons younger than 16")
What about my wife? I have a license, but she doesn't - and as she does not work I don't even know how she could get one. Does this mean that I can buy and drink alcohol, but that she should not?
Now, if Dubai and Abou Dhabi are serious about developping their tourism, how come they have not legalised the current practice (that is: OK to drink for non-muslims, both tourists and residents. Interdiction to drive with alcohol or to be drunk in a public place). Instead, they are forcing so many people to act in this grey zone of "illegal but tolerated as long as nothing special happens".

Seabee said...

Rami I agree with you. Compassion should be the order of the day and the police were heavy-handed in not turning the usual blind eye to the couple in this case. To treat a woman in her position this way is, to me, completely unacceptable.

(I wasn't commenting on the case, I was just clarifying incorrect stories and pointing out the way the laws are handled here).

Anon@4.20, I disagree. The law is perfectly clear.

eric blair said...

I agree that the law and police methodology is clear. However, both are utterly reprehensible. If you are not going to enforce a law, then such a law should not exist, end of story. The purpose of law is to remove discretionary/arbitrary action of the state. The present enforcement methodology is wholly arbitrary, and obviates the legal system. Is one judged in the supposed afterlife based on whether or not one kept one's head down? Of course not. Enforce the laws and throw out the tourists, or welcome the tourists and throw out the laws. In the mean time, how about legal immunity for the victims of rape?

Anonymous said...

I wish gulf news or the newsspapers put things the way you do, well one day maybe.

Rami said...

Actually, I have to agree with Anon a bit. The alcohol laws, while generally clear, do have some gray areas.

A good example is the Duty Free shops at the airports. Anyone can buy liquor there, license or not. But without a license, you aren't allowed to drink (or even funnier, transport the stuff).

Another example comes from the hundreds upon hundreds of bars/restaurants in the city that are licensed. Nowhere in those places does it mention that you need a license to drink there, although technically you do.

And then you have the fact that different Emirates have different rules when it comes to liquor.. No drinking at all in Sharjah (although the Duty Free is surprisingly well-stocked, and there's a bar at the airport), whereas no license is required to buy liquor in Ajman and UAQ (transporting them back home is a whole other issue).

As far as I've been able to see, the only reason the 'no drinking without a license' law even exists is so they have a good reason to slap a charge on someone who is being a jerk (rightfully so) even if that person hasn't actually broken any 'real' laws.

Shu said...

In my humble opinion, when it comes to law, clear specification is not enough. If executed poorly, it will send out confusing messages. As a result, the perception of this clear law to general public is unclear after all.

Anonymous said...

Do you think this will put doubt into the minds of couples thinking about coming over here on holiday who are not married?

the real nick said...

I think you are missing one important point here, and this is that the British woman in question is of Pakistani Muslim descent. This of course should not matter, but in this part of the world there are plenty of self-appointed "moral guardians" who take it upon themselves to judge other Muslims according to their -usually backward- interpretations of how "good Muslims" should behave. As you know, even Sharia law is not applied equally and equitably to Muslims and non-Muslims. I think the woman just had the bad fortune to speak to the wrong policeman / judge at the time.

Anonymous said...

I have read the story in international news and your version on this blog. Unfortunately you are incorrect in the analogy. The lady in question reported the rape and after dealing with the rape claim, the police decided to charge her and her boyfriend for illegal sexual intercourse outside of marriage or whatever you want to call it. And this is exactly what was reported by the media. There was no red herring here.

If the authorities want to take this stand and uphold the law of the land, then they must be prepared to tell the whole world that unless you are married, do not come into the UAE and if you do, you will be refused admission at port.

You do not have to be a rocket scientist to work out that couples who are not married that come to the UAE on holiday will have sex with each other. I have lived in the UAE for numerous years and have seen first hand the double standards, discrimination, corruption by police officers, extortion rackets, illegal arrests, stitch ups and anything else that seems to be illegal. Unless you have money or Wasta, you are ignored. Yes, the country does have laws, but they are used and abused by the authorities depending on their moods. There is no uniformity or consensus. This is the problem. 2 people can do the same practice, but one will be held liable while the other will have a blind eye thrown towards him/her, depending on the mood of the law or 'contacts one may have'.

Prostitution is rife, but only a handful of cases are actioned as and when the mood takes. Alcohol is openly served and drunkards are dime a dozen.

The most frightening thing about the dictatorship of the UAE is the recent aquittal of Sheikh Eisa and the imprisonment of 2 others claimed to have spiked his drink for his torture of the Afghani merchant.

Anonymous said...

There's one thing you missed about this story.The woman in question lied about the alleged rape and it was proved a lie from the video cameras. The waiter who was Syrian never entered the hotel toilet. This is just another case of a false rape allegation and for that alone the female should be imprisoned. The majority of females lie about rape and ut's time we dealt out some harsh penalties to deter this and protect innocent men.

Seabee said...

Anon@12.56, we didn't 'miss' anything, the video was produced by the defence after I posted.

The majority of females lie about rape.
What utter nonsense. The majority? If you have any interest in accuracy the word you need is 'some'.

What's your comment about authorites around the world who state that the majority of rapes are not reported? All lies I assume.