A British tourist has been arrested and charged with illegal “extra-marital sex” in Dubai after telling police she had been gang raped.
The 25-year-old woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was on holiday in the United Arab Emirates when she was allegedly attacked by two British men last month.
When she reported the rape at a police station, she was allegedly arrested for breaking Emirati laws against extra-marital sex, while her attackers have since flown home to the UK.
The UK-based Detained in Dubai campaign group said she has been released on bail but had her passport confiscated, meaning she cannot leave the country, and could face trial for offences with punishments including jail, deportation, flogging and stoning to death.
The group is in contact with the woman’s family, who claim the two men took it in turns to rape her while filming the attack at a hotel.
“They have taken her passport as lawyers thrash it out. She is staying with an English family but she is absolutely terrified,” a family friend told The Sun.
“She went to the police as the victim as one of the worst ordeals imaginable but she is being treated as the criminal.”
Radha Stirling, the founder and director of Detained in Dubai, said the case a “tremendously disturbing“ example of long-running abuses in the holiday resort.
“Police regularly fail to differentiate between consensual intercourse and violent rape,” she added. “Victims go to them expecting justice, and end up being prosecuted. They not only invalidate their victimisation, they actually punish them for it.”
A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office toldThe Independent it was aware of the case and providing support to the woman and her relatives, as well as remaining in contact with local authorities.
Its travel advice for the UAE says all sexual relations outside marriage are considered illegal, whatever a couple’s relationship at home, alongside homosexual sex and same-sex marriages.
“It’s against the law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex to whom you aren’t married or closely related,” the advice states.
The laws, which can also see unmarried pregnant women and their partners jailed, have been used to criminalise rape victims including women from Norway and Australia, and several previous British victims.
The burden of proof required for rape under the UAE’s interpretation of sharia law – a confession from the rapist or witness statements from four adult men – means that cases that reach court are heavily skewed in the defendant’s favour and are frequently dismissed or turned around to prosecute the alleged victim.
Campaigners say female migrant workers are hit particularly hard by the laws, with their stories rarely attracting the public attention or outcry garnered by cases involving Westerners.
Ms Stirling said the UAE has a long history of penalising rape victims. “We have been involved with several cases in the past where this has happened, and we work with the lawyers and families and have campaigned to change attitudes in the police and judiciary,” she added.
“The horrible case at hand shows that it is still not safe for victims to report these crimes to the police without the risk of suffering a double punishment.”