A Brit is being held in Dubai after her flatmate went to the police over a single swear word sent in a message during a lockdown row.
The woman, in her thirties, had contacted her housemate about plans to use the dining table while working from home months ago.
The discussion then escalated and the human resources manager used a single swear word on WhatsApp – before forgetting about the argument.
But the row resurfaced when the woman recently tried to leave Dubai, where she has lived without trouble since 2018, to resume her life in England.
She had already shipped her belongings abroad and was in the airport when she was pulled aside by the authorities – and told she wasn’t allowed to leave because of a police case against her.
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The woman has since discovered her flatmate made allegations against her and she is now being investigated due to Dubai’s strict cybercrime laws.
Speaking today to aid organisation Detained In Dubai, she said: “I would never have expected a European to take advantage of the UAE’s strict laws.
”We shared a flat and we were all casual with one another.
“I’ve never been in trouble in my life, and I’m shocked that I’ve been criminalised over a private WhatsApp exchange with someone whom I lived with.
“What’s worse, the messages were from months ago and only now, when I’ve shipped all of my belongings, booked a flight and when my visa is about to expire, do I even find out about this case.
“I tried to plead with her to drop the case, but she doesn’t seem to care about the impact this is having.”
Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, cautioned visitors to the United Arab Emirates in a statement.
She said: “We are assisting a British woman who has been held in Dubai over a private WhatsApp message that included a single swear word said in the heat of a stressful, lockdown-induced household dispute.
“The UAE’s overreaching cybercrime laws have been responsible for numerous arrests of foreign nationals.
“Visitors to the UAE can be arrested, detained and prosecuted over a swear word, an offensive statement or derogatory comment said in the heat of the moment, and the UAE’s cybercrime laws are extraterritorial, meaning that the statement could have been made from outside of the UAE.”
“The absurdity of these laws allows for husbands and wives, colleagues, friends, school kids, vindictive and spiteful individuals and provocateurs to hold jail cards over people they interact with, and they don’t even need to know them.
“Complete strangers are able to report social media comments they find offensive to the authorities and under the laws, they will be prosecuted, fined and even imprisoned.”
“Legal proceedings in Dubai are lengthy, and a frivolous case like this can take months to go through the local system, causing no end of suffering.
“With hotel accommodation, legal fees and visa overstay fines, an absurd allegation can quickly escalate into tens of thousands of pounds, loss of employment and in a worst case scenario, a prison sentence.
“The human toll is often unimaginable, especially when family members are separated.”