Laws in the United Arab Emirates have again been thrust into the spotlight after a British citizen in Dubai was arrested for sharing a charity post on his Facebook page.
Most people know Dubai is tough on drugs; that tourists can get in trouble for drinking alcohol outside designated areas; and people who have sex in public can find themselves facing the full force of the law.
There are some other unpredictable ways of falling foul of the law in Dubai – even if the authorities rarely enforce some of the laws.
Scott Richards promoted a charity drive to buy blankets and tarpaulins for refugees in Afghanistan. He was held for 22 days and has now been charged with fundraising without permission.
However, he is not the first foreigner to find themselves in trouble over entries on social media.
People have been warned to be careful how they use social media following the introduction of a strict cybercrimes law in 2012.
The following year, an American was jailed for making a spoof video about Dubai youth culture.
Also in 2013, police in Dubai arrested a man who filmed an incident in which a government official attacked an Indian van driver. The man was arrested for sharing footage of a crime, after his video was posted on YouTube. Charges were eventually dropped.
Dubai is very conservative when it comes to bad language. Swearing, profanities, insults and “all kind of vulgar language” are considered obscene acts – as is making rude gestures – and offenders can be fined or jailed.
In June, one local website reported that a court had ordered the retrial of a man convicted of swearing at a colleague in a WhatsApp message.
The UK Foreign Office’s advice to British travellers states that kissing and hugging in public are strictly prohibited. The UK Foreign Office says married couples holding hands “is tolerated”, but suggests all open displays of affection are “generally not tolerated”.
Allegations of rape
Rape is illegal in Dubai of course. However, alleged victims have also occasionally found themselves facing arrest.
In 2013, Norwegian woman Marte Deborah Dalelv said she had been raped by a colleague while on a business trip in Dubai. She reported the attack to the police, but was charged with having extra-marital sex, drinking alcohol illegally and perjury after prosecutors dismissed her rape allegation.
She was given a 16-month prison sentence – but was later “pardoned” and told she was free to leave the country.
Ms Dalelv said her attacker was given a 13-month jail sentence for extra-marital sex and illegal alcohol consumption.
Dubai has bars and nightclubs, but the Foreign Office says you should not dance in public. “Dancing is allowed in the privacy of your home or at licensed clubs,” the advice says. The Dubai Code of Conduct says dancing and loud music is forbidden in public places, such as beaches, parks and residential areas. It is classed as “indecent and provocative”, the FCO adds.
Sharing a hotel room
It is against Dubai law to live together, or to share the same hotel room, with someone of the opposite sex if you aren’t married or closely related, according to Foreign Office guidance. So, in theory, any unmarried couple staying in a hotel room together is breaking the law, although tourists are rarely prosecuted.
Taking pictures of women in public without consent is “strictly frowned upon”, as is randomly addressing women in public, the Foreign Office states. Showing any disrespect towards religious beliefs or practices is considered deeply offensive and very likely to result in a heavy fine or imprisonment.
Non-repayment of debt is a criminal offence and can get people sent straight to jail. Having a cheque bounce and not paying bills – including a hotel bill – can also result in imprisonment.
Unsurprisingly drugs are strictly illegal in Dubai. However, the Foreign Office says authorities are also likely to prosecute if they find traces of illegal drugs in someone’s blood or urine.
In 2008, British tourist Keith Brown was sentenced to four years in prison after Dubai customs officers found a speck of cannabis, weighing just 0.003g, stuck to his shoe – although he was reportedly freed a few weeks later.
Bringing some medicines into the country is also forbidden, including some containing psychotropic substances. The Foreign Office says if you are using prescribed drugs it is advisable to carry a doctor’s note and you may need to seek prior agreement from the authorities.