Behind the luxury image, Dubai’s laws and customs create issues for expatriates – The Irish Times

The case of Irishwoman Tori Towey has put a spotlight on the difficulties some expatriates can face in a legal system very different to the one they are used to.

An estimated 10,000 Irish people, including influencers, teachers, flight attendants and others in search of tax-free job opportunities, live in Dubai alone.

The aesthetic of the Gulf city as depicted in branding and social-media posts is usually luxurious and modern. However, a different side reveals itself when expatriates encounter the reality of its laws and customs.

Ms Towey, from Co Roscommon, who has lived in Dubai for just over a year, was reportedly charged with attempted suicide and consuming alcohol and was subjected to a travel ban as a result.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who first raised the issue in the Dáil, said the 28-year-old’s case raises “fundamental questions around the treatment of women in Dubai”.

According to Ms McDonald, Ms Towey had been subjected to sustained and “brutal” domestic violence and abuse since marrying a man from South Africa in March.

“I have found this whole episode to be grotesque and medieval in what it says around how women are treated as objects, as possessions,” she said.

“I find it really distressing that a woman who suffered such vicious domestic violence wasn’t protected, wasn’t supported but instead was actually charged with offences herself.”

Despite the alleged brutal abuse, and despite seeking help from authorities in Dubai, she was sent home with her husband who then destroyed her passport, bringing any travel, and consequently work, to a halt, the Dáil heard.

Ms McDonald said after one “particularly vicious beating”, Ms Towey attempted suicide.

“When Tori came to, she was surrounded by paramedics but instead of being taken to a hospital, she was taken to a police station,” she said.

Dubai drops charges against Irish woman as travel ban liftedOpens in new window ]

It is the latest high-profile case to highlight how out of step the laws and customs of Dubai are with the expectations of many in the West. Support group Detained in Dubai would argue that many more crimes may go unreported as victims fear being charged themselves.

“They had made an effort for public-relations purposes, they were starting to take women’s rights a bit more seriously, victim rights. But it seems like nothing has changed,” chief executive Radha Stirling told Newstalk on Wednesday morning.

Before Ireland intervened, Ms Towey was facing a potential fine, imprisonment of months or years, or admission to a psychiatric facility, Ms Stirling said.

Indeed, high-profile cases arising from the city have a trend of charging those who would be considered victims in other countries.

In 2013, for example, Marte Deborah Dalelv, a Norwegian interior designer, received a 16-month prison sentence after reporting a rape to police.

The 24-year-old was charged with having extramarital sex, drinking alcohol and perjury, but after widespread outrage following her sentencing she was pardoned.

Similarly, in 2016, a 25-year-old British tourist was arrested in Dubai for extramarital sex after reporting a rape by two British men to authorities.

The case was dropped following international attention “following careful examination of all evidence”.

There are other examples of legal battles over matters that would not strike most westerners as criminal behaviour. A British tourist was arrested and charged with public indecency after wearing a bikini in the Dubai Mall in 2010.

That same year, a young British couple were jailed for a month and deported after sharing a kiss in a restaurant.

The Department of Foreign Affairs advises a high degree of caution when travelling to the United Arab Emirates and warns that Islamic laws and customs there are “very different to those in Ireland and other western countries”.

“There can be serious penalties, including custodial sentences, for doing something that may not be illegal in Ireland,” it warns.

Those who conduct a sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage run the risk of prosecution, imprisonment and/or a fine and deportation, according to the department.

Cases have arisen against the backdrop of same-sex relations being considered a crime in the UAE.

In 2017, Jamie Harron, a Scottish electrician, was arrested for public indecency after he touched a man’s hip in a bar. Mr Harron said he was simply trying to avoid spilling his drink when he touched the man, who complained to authorities.

Just one day after being sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, Mr Harron was freed by special order of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, again after the case had received international attention.

Ms Stirling said cases such as that of Ms Towey result in bad PR for the city and the wider UAE, which may explain the quick dropping of charges on occasion.

But other cases may go unreported.

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