Raped and then arrested for having ‘extra-marital’ sex – how one British woman is facing jail in Dubai

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 16 November 2016

It is a well-known fact that different countries have very different legal systems. But many women travellers don’t understand what it actually means until something terrible happens, such as a rape. According to reports from Dubai, a British woman is facing charges – and a possible prison sentence – after telling the police she was gang-raped in a hotel last month.

The woman’s relatives say she told the police she had been lured to a hotel room by two British men who raped her and left the country shortly afterwards. They claim that instead of investigating the allegation, the police arrested her and charged her with having extra-marital sex. She has been released on bail but the authorities have confiscated her passport and she faces a £24,000 bill to cover her legal fees. ‘She is staying with an English family but she is absolutely terrified’, said a friend.

If these claims are accurate, it would not be the first time a victim of an alleged rape has been prosecuted in Dubai. It is one of the biggest cities in the United Arab Emirates and a popular tourist destination, but it also has some of the strictest laws in the world about sex and alcohol. Three years ago, a 24-year-old Norwegian woman went to the police in Dubai, claiming she had been raped during a business trip, only to find her own conduct under suspicion.

The woman was charged with having extramarital sex, drinking alcohol and perjury, and given a 16-month prison sentence. She was pardoned by the vice-president and allowed to leave Dubai only after she withdrew the rape claim. She insisted she retracted it because she had been warned that no one would believe her.

In 2008 two British tourists were jailed for three months for having consensual sex on a beach in Dubai, although the sentence was later suspended. Few people in this country would approve of such behaviour but the treatment of alleged rape victims in some Middle Eastern countries should and does cause outrage.

It is difficult enough to report a rape in the UK, where the conviction rate remains scandalously low. But UAE is one of a number of states where rape is regarded not as sexual violence but an offence against laws banning sex outside marriage. It is a reflection of the low status of women, affecting local women even more than foreigners although cases involving the latter are more likely to cause an outcry.

The UAE is not the only country where such laws exist, although the Foreign Office has previously said that Britons are proportionately more likely to be arrested there than anywhere else in the world. It says it is aware of the case and is working to support the woman and her family.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has yet to comment even though he made reducing violence against women one of his priorities in his previous job as Mayor of London. Johnson has talked to victims of sexual violence and he understands the damage it inflicts. So did one of his predecessors at the Foreign Office, William Hague.

It may be that the British government is still trying to get a clear picture of the case – the FCO has reportedly said it is aware of the case and is providing support to the woman and her relatives as well as remaining in contact with local authorities.

Sometimes there is an anxiety that ministers publicly criticising other countries’ treatment of their citizens will make matters worse. At the same time, the UK is publicly committed to observing and promoting equal rights. As we wait for more details of this latest arrest in Dubai, the Foreign Secretary should reflect that his job gives him a rare platform to speak up for victims of sexual violence – and to call out laws which by any modern standards are a disgrace.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 13 November 2016

Elly Griffiths is best known for her crime fiction featuring a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk. But she is also the author of a quirky series of novels set in the 1950s that bring together a stage magician, Max Mephisto, and a young police inspector, Edgar Stephens, who worked together in an army intelligence unit during the Second World War. The Blood Card (Quercus £16.99) is set in 1953, just days before the Coronation, which is going to be televised for the first time.

When Mephisto and Stephens receive a summons to Whitehall from a mysterious general, they discover that their former commanding officer has been murdered. Clues from the victim’s flat suggest he was worried about an anarchist plot to disrupt the Coronation, but it sounds far-fetched and all the suspects seem to be former music-hall stars. No one takes it very seriously until Griffiths pulls a truly startling rabbit out of the hat, demonstrating that this is more than the cosy mystery it initially appears.

Over half a dozen novels, Belinda Bauer has staked a claim to the gruesome, spectacular and bizarre. In The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press £12.99) she serves up a serial killer so convinced of the rightness of his actions that he wants wall-to-wall publicity. When he spots a television reporter at the scene of his latest murder, he decides to make her an ally; the reporter, Eve Singer, is under pressure from her boss and a scoop matters to her more than anything. Bauer is scathing about the morals of television journalism, but it is a familiar critique. The more affecting passages are about Eve’s home life in suburbia, where her father has dementia. This isn’t Bauer’s best book but it has flashes of her trademark ingenuity.

John Rebus retired ages ago, but Ian Rankin keeps on finding reasons to bring his popular detective back. In recent novels Rebus has worked as a civilian support officer, and in Rather Be the Devil (Orion £19.99) he can’t resist getting involved when gang warfare erupts in Edinburgh. The gang boss who took over from Rebus’s old sparring partner, Big Ger Cafferty, is in hospital after a vicious attack and Rebus wants to know if Cafferty is behind it. The adversarial relationship between the two men is well-worn territory by now, and the inclusion of an unsolved murder from 40 years ago underlines the sense that Rebus’s moment has passed.

Carl-Johan Vallgren is a Swedish musician who writes extraordinarily dark crime fiction. The Tunnel, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Quercus £14.99), opens with a gang of nervous robbers planning to hold up a security van, but behind the heist lies a murder mystery of labyrinthine complexity. A private detective, Danny Katz, is trying to find out who killed a small-time drug dealer when he discovers that the victim’s missing girlfriend worked in the porn industry. His investigation reveals a conspiracy involving sex trafficking, with an unexpected connection to one of the robbers. Chilly and compelling, this is crime fiction without redemptive illusions.