Rape in the UAE

The story below, covered in The National, is disturbing in so many ways:

ABU DHABI // An 18-year-old Emirati woman who was charged with having consensual sex after alleging that she had been raped by six men retracted all her statements in court yesterday.

She told the judge she wanted to withdraw her accusations against all the defendants.

The woman, LH, offered no explanation in court as to why she changed her statements, other than being “unaware” of her actions when she reported the crime.

She added that her brother beat her after accusing her of talking to other men, and after the beating she went to the police to report the rapes.

If the prosecution drops the charge of consensual sex, the woman could face a lesser charge related to deception, which is punishable by six months to two years in prison.

If found guilty of consensual sex, as a Muslim woman, she would face lashes and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Although she changed her evidence, the charges are criminal, not civil, so it is for the prosecution to decide whether to drop the consensual-sex charge. Prosecutors said yesterday that none of the charges had been dropped at this stage.

According to court records, on May 2, LH went for a drive with a male Emirati friend, HA, in Baniyas.

Prosecutors said she went with the intention of having consensual sex with HA, a charge she denies. HA parked his Nissan Altima in an area called Bahia and had sex with her, prosecutors said. He is accused of then telephoning five of his friends, who joined him and raped LH from 1.30am to 5am.

She went to the police after the incident and told them she had been raped by the men in the back seat of the car. She was tested by the Forensics Unit at the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department, and evidence of assault was cited by the public prosecution in charging all six men with rape.

First, consensual sex outside of wedlock being punishable by " lashes and a maximum sentence of life in prison" is sick. 

Second, the idea that when you report a rape you might be charged with having consensual sex is a horrible deterrent to report a heinous crime.

Third, this woman appears to have been pressured by her family to withdraw the charges of rape. Meaning they prefer not to sully the family name rather than punish the crime done against her. Of course it's hard to know the details, but the story outlined above does not look good. Presumably when she reported the crime, forensic evidence for what was after all described as a gang rape would be obtainable.

Most depressing is the last bit of the story:

When the judge questioned YM [a defendant accused of rape], he also denied having sex or confessing to rape. The judge chastised him as the young man visibly held back laughter, reminding him that if he is found guilty, he faces the death penalty, as do all the men accused of rape.

YM, when asked by the judge, declined to request a lawyer. After the judge explained that it was mandatory to have a lawyer where the death penalty is a potential sentence, YM agreed to find one. The two defendants in custody were both represented yesterday by lawyers. The young woman also did not appear with a lawyer, and she was not asked about appointing one. No member of her family was present in court.

Unsurprisingly, treatment of rape cases doesn't seem great in the UAE. The National has a recent story about a Kirgiz woman who claimed she was raped and ended up being charged with prostitution. Another recent story features an Indonesian maid sold into sexual slavery. Of course such sexual slavery happen everywhere — it's one of the major international forms of international organized crime — but the convergence of retrograde cultural attitudes to rape and what appears to be terrible laws in the UAE makes for a pretty terrible situation. Another piece shows how reluctant this makes women of reporting rape.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.