Traveler Detained in Dubai for 2-Year-Old Facebook Posts

Apr 10, 2019

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A British woman who traveled to Dubai in March is facing a steep fine and three-year jail sentence over two Facebook comments she posted in late 2016, according to the Washington Post.

Laleh Shahravesh and her 14-year-old daughter, Paris, traveled to Dubai on March 10 to attend the funeral of Pedro Manuel Coreia Dos Santos, her ex-husband and her daughter’s father. The family had received news that Santos had passed away from a heart attack on March 3, and Paris Shahravesh wanted to attend her father’s funeral to say goodbye. Instead, both mother and daughter were arrested upon arrival at Dubai International Airport (DXB) on charges of defamation brought by Santos’s newly widowed second wife.

While the frightened 14-year-old was eventually released and has since returned to the United Kingdom, Shahravesh remains in Dubai awaiting her impending trial on Thursday, and she has borrowed “thousands of pounds” from her family to cover the cost of her extended hotel stay while she awaits her trial date. She is not allowed to leave the country.

A screenshot of Shahravesh's original Facebook comment in Farsi. Image courtesy of Detained in Dubai.
A screenshot of Shahravesh’s original Facebook comment in Farsi. Image courtesy of Detained in Dubai.

Shahravesh and Santos were married for 18 years, and had lived in Dubai together before Shahravesh returned to their home in London with their daughter in 2016. The family originally planned for Santos to rejoin the family when his work in the United Arab Emirates was complete. Instead, Shahravesh was surprised with divorce papers several months after her return to the UK. Shortly thereafter, she discovered via Facebook that Santos had remarried Samah al Hammadi, a Tunisian woman he met in Dubai.

Shahravesh posted an angry Facebook comment on Santos’s wedding photo, written in Farsi: “I hope you go under the ground, you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse.”

“I know I shouldn’t have. I should have behaved better, but I felt angry, betrayed and hurt,” Shahravesh said in a statement released by the advocacy group Detained in Dubai, which will represent Shahravesh in court. “After 18 years of marriage, such a small amount of time apart, he was getting married so quickly. He didn’t even have enough respect for me to tell me in advance.”

According to al Hammadi, who met Santos through the archery club she runs in Dubai, she filed a formal complaint against Shahravesh for the Facebook comments and other alleged abusive statements, including a string of insulting emails and messages. She defended Dubai’s strict laws against defamation and stated that she believed Shahravesh deserved the punishment, although she has stated she was willing to drop the suit for the sake of her late husband’s young daughter.

Paris Shahravesh wrote a letter to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, begging for her mother’s release. “I ask kindly: please, please return my mother’s passport, and let her come home,” the teen said in a letter published by Detained in Dubai. “I have not seen my mother in 23 days, and with every passing day, I feel less hopeful of her return.”

Although Dubai has become an increasingly popular destination for global tourism, many travelers are not aware of the Emirates’ strict laws and penalties, including those against cyber crimes, defamation and public indecency.

The US Department of State ranks the United Arab Emirates under a “Level 1” travel warning, its lowest alert, which urges tourists to “exercise normal precautions.” But, the department does warn about local laws specifically regarding social media.

“The UAE has strict laws regarding use of the internet and social media,” the State Department says. “Individuals have been arrested and criminally convicted for posting information on social media sites (such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.) that local authorities determined was disturbing to the order of the UAE. Users of social media should be cautious about online posting of information that might be deemed to insult or challenge the local or national government. Individuals should avoid posting insults or derogatory information about governments, institutions or individuals.”

But despite these warnings, most tourists aren’t familiar with the nation’s laws.

“Visitors to Dubai are rightfully unaware that they could be jailed for a Facebook or Twitter post made from outside the jurisdiction of the UAE, and made years ago,” Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained In Dubai, said in the statement. “The UAE’s cybercrime laws apply extraterritorially and retroactively.”

In a statement on Facebook, Stirling said the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “has failed to warn British nationals that, under the UAE’s cybercrime laws, almost everybody is criminalized on arrival. The laws are enforced arbitrarily and can lead to lengthy imprisonment.”

Shahravesh is hardly the first foreigner to be detained in the Emirati city for seemingly innocuous acts. In 2017, a 27-year-old Scottish man was sentenced to three months in jail for touching another man’s hip in a crowded bar. And another Briton, professional soccer team director David Haigh, was charged with posting an offensive tweet, according to The New York Times. Though he was eventually acquitted, he still served seven months in jail.

The Points Guy reached out to Detained in Dubai for additional information but did not hear back by the time of publication.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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