You can serve jail time for messaging swear words in Dubai

A British woman is facing years in jail in Dubai after having sent an angry message containing a single swear word to her ex flatmate.

How many times have you gotten into somewhat of a spat with your flatmate and, in the heat of the moment, slipped in a swear word or two in a message exchange? We've all done it, and if you haven't then consider yourself lucky to not have been pushed to the point of resorting to the F-bomb when dealing with insufferable roommates. But consider yourself even more lucky that if you have done it, it wasn't in Dubai or to someone living there.

Detained at the airport

An unnamed 30-something-year-old British woman was recently detained in Dubai after having sent a single swear word over WhatsApp to her ex flatmate who reported the non-event to local police.

As she was trying to leave Dubai, after having already shipped all of her belongings back home to the UK and being close to reaching the expiration date on her visa, authorities at the airport did not let her leave informing her she had a pending police case.

The woman in question claims that:

We shared a flat and we were all casual with one another. I've never been in trouble in my life, and I'm shocked that I've been criminalised over a private WhatsApp exchange with someone whom I lived with.

And added:

What's worse, the messages were from months ago and only now, when I've shipped all of my belongings, booked a flight and when my visa is about to expire, do I even find out about this case.

United Arab Emirates' 'overreaching' cyber crime laws

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, explains that the UAE has notoriously strict cybercrime laws that have been responsible for a number of arrests of foreign nationals.

These laws make it possible to be arrested, detained and even prosecuted over as little as sending a single swear word online. They are also extraterritorial meaning that prosecution to the fullest extent could happen even if the statement containing the sear word came from outside of the UAE.

She believes that:

Legal proceedings in Dubai are lengthy, and a frivolous case like this can take months to go through the local system, causing no end of suffering. With hotel accommodation, legal fees and visa overstay fines, an absurd allegation can quickly escalate into tens of thousands of pounds, loss of employment and in a worst case scenario, a prison sentence.

The detained woman has tried reaching out to the angered flatmate for charges to be dropped but has not received a reply yet.

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