An American woman traveling solo in the U.A.E. was thrown in jail for, she says, turning down help from two men who approached her at the airport in Abu Dhabi.
The 25-year-old woman, whose name appears as Diana Al Koud (ديانا أيمن الكود) in the arraignment papers, is accused of insulting the government of the United Arab Emirates—considered a criminal offense in that country—while waiting for a taxi. She has been in jail since the end of February, and went on trial at the Federal Supreme Court on Monday.
“The men tried to help me,” she told the judge according to The National, a government-owned newspaper in Abu Dhabi. “I had another flight to catch at 1:29am. I refused to engage with them and nothing happened.”
Except it did: the woman was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. It’s a strange story, and one that raises concerns about women traveling alone in the country. We don’t have more details, because the traveler chose not to appoint a lawyer or accept court-appointed representation. The National said. She had no family members at the hearing, and no one from the U.S. Embassy attended.
“We are aware of the recent court hearing for a U.S. citizen detained for insulting the Government of the United Arab Emirates,” a State Department official told Travel + Leisure. “We take the safety and security of U.S. citizens detained abroad seriously. The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is providing all appropriate consular assistance.”
She asked to pay fine and be released from jail, but a verdict won’t be announced until May 2.
Travelers should be aware that the UAE has strict laws regarding expression: “insulting” the UAE’s leaders or the country can come with a prison sentence and expensive fines. Shezanne Cassim from Minnesota served nine months in jail in 2013 after being accused of defaming the country’s image and committing a cyber crime after she posted a satirical video about the youth culture in the country. An Australian woman named Jodi Magi was jailed for 54 hours and said she had been shackled, strip-searched, blood tested, and forced to sleep on a concrete floor. This was all for posting a photo on Facebook of a car without disability stickers parked across disabled parking spaces in her apartment block.
Visitors can also be arrested for eating during the holy fasting period of Ramadan. Possessing painkillers like codeine and cold and flu medication can land you in jail for four years. Couples can also be criminally charged if they hold hands or kiss in public; the same holds true for having sex outside marriage.