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By Shezanne Cassim 06 Dec, 2017

Heading to the 2017 Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)? I mean why not, right? DIFF does a great job of celebrating art and expression.

All right, I’m kidding. The government-run DIFF only pretends to do that. DIFF is more an attempt to launder Dubai’s image than a true film festival aimed at encouraging creative expression.

So what’s really going on away from the stage and cinema lights? Here are 10 things to know about free expression in Dubai.

1: Local filmmakers  must get their scripts approved by the government .
Sadly, a lot of interesting things happen in Dubai that are not made into films because Big Brother will say "No." The restrictions aren’t only limited to film— books  are subject to censorship too.

2: Censorship is rife.
Nudity and other things that are “harmful to national security ” are censored out of movies playing in local theaters, but the state-sanctioned DIFF conveniently  screens uncensored films . Meanwhile, in 2012, Dubai residents were left fuming that they couldn’t watch  Game of Thrones .

3: Posting photographs of people without their consent is a  criminal offense .
How great would it be to take a picture of you at DIFF and post it on Instagram? Sounds harmless enough, but all it takes is one person in the crowd to report your actions, and off to jail you go. Extra time in the slammer if you’ve had any alcohol.

4: There is no freedom of the press in the UAE.
Journalists are  detained , interrogated, blindfolded, forced to give up their equipment, and expelled from the country for reporting on things the government doesn’t want you to see. But some of them are first given the opportunity to turn snitch against their fellow journos for “ Some fucking good money .”

5: If you post anything online about something the government doesn’t want you to see—like heavy  rain , one of Dubai’s skyscraper fires, or car accidents—you could be fined and jailed indefinitely.
That’s right, the sun always shines in Dubai.

6: It is illegal to  express negative opinions  of anybody or anything.
Didn’t like the film you watched? Keep your opinions to yourself or you could find yourself  fined .

7: Watch what you tweet.
You can be jailed for “defamatory”  tweets  (even if you were in jail at the time and had no internet access!). And if you think using other messaging apps is safe, think again— sending a middle-finger emoji on Whatsapp  can land you in jail too.

8: Dubai’s government doesn’t limit its promotional tools to just film festivals.
Earlier this year, the Dubai government  launched the Dubai font  to much international fanfare, urging social media users to promote the font by using the hashtag #Expressyou. Buried in the terms and conditions was a warning that the font could not be used in any manner that goes against UAE “ public morals ” and that users “irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of the Courts of the Emirate of Dubai.” Court!? For using a font?

9: Posting video of a government official assaulting a man in the street is a serious offense.
If civic responsibility is your thing and you’ve filmed a government official committing a violent assault on the street and now want to post the video on YouTube to expose the injustice, watch out! It’s illegal and  you will face more serious penalties  than the person committing the assault!

10: You can’t predict what can get you in trouble.
Just ask the guy who found himself in court facing a year in jail and a $2772 fine for posting a  picture of a fox  (that’s right, the animal) on Facebook. The man’s friends took offense, called the cops, and—with UAE laws being as vague as they are—he was up against a “defamation” charge.

Enjoy DIFF, but be aware that, in Dubai, expressing yourself can get you thrown into a very uncomfortable prison where there are definitely no movie nights.

By Shezanne Cassim 22 Nov, 2017

Planning a trip to Dubai? Looking forward to hitting up some of Dubai’s hip bars and enjoying a few drinks while you’re there? Before you go, you should know that Dubai’s been in the news lately because of its tendency to arbitrarily throw people in jail for things like drinking alcohol.

Local officials maintain that the problem is that tourists are ignorant of the law. But the truth is that Dubai’s antiquated shambles of a justice system, like a bad case of tile grout, needs serious professional cleaning. Dubai’s laws are vague, confusing, and arbitrarily enforced.*

So, if getting jailed for a normal activity—like drinking at a bar in Dubai—isn’t really your thing, there are a few things you should know about the law to avoid from becoming, shall we say, “unavoidably detained.”

Here are 10 things to know about drinking in Dubai:


1: You may not drink or possess alcohol in Dubai  without an alcohol license .
Where do you get one? See Point 2.

2: Visitors are  not eligible  for an alcohol license.
Read Point 1 again and scratch your head.

3: Drinking alcohol without a license is a jailable offense.
How much jail time are we talking about? A local newspaper says  six months , but a Chief Justice says  five years . Is the Chief Justice just having a bad day? Do Dubai justice-system officials simply make things up as they go along? Are those things mutually exclusive? You would be wise to ponder.

4: You are not allowed to have  any  alcohol in your body when in public.
When you’ve had some bubbly on the plane and land at the airport with alcohol in your system, welcome to Dubai! You’ve just committed your first jailable offense.

5: When you buy alcohol at the airport duty free, you’ve just committed your second jailable offense.
And you haven’t even left the airport yet! Seriously, stop.

6: If you’re a tourist, it’s illegal to drink at a bar .
Even if you’re at a hotel bar and everyone around you is a fellow tourist knocking back shot after shot, it’s not legal for you to drink (and everyone else is breaking the law too). Sure, no-one’s getting handcuffed and thrown into the back seat of a cop car right now, but are you willing to bet your freedom, your job, or your life on the odds that your luck will hold?

7: Thinking about drinking while being Muslim? Sorry,  that’s Illegal .
No license for you!

8: Thinking about attending a house party? Then you’d better hope the neighbors don’t report the party.
If they do, be prepared to spend months in an overcrowded, maggot-infested jail sleeping on a sweat, blood, and pus-stained mattress while prosecutors “investigate.”

9: A mere accusation of wrongdoing is enough to draw police attention.
If that random guy you touched to avoid spilling your drink accuses you of sexual assault and  calls the cops  and you have alcohol in your system, you can now look forward to going to jail for sexual assault and drinking illegally!

10: Even Dubai’s judges admit  the alcohol license and laws are confusing .
Would you trust a heart surgeon who couldn’t tell the difference between your heart and your rectum? Trusting a judge in Dubai poses a similar conundrum.

If you’re the adventurous type, have fun while you’re in Dubai. But not too much fun...unless you’re prepared to have your weekend trip turned into an unknowably long tour of Dubai’s awful jail cells.

*Author’s note: As much as those officials will blame you for not knowing the law, I was raised in Dubai and even I can’t say for sure what the law on drinking actually is. The relevant law isn’t officially published anywhere that mere mortals can access (just try doing a web search for it—just try). The best I can do is tell you what the state-controlled local media says is the law.
By Shezanne Cassim 17 Nov, 2017

When the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on November 11, the UAE government called it a museum “ that will broadcast tolerance and acceptance .” But Abu Dhabi authorities had already shattered that image two days earlier by detaining two Swiss journalists who were covering the museum’s opening.

Reporter Serge Endelin and cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson  were detained  November 9 while filming at an outdoor market. They were held incommunicado for more than 50 hours, during which they were interrogated for up to 9 hours at a time and blindfolded as they were shuttled from one location to another. According to Swiss broadcaster RTS, Abu Dhabi officials wanted to know why Endelin and Bjorgvinsson were working in the marketplace and seemed angry that Pakistani workers had been filmed. Officials allowed the journalists to return to Switzerland but made them leave their equipment and footage behind.

The irony of opening such a museum in a country where there is no freedom of expression is very clear. The detention of the Swiss journalists only further underscores the contrast between the modern image the UAE is trying to build and the reality of the country’s dismal human-rights record.

The detention of the journalists should give those planning on visiting the UAE pause for thought, but if you’re set on going, stay tuned for some tips on how to make sure you won’t be staying longer than you expect...

By Shezanne Cassim 21 Oct, 2017

Reports of travelers being locked up while on holiday in—or simply passing through—the UAE continue to regularly make news. Because the UAE has gone to great lengths to portray itself as a modern business and tourist destination, this continuous news drip makes local officials and lawyers defensive. Instead of fixing the problem, they have decided to explain that this isn’t the UAE’s fault. In at least one recent news  article  published by state-controlled media, officials have claimed that the real problem is that travelers are jailed because they don’t know the country’s laws.

But this spate of arbitrary detentions has nothing to do with travelers who don’t have a handbook of UAE laws. The problem is that, first, the UAE’s laws are unclear and unpredictably enforced and, second, people can be detained without warning for some harmless act and then be denied the right to defend themselves.

The case of Jamie Harron illustrates this point to a farcical degree. While on a two-day stopover in Dubai this July, Harron, 27, from Scotland, visited a bar. According to Harron, he touched a man’s hip while preventing a drink from spilling. That man took offense and called the police. Harron was detained and charged with drinking alcohol and “public indecency” solely on the basis of the man’s complaint. Harron, who was granted bail after five days in jail, has lost his job and has racked up over £30,000 ($40,000) in legal bills. The judge handed him a  30-day jail sentence  for the charge of drinking alcohol. He’s now waiting for a judgment on the “public indecency” charge on October 22.

Here’s the problem: it wouldn’t have mattered if Harron knew the law because the UAE's alcohol laws are not consistently enforced. Though Dubai markets itself as a great place to drink, and thousands of tourists do so in the city’s many bars,  it’s illegal for tourists to consume alcohol . The catcher is that the law is only enforced some of the time, and there’s no telling when or who will be targeted.

Knowing the law wouldn’t have helped Harron avoid a charge of “public indecency” for touching the man’s hip, either. The vagueness of UAE laws means that anyone can find any action “offensive” and have you detained just by complaining to the police. Recently, individuals have been prosecuted for a  handshake , posting a picture of a fox on Facebook, or taking  pictures of a local racetrack  or even just taking  pictures of the sunset . In the UAE, someone could find the way you walk, the way you breathe, or the way you laugh “offensive” and have you locked up with just his word against yours.

Once detained, you will be unable defend yourself because there’s no due process. Police and prosecutors are free to fabricate evidence against you, and you can be denied access to an attorney (who can’t do much to help you anyway) while judges go along with it all.

Once you’ve been locked up, you then also fall victim to the chaos of UAE courts. Judges fail to show up for work, so after spending a whole day sitting in the courtroom waiting for the judge to appear, your case will be postponed again and again over a period of months while you languish in a cell. Jamie Harron was lucky enough to get bail, but his conviction for drinking alcohol was made “in absentia” because it didn’t occur to any court official to inform him of the date of his trial.

That the spate of detentions is due to arbitrary enforcement of the law and not ignorance becomes very clear when you take into account the fact that people with connections to influential officials like UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba  can flout the country’s laws with impunity  while ordinary guys like Jamie Harron get hit hard. Until the UAE has a justice system that is predictable, accountable, and transparent, “knowing the law” will not save you from the nightmare of being thrown in jail for any reason or no reason at all.

By Shezanne Cassim 10 Oct, 2017

Dubai cops have locked up a tourist for drinking at a bar.

Jamie Harron, a 27-year-old British tourist is facing a three-year jail sentence in Dubai after allegedly putting his hand out in a bar  to stop himself spilling his drink  and touching a man’s hip. That man called the police.

Harron’s case is yet another example of how vulnerable tourists are to being arbitrarily detained in the UAE, where merely an accusation is enough to have someone jailed. Harron was charged with drinking alcohol even though he was at a bar that is permitted by the government to sell alcohol to patrons, including tourists. The Dubai government portrays the city as a modern and liberal tourist haven, but Harron’s case shows how tourists and residents are at constant risk just for merely drinking at the very hotels and other establishments the government promotes.

Harron is now facing charges of “drinking alcohol” and “public indecency.” Harron was in a jail for five days before being released on bail, but has since been trapped in the UAE for three months. He has lost his job and racked up over £30,000 (approximately $39,000) in legal fees and expenses.

Harron was expected to show up for a court hearing last Sunday, but the court moved the hearing date without informing him. Harron has now reportedly been sentenced to 30 days imprisonment for failing to show up.

UAE court proceedings are a shambles. There’s no due process, so anyone who doesn’t like your face can get you detained just by complaining to the police. Once they’re locked up, prisoners aren’t informed that they’re due in court until the morning of the hearing, judges don’t show up for work and even court clerks are completely unaware of the judge’s whereabouts or which cases are to be tried on that day. Prisoners are often not brought to their hearings by the police. It is not surprising that Harron has become a victim of the Dubai justice system’s own mismanagement.

Until the UAE brings its justice system into the modern era, visitors and residents remain at constant risk.

By Shezanne Cassim 30 Aug, 2017

The UN’s International Day of the Victims of  Enforced Disappearances  falls on Wednesday, August 30. It’s particularly ugly for the UAE this year because it marks over five months of its continuing detention of award-winning Emirati human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor.

In the early hours of March 20 2017, UAE security officials abducted Mansoor from his home. Mansoor’s family had  no idea of his whereabouts  until officials released a statement nine days later saying he was being held at Abu Dhabi’s central prison.

The fact that a person who has emphatically called for an end to arbitrary detention in the UAE has himself become a victim of enforced disappearance is another black mark on the UAE’s reputation. What’s more, of course, is that Mansoor’s experience is just the tip of the iceberg for what has become an epidemic of enforced disappearances and unlawful detention in the UAE.

The UAE has worked hard to build itself an image as a liberal, forward-thinking society, but its continuing practice of enforced disappearances gives it a reputation that’s exactly the opposite. It’s well past time for the UAE to release Ahmed Mansoor and the others its officials have abducted.

By Shezanne Cassim 03 Aug, 2017

A British student currently serving a 9-year prison sentence in the UAE is appealing to the ruler of the emirate of Sharjah for a royal  pardon , bringing attention yet again to UAE officials’ routine use of false confessions to secure convictions.

Ahmad Zeidan, now 23, was jailed for drug possession at the age of 19 after accepting a ride in a car in which police found 0.04 grams of cocaine. Zeidan states he was tortured into making a false confession.

It’s been clear for several years that UAE officials routinely rely on false confessions to unlawfully detain and convict innocent people. There’s the UK’s David Haigh, whom Dubai Police officers  tortured  while trying to force him to make a confession, and there are the American, Canadian, and Libyan businessmen UAE State Security officials tortured into  falsely confessing  to supporting terrorism. Then there’s me: I was forced to sign a  false confession  accepted without investigation and used by the UAE Supreme Court as the sole basis for my conviction.

Zeidan’s case is just one of the most recent instances of UAE officials using this method to stack the deck in their favor. A recent  report  by the nonprofit organization Reprieve (UK) found that 85% of prisoners for whom it had data at Dubai Central Prison said they were forced to sign documents in a language they did not understand.  More than 75% of them said they had been physically abused in detention, and—like me—96% had been interrogated by police without seeing a lawyer.

Zeidan’s case highlights the risk people can face if they live in, or even just visit, the UAE. Innocent people are jailed indefinitely without regard to widely recognized human rights—including the right to defend themselves. Productive members of society are ripped from their jobs (or, in Zeidan’s case, from their education) and are held hostage from their families. They’re financially ruined by the costs of trying to fight a legal system that has unrecognizable rules, protects the state and not the individual, and faces very little pressure to change. Detainees have to bear the cost of paying local lawyers who have little power to represent their clients who, despite being in jail, must keep paying rent and other bills or risk having another criminal case brought against them for unpaid debts.

The UAE markets itself as a strong ally of the United States, and it uses its glamorous image to encourage Americans to move there for work or to visit as tourists. But if the UAE cannot guarantee travelers’ safety and liberty—and refuses to restore justice to mistreated individuals— the United States would be wise to take steps to protect its citizens. It’s time for the UAE to stop its abuses.

By Shezanne Cassim 18 Jul, 2017

Thanks to a  report  by The Intercept, we now know that, in May 2013, the United Arab Emirates paid out a secret $10 million settlement to Khaled Hassen, an American businessman whom its officials had abducted and tortured while detaining  him incommunicado from January 1984 to November 1985.

This means that, while I was being detained without charge after uploading a comedy video to YouTube, the UAE was paying the price for unlawfully detaining and mistreating another person. Despite being aware of the illegality of its abuses, the UAE chose to continue my unlawful detention for another eight months, releasing me only after my family and friends launched an international campaign to secure my release.

As The Intercept revealed, on Christmas Day 2013—eight months into my detention—Senator Amy Klobuchar urged UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba for my release by stating that “I continue to be shocked that he is still in jail [...] I believe your country has reached a place on the world stage where these things matter even if they were acceptable in the past.” Ambassador Al Otaiba’s response that  “I assure you that’s precisely the case I am making and it does have merit” shows that UAE officials were very much aware that their actions were illegal .

And that was not the last time the UAE would admit fault. Soon after my release in January 2014—only after a show trial where judges used a false confession to find me “guilty” of “endangering the country’s national security”—UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum admitted that my mistreatment was a  mistake .

So, even after settling with Hassen, the UAE continued to detain me—and several other individuals—unlawfully. The abduction and torture of  American  and  Canadian  businessmen in Dubai in 2014, for example, are fresh in memory, and there are surely still others currently enduring mistreatment in the UAE’s prisons despite having done nothing wrong. We deserve justice too.

By Shezanne Cassim 05 May, 2017

The new Dubai Font that was launched with much fanfare by the Dubai government and Microsoft earlier this week was quickly shot down by people who  pointed out  that promotional slogans like “Expression has no boundaries or limits” were completely at odds with the UAE’s draconian restrictions against free expression. As Human Rights Watch’s Nicholas McGeehan and others have pointed out on  Twitter , a look at the fine print (no pun attempted) very much bears that out: the Dubai government wants to retain control over what people say while using the font.

The Dubai font is available for download from a Government of Dubai website whose  Terms of Use  come with some striking restrictions.

First, those terms assert that use of the font is governed by UAE law, and that “You hereby irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of the Courts of the Emirate of Dubai.”

By Shezanne Cassim 02 May, 2017

Dubai’s crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, announced the launch of the  Dubai Font —Dubai’s own Microsoft font—on Sunday amid official announcements that included phrases like “Expression knows no boundaries or limits,” and “Expression is strength and freedom. It defines who you are.”

I know firsthand how detached from reality these statements are, and you don’t have to look very far at all to see the UAE’s many boundaries and limits against expression. You can be jailed for posting a  comedy video  based on your own childhood, of course. But there are also the restrictions on  academic freedom , the harsh and inexplicable treatment of residents who have posted innocuous  pictures  on Facebook, the risk that talking about  fires and floods  could get you charged with threatening state security, the confiscation by officials of a  short-story collection  set in Dubai, the restrictions on what you can and can’t say in private conversations on  WhatsApp —the list goes on.

And then there’s  Ahmed Mansoor , the award-winning Emirati human-rights activist who has been in detention since March for peacefully expressing his views. Not only is Mansoor an example of the UAE’s restrictions on expression, his experiences fighting off  spyware  from hackers suspected of working on behalf of UAE authorities raise a disturbing question: is it a good idea to download anything—even a font—that’s being promoted by UAE officials?

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By Shezanne Cassim 06 Dec, 2017

Heading to the 2017 Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF)? I mean why not, right? DIFF does a great job of celebrating art and expression.

All right, I’m kidding. The government-run DIFF only pretends to do that. DIFF is more an attempt to launder Dubai’s image than a true film festival aimed at encouraging creative expression.

So what’s really going on away from the stage and cinema lights? Here are 10 things to know about free expression in Dubai.

1: Local filmmakers  must get their scripts approved by the government .
Sadly, a lot of interesting things happen in Dubai that are not made into films because Big Brother will say "No." The restrictions aren’t only limited to film— books  are subject to censorship too.

2: Censorship is rife.
Nudity and other things that are “harmful to national security ” are censored out of movies playing in local theaters, but the state-sanctioned DIFF conveniently  screens uncensored films . Meanwhile, in 2012, Dubai residents were left fuming that they couldn’t watch  Game of Thrones .

3: Posting photographs of people without their consent is a  criminal offense .
How great would it be to take a picture of you at DIFF and post it on Instagram? Sounds harmless enough, but all it takes is one person in the crowd to report your actions, and off to jail you go. Extra time in the slammer if you’ve had any alcohol.

4: There is no freedom of the press in the UAE.
Journalists are  detained , interrogated, blindfolded, forced to give up their equipment, and expelled from the country for reporting on things the government doesn’t want you to see. But some of them are first given the opportunity to turn snitch against their fellow journos for “ Some fucking good money .”

5: If you post anything online about something the government doesn’t want you to see—like heavy  rain , one of Dubai’s skyscraper fires, or car accidents—you could be fined and jailed indefinitely.
That’s right, the sun always shines in Dubai.

6: It is illegal to  express negative opinions  of anybody or anything.
Didn’t like the film you watched? Keep your opinions to yourself or you could find yourself  fined .

7: Watch what you tweet.
You can be jailed for “defamatory”  tweets  (even if you were in jail at the time and had no internet access!). And if you think using other messaging apps is safe, think again— sending a middle-finger emoji on Whatsapp  can land you in jail too.

8: Dubai’s government doesn’t limit its promotional tools to just film festivals.
Earlier this year, the Dubai government  launched the Dubai font  to much international fanfare, urging social media users to promote the font by using the hashtag #Expressyou. Buried in the terms and conditions was a warning that the font could not be used in any manner that goes against UAE “ public morals ” and that users “irrevocably submit to the jurisdiction of the Courts of the Emirate of Dubai.” Court!? For using a font?

9: Posting video of a government official assaulting a man in the street is a serious offense.
If civic responsibility is your thing and you’ve filmed a government official committing a violent assault on the street and now want to post the video on YouTube to expose the injustice, watch out! It’s illegal and  you will face more serious penalties  than the person committing the assault!

10: You can’t predict what can get you in trouble.
Just ask the guy who found himself in court facing a year in jail and a $2772 fine for posting a  picture of a fox  (that’s right, the animal) on Facebook. The man’s friends took offense, called the cops, and—with UAE laws being as vague as they are—he was up against a “defamation” charge.

Enjoy DIFF, but be aware that, in Dubai, expressing yourself can get you thrown into a very uncomfortable prison where there are definitely no movie nights.

By Shezanne Cassim 22 Nov, 2017

Planning a trip to Dubai? Looking forward to hitting up some of Dubai’s hip bars and enjoying a few drinks while you’re there? Before you go, you should know that Dubai’s been in the news lately because of its tendency to arbitrarily throw people in jail for things like drinking alcohol.

Local officials maintain that the problem is that tourists are ignorant of the law. But the truth is that Dubai’s antiquated shambles of a justice system, like a bad case of tile grout, needs serious professional cleaning. Dubai’s laws are vague, confusing, and arbitrarily enforced.*

So, if getting jailed for a normal activity—like drinking at a bar in Dubai—isn’t really your thing, there are a few things you should know about the law to avoid from becoming, shall we say, “unavoidably detained.”

Here are 10 things to know about drinking in Dubai:


1: You may not drink or possess alcohol in Dubai  without an alcohol license .
Where do you get one? See Point 2.

2: Visitors are  not eligible  for an alcohol license.
Read Point 1 again and scratch your head.

3: Drinking alcohol without a license is a jailable offense.
How much jail time are we talking about? A local newspaper says  six months , but a Chief Justice says  five years . Is the Chief Justice just having a bad day? Do Dubai justice-system officials simply make things up as they go along? Are those things mutually exclusive? You would be wise to ponder.

4: You are not allowed to have  any  alcohol in your body when in public.
When you’ve had some bubbly on the plane and land at the airport with alcohol in your system, welcome to Dubai! You’ve just committed your first jailable offense.

5: When you buy alcohol at the airport duty free, you’ve just committed your second jailable offense.
And you haven’t even left the airport yet! Seriously, stop.

6: If you’re a tourist, it’s illegal to drink at a bar .
Even if you’re at a hotel bar and everyone around you is a fellow tourist knocking back shot after shot, it’s not legal for you to drink (and everyone else is breaking the law too). Sure, no-one’s getting handcuffed and thrown into the back seat of a cop car right now, but are you willing to bet your freedom, your job, or your life on the odds that your luck will hold?

7: Thinking about drinking while being Muslim? Sorry,  that’s Illegal .
No license for you!

8: Thinking about attending a house party? Then you’d better hope the neighbors don’t report the party.
If they do, be prepared to spend months in an overcrowded, maggot-infested jail sleeping on a sweat, blood, and pus-stained mattress while prosecutors “investigate.”

9: A mere accusation of wrongdoing is enough to draw police attention.
If that random guy you touched to avoid spilling your drink accuses you of sexual assault and  calls the cops  and you have alcohol in your system, you can now look forward to going to jail for sexual assault and drinking illegally!

10: Even Dubai’s judges admit  the alcohol license and laws are confusing .
Would you trust a heart surgeon who couldn’t tell the difference between your heart and your rectum? Trusting a judge in Dubai poses a similar conundrum.

If you’re the adventurous type, have fun while you’re in Dubai. But not too much fun...unless you’re prepared to have your weekend trip turned into an unknowably long tour of Dubai’s awful jail cells.

*Author’s note: As much as those officials will blame you for not knowing the law, I was raised in Dubai and even I can’t say for sure what the law on drinking actually is. The relevant law isn’t officially published anywhere that mere mortals can access (just try doing a web search for it—just try). The best I can do is tell you what the state-controlled local media says is the law.
By Shezanne Cassim 17 Nov, 2017

When the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened on November 11, the UAE government called it a museum “ that will broadcast tolerance and acceptance .” But Abu Dhabi authorities had already shattered that image two days earlier by detaining two Swiss journalists who were covering the museum’s opening.

Reporter Serge Endelin and cameraman Jon Bjorgvinsson  were detained  November 9 while filming at an outdoor market. They were held incommunicado for more than 50 hours, during which they were interrogated for up to 9 hours at a time and blindfolded as they were shuttled from one location to another. According to Swiss broadcaster RTS, Abu Dhabi officials wanted to know why Endelin and Bjorgvinsson were working in the marketplace and seemed angry that Pakistani workers had been filmed. Officials allowed the journalists to return to Switzerland but made them leave their equipment and footage behind.

The irony of opening such a museum in a country where there is no freedom of expression is very clear. The detention of the Swiss journalists only further underscores the contrast between the modern image the UAE is trying to build and the reality of the country’s dismal human-rights record.

The detention of the journalists should give those planning on visiting the UAE pause for thought, but if you’re set on going, stay tuned for some tips on how to make sure you won’t be staying longer than you expect...

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