A New York business student has been jailed for a year in Dubai after she punched an airport security officer during a strip search as they checked her medical waistband and left her semi-naked.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, 21, who attends Lehman College in the Big Apple, was traveling to New York from Istanbul with a friend when they were stopped during a 10-hour layover at Dubai International Airport on July 14.
But what she thought would be a quick stop in the UAE has turned into a months-long nightmare after airport security was alerted to a brace Santos was wearing with brackets attached to it. She told airport officials that she had recently undergone surgery and had to wear the surgical brace 24 hours a day.
She was taken to a private room and ordered to remove the brace, which left her half-naked and feeling ‘violated’. She was eventually allowed to go, but unable to put the brace back on herself, she ‘gently’ touched one of the female customs officer’s arms to ask her friend to help her.
The female officers accused Santos of “assaulting and insulting” them, which De Los Santos denied. She was forbidden to travel home, and oOn Monday, she was sentenced to a year behind bars despite paying a fine of AED 10,000 ($2,722).
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos., 21, and a friend were traveling to New York from Turkey and were detained by airport security during a 10-hour layover at Dubai International Airport
In the photo: Al-Awir Central Prison in Dubai, located in the United Arab Emirates
Dubai International Airport, where the July 14 incident took place
Judges had ordered De Los Santos to pay the fine on August 24, but instead of being allowed to proceed, customs officials appealed the verdict.
She has now endured a months-long ordeal and had to spend $50,000 to pay for accommodation in the expensive country, along with legal fees.
Since mid-July, De Los Santos had to move from one hotel to another and waited for court hearings before learning of her sentence.
It is unclear where De Los Santos is currently being held, but Detained in Dubai, the non-profit organization advocating for her release, says it fears she will be held in the infamous prison. Al Awir Prison.
The detainee in Dubai has taken urgent action on behalf of Santos and is also calling on officials to take security measures to prevent other visitors to the country from being held for long periods of time and unfairly.
Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, said people can be held in the UAE for years on false or petty charges and wanted to warn Americans that Dubai is “a dangerous place to visit.”
“Elizabeth faced humiliating, painful and humiliating searches as she traveled to New York via the international hub from Istanbul, but the nightmare is not over,” Stirling said.
“Elizabeth planned to travel just six hours through Dubai, but she has been working there for months and has lost $50,000 in expenses and attorneys’ fees,” she said.
‘She has now been told she has a one-year prison sentence but that if all ‘goes well’ she will only be held until she can book a flight from the UAE.
‘In addition to being humiliated and traumatized by airport staff, Elizabeth has suffered months of being forced to stay in an expensive country, pay expensive lawyers and miss out on her university studies. Is this the kind of transport hub people would want to choose?’
She continued: ‘Elizabeth is extremely concerned that she will be held in the infamous Al Awir prison and not be allowed to leave the country (as promised).
“Even if she is deported tomorrow, she will remain in prison until then, not knowing if there will be further delays or if she will ultimately be forced to serve the entire sentence.
“This is an extreme situation for a 21-year-old.”
Sterling said a “mere accusation” is enough to secure a conviction, regardless of whether there is evidence of wrongdoing or not.
She also referenced the case of TikTok influencer Tierra Young Allen who was detained in the same country for three months earlier this year for “yelling” at a parking attendant.
A doctor shows a corridor in the medical center of Al-Awir Central Prison in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
De Los Santos pictured with her 44-year-old father, who has passed away, in this undated photo
“These Americans have one thing in common: they regret the day they ever decided to visit Dubai and they all continue to intensely warn other citizens to avoid the region,” Stirling said.
At the time of her detention, De Los Santos said, “We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city, but we were completely wrong.”
She also claimed that her mother was left in shock and suffering. She is very worried and keeps crying.’
US Representative Ritchie Torres’ office told DailyMail.com on Monday: “We are committed to working with US officials in the UAE to ensure Elizabeth can return home safely.”
A spokesperson for Lehman College, a liberal arts college in the Bronx, told DailyMail.com that Santos is a transfer student.
The next court hearing in De Los Santos is October 24.