The year-long jailing of an American student in Dubai for the trivial crime of touching an airport security guard is a warning to the millions of tourists traveling to the strict Arab state, an activist said.
Radha Stirling, who heads the pressure group Detained in Dubai, said the sentence imposed on Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was a prime example of how holidays in the United Arab Emirates can end in a nightmare.
Speaking to MailOnline, he warned that a trip to the country could end up being a “one-way ticket” to jail.
Stirling said British tourists in the past have flouted tough laws in the desert paradise known for its glitz and glamor and favored by an army of influencers.
“Tourists are vulnerable to vindictive, false and unproven accusations that could leave them languishing in notorious prisons,” Ms Stirling said. “They are vulnerable to extortion schemes like those we see among airport staff, car rental agents, taxi drivers, etc.” And she added: ‘For many tourists, a trip to Dubai can be a one-way ticket to jail. ‘
New York-based student De Los Santos was accused of “assaulting and insulting” officials during a 10-hour layover at the country’s international airport after a flight from Turkey, where she had undergone a medical procedure.
After a medical corset fitted to her after her operation turned up at airport security, she was forced to strip semi-naked to show staff what she was wearing. Unable to put the corset back on, she reached out and touched a security guard’s arm for help.
The Dubai perpetrator accused the 21-year-old of “assaulting and insulting” the guard and banned him from leaving the country. She denied the accusations.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was accused of ‘assaulting and insulting’ officials during a 10-hour stopover at Dubai International Airport
In the photo: Dubai Al-Awir Central Prison located in the United Arab Emirates
Dubai International Airport where the July 14 incident took place
After being fined for the incident in July, the security guard appealed the court’s decision and this week De Los Santos learned she had been sentenced to a year in jail. Earlier this year, another American visitor, Tierra Allen, was jailed after being accused of yelling at car rental staff. Ms Stirling has been campaigning for De Los Santos’ release.
She said: ‘The recent high-profile cases of Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos and Tierra Allen serve as examples of what happens daily in Dubai.
‘Leaders have spent billions promoting a glamorous city to British and American audiences, relying entirely on the naivety of visitors and investors to attract dollars. ‘At the same time, the leaders have done very little to make the place safe for the very people they attract. ‘Tourists are vulnerable to vindictive, false and unproven accusations that could leave them languishing in notorious prisons.
“They are vulnerable to extortion schemes like those we see among airport staff, car rental agents, taxi drivers, etc.”
He added: “For many tourists, a trip to Dubai can be a one-way ticket.”
Detained in Dubai, he has helped dozens of British tourists who have faced harsh prison sentences for seemingly trivial crimes.
Laleh Shahravesh, 55, was detained under strict cybercrime laws when she visited the country with her daughter Paris in 2019. She was accused of calling her ex-husband’s wife a “horse” in a Facebook post.
A doctor shows a hallway in the medical center of Al-Awir Central Prison in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, 21, and a friend were headed to New York from Turkey and were detained by airport security during a 10-hour layover at Dubai International Airport.
De Los Santos photographed with her 44-year-old father who died, in this undated photo
Even though the social media post was made three years before her trip to Dubai, she was arrested and threatened with prison.
The 55-year-old paid a £625 fine, was allowed to leave the country and vowed never to return. Others who have flouted Dubai laws include a Scottish electrician called Jamie Harron, who was jailed for three months for groping a man in a bar.
Dubai-based Australian aid worker Scott Richards has been jailed for trying to raise money to buy blankets for Afghan children.
Authorities said it was not a registered charity and did not have permission to collect cash.
Former Apprentice contestant Selina Waterman-Smith faced jail earlier this year over a “bad check” she claims she didn’t write.
She claimed that a former associate had harassed her for several years and that she was a victim of extortion.
But when he refused to pay £27,000, his ex-partner claimed he owed her and had been unable to leave the country.
Stirling said: ‘In Dubai it’s not about guilt or innocence. A mere accusation is enough to secure a conviction, whether there is evidence of wrongdoing or not. Plaintiffs often use accusations to get large settlement payments to close the case.
‘Tourists from the UK and US should be aware that Dubai is a dangerous place to visit.
“Any country where a mere accusation without evidence can lead to long prison sentences is an unacceptable option for tourists and Dubai needs to work hard to stop this type of legal abuse.”