Dubai: Alleged victim of gang rape sentenced to one year in prison

LA Times

The Criminal Court of Abu Dhabi, in the capital of the United Arab Emirates, ruled this week that an 18-year-old Emirati woman who accused six men of gang-raping her will herself serve a one-year sentence for consensual sex. It's one of in the latest in a scourge of reported rape cases in Dubai, The court proceedings were marred by legal travesties, experts say. While the plaintiff was not granted a lawyer, the defendants were. Moreover, the plaintiff could not have any family members present with her during the trial, the court decided. The prosecution also argued that simply because the plaintiff agreed to enter the police officer's car, this action somehow constituted partial consent to sex, The National reported.

Emirati authorities had kept the plaintiff imprisoned since she made the allegations last month.

Meanwhile, the accused rapists mostly got off lightly. A police officer will serve one year in prison for extramarital sex and two of the other defendants were sentenced to three months for being in the company of a woman not related to them by blood.

Two more defendants must pay a fine of 5,000 dirhams, or $1,361.50, for violating public decency.

The court dropped charges against the sixth defendant.

The case has made headlines in the Persian Gulf.

On May 2, the plaintiff and one of the defendants, a 19-year-old Emirati military police officer, went for a ride in his Nissan Altima in Dubai. The woman announced during the public hearing that she had agreed to his offer of 10,000 dirhams, or $2,722.61, for sex.

The police officer's friends, four Emiratis and one Iraqi, followed the two in a separate car as he invited them to take turns raping her for hours later that day, it was alleged. The forensics report confirmed that the woman had bruises covering her body from beatings on two separate occasions. The plaintiff first claimed that her brother attacked her after she confided to her family that she was the victim of gang-rape.

On May 24, the plaintiff retracted her charges of rape. Appearing before a public hearing, shackled and clothed in an inmate's uniform of hunter green and a black headscarf, she rescinded the allegations "to get out of" jail, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. At that point, she was facing a penalty for extramarital sex, which is 100 lashes and a minimum of three years in prison.

Experts are not yet certain if the reported rape cases in 2010 represent a quantitative increase, as no local community associations or government entities maintain statistics on gender-based violence. It may, in fact, reflect a social opening whereby the pervasive threat of rape has finally become a topic for discussion in the Emirates.

Patterns do emerge, with time, as defendants in other cases explain that if a woman consents to sex with them, they then may choose to "share" her with friends, as in yet another recent rape case in Kuwait.

Human Rights Watch's Middle East North Africa researcher Nadya Khalife told Babylon & Beyond that women often keep silent about sexual crimes.  "The majority of women in the UAE do not report rape or other crimes of sexual assault," she said. "I think that local and international media are now focusing a bit more on violence against women, with more reporting, and this is encouraging people to openly discuss these issues."

Cultural norms and social dimensions tend to influence the criminalization of rape victims in the UAE, Khalife said. "Women who have been raped fear that they will not be taken seriously, or that they will also be charged with a crime," she said. "Also, some women are afraid of tarnishing their family’s name if they were raped because in most societies in the Middle East, a woman’s honor is highly valuable. A rape victim may be pressured by her own family to not report a crime or press charges against the perpetrator, or even be forced to marry the same man who raped her."

Despite the technology and opulence of the United Arab Emirates, debilitating gender stereotypes and assumptions against women in public threaten women's personal safety. Khalife explained,

"The UAE is still a largely conservative and traditional country where women’s social status is not as high as most would like to think," she said. "Issues around sexuality are still considered taboo and viewed as matters that are dealt within the family."

The courts' posturing against extramarital sex rather than rape is another disadvantage for female victims. "Consensual sex is criminalized," Khalife said. "This makes it very difficult for women to prove that they were in fact raped because the attention is deflected from rape and assault and the concentration now lies on an act that was committed outside of marriage."

For victims of rape, the penalties they face may discourage reporting. "The major legal ramification for women who have been raped is that they will most likely be charged with illegal sex or sex outside marriage. Illicit sex carries a harsh sentence of imprisonment and/or flogging."

At least in some cases, the courts come down firmly on the side of the victim. On June 7, the Abu Dhabi courts upheld the death sentence for 31-year-old Emirati fisherman Rashid Rubaih Al Rashidi, who was convicted by two courts in January and April of raping and killing a 4-year-old Pakistani boy, Moussa Moukhtiar.

In November, Rashidi allegedly offered the young child a gift if he would come with him to the bathroom of a mosque. After luring the boy, Rashidi gagged and raped him and then smashed his head on the bathroom floor, reported Khaleej Times.

Rashidi is the only Emirati national out of the 24 men currently on death row in the UAE. Fifteen are Indian or Pakistani. Death by firing squad, the fate that awaits Rashidi, has not been doled out in the UAE for five years.

-- Becky Lee Katz in Beirut

Photo: The "mosque murderer," so dubbed by Dubai media, stands trial for the rape and murder of a 4-year-old Pakistani boy in the bathroom of a mosque. Credit: Gulf News.