A NORWEGIAN woman sentenced to 16 months in jail in Dubai for having sex outside marriage after she reported an alleged rape has decided to speak out to highlight the risks of reporting crime against women in Islamic nations.
The case has sparked outrage among human rights groups and others in the West since interior designer Marte Deborah Dalelv, 24, was sentenced on Wednesday.
It also highlights the increasingly frequent clashes between the United Arab Emirates’ cosmopolitan atmosphere and its legal system, which is strongly influenced by Islamic traditions in a nation where foreign workers and visitors greatly outnumber locals.
“I have to spread the word. ... After my sentence we thought, ‘How can it get worse?”’ Dalelv said in an interview at a Norwegian aid compound in Dubai, where she is preparing her appeal, which is scheduled to be heard in early September.
Dalelv, who has worked for an interior design firm in Qatar since 2011, claims she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker in March while attending a business meeting in Dubai.
She said she fled to the hotel lobby and asked for the police to be called.
Hotel staff asked if she was sure she wanted to involve the authorities.
Dalelv said she replied: “Of course, I want to call the police. That is the natural reaction where I am from.”
Dalelv said she was given a medical examination seeking evidence of the alleged rape and underwent a blood test for alcohol. Such tests are commonly given in the Emirates for alleged assaults and in other cases. Alcohol is sold widely across Dubai, but anyone found drunk can face prosecution.
Despite being an alleged sexual assault victim, Dalelv went public of her own accord to talk to media. She was detained for four days after being accused of having sex outside marriage, which is outlawed in the UAE although the law is not actively enforced for tourists or the hundreds of thousands of westerners and others on resident visas.
She managed to reach her stepfather in Norway after being lent a phone card by another woman in custody.
“My stepdad, he answered the phone, so I said that I had been raped, I am in prison ... please call the embassy,” she recounted. “And then I went back and I... just had a breakdown. It was very emotional, to call my Dad and tell him what happened.”
Norwegian diplomats later secured her release and she has been allowed to remain at the Norwegian Seamen’s Centre in central Dubai. She said her alleged attacker received a 13-month sentence for consuming alcohol and having sex out of wedlock.
Dubai authorities did not respond to calls for comment, but the case has brought strong criticism from Norwegian officials and activists.
“This verdict flies in the face of our notion of justice,” Norway’s foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said, calling it “highly problematic from a human rights perspective”.
Previous cases in the Emirates have raised similar questions, with alleged sexual assault victims facing charges for sex-related offences. Other legal codes also have been criticised for being at odds with the western-style openness promoted by Dubai.
On Thursday, Dubai police said they arrested a man who posted an internet video of an Emirati beating an Asian van driver in an apparent road-rage incident. Police said they took the action because images of a potential crime had been “shared”.
In London, a spokesman for the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, a group monitoring the Gulf state, said the Dalelv case highlighted the need for the Emirates to expand its legal protections for rape victims.
Rori Donaghy said: “We urge authorities to reform the laws governing rape to ensure women are protected and do not become the targets of prosecution when reporting crimes.”