This article was originally published on April 8. Laleh Sharavesh has since been given permission to leave Dubai. For an updated version of this story click here.
A British single mother faces up to two years in jail and a fine of £50,000 (€58,000) in Dubai after being detained over comments she made on social media in 2016 insulting her husband’s new wife.
Laleh Sharavesh, 55, described Samah Al Hammadi on Facebook as a “horse” after being shocked to hear that the 42-year-old Tunisian woman had married her ex-husband Pedro, shortly after receiving divorce papers following 18 years of marriage.
According to the human rights group Detained in Dubai, Sharavesh was arrested at Dubai airport on March 10 after flying to the United Arab Emirates with her 14-year-old daughter Paris to attend the funeral of her former husband, who had died of a heart attack.
Under Dubai’s cybercrime laws, people who visit the desert state can be heavily fined and jailed for social media posts made before they visit, the campaign group warns. It’s believed that Sharavesh – who had lived in the UAE for eight months – was arrested following a complaint from her ex-husband’s new wife.
Detained in Dubai says the offending comments were made in Farsi. Sharavesh is said to have written “you left me for this horse” and “you married a horse you idiot”. She acknowledges she “reacted badly” and “lashed out”, but says she was angry and hurt after learning of her ex-husband’s new marriage when she saw pictures of the wedding on Facebook.
Police freed Sharavesh on bail with her daughter. But while Paris was flown back to London and has since been staying with relatives, her mother is not allowed to leave Dubai. Sharavesh, who says she has lost her job and is in debt because of her hotel bills, is due to appear in court again on Thursday.
Detained in Dubai, which has spoken to Laleh Sharavesh and is representing her, describes the family’s experience as “heartbreaking” and says it was warned the British government that its advice to tourists is “insufficient”.
“When the UAE introduced cybercrime laws, it rendered almost every visitor to the country a criminal. Visitors to Dubai are rightfully unaware that they could be jailed for a Facebook or Twitter post made from outside the jurisdiction of the UAE, and made years ago,” the organisation’s CEO Radha Stirling said in a statement.
The group is calling on Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler and the UAE’s prime minister, to appeal for Laleh Sharavesh’s release – and is urging the UK to step up diplomatic pressure. Euronews has asked the Dubai authorities for comment.
Strict morality and other laws in the United Arab Emirates have also got foreigners into trouble. In 2017 the Emirate of Dubai intervened and charges were dropped against a British man, Jamie Harron from Stirling, who had been accused of public indecency. He claimed he had inadvertently touched another man to avoid spilling a drink in a bar.
Last November British student Matthew Hedges was pardoned by the UAE after being sentenced to life in prison for spying. He maintained he was carrying out academic research.