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Middle East

Dubai authorities decline to prosecute rape victim

Prosecutors in Dubai have dropped a case against a British woman facing criminal charges for engaging in extramarital sex after reporting a rape to police. Any sex outside of marriage is a crime in the Muslim city-state.

Dubai has decided not to prosecute a British woman who was facing charges of extramarital sexual relations after reporting she'd been raped. The woman, identified only by the initials ZJM, had told police she had been raped by two British men while on holiday in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

"Following the closure of the case, all three parties involved in the case are in the process of receiving their passports and are free to leave," prosecutors said in a statement. The case received attention around the world with human rights groups saying it highlighted persistent and deep-rooted prejudice against women in Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the UAE.

The woman's parents said their daughter had been on holiday with plans to travel onward to Australia when she reported being raped by two British men in a hotel room in Dubai and then arrested for reporting the assault. The family last month launched an online appeal for funds to cover the woman's legal defense, raising some 35,770 euros ($38,000). "Please help my daughter, she is being held in a prison cell in a foreign country for up to one year if we can't bail her out," the family wrote on the fundraising website.

Sex out of wedlock criminalized in Dubai

The UK-based legal advocacy group Detained in Dubai said a charge of extramarital sex can lead to imprisonment and flogging in Dubai. The woman lodged a rape complaint against the two men in late October, the group said. Police arrested the two men and questioned them.

Detained in Dubai welcomed the decision not to press charges of consensual sex outside marriage against the woman. "We expect that the international outrage that this case deserved, influenced authorities to drop the charges, in order to spare the UAE of such negative press," it said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The emirate is home to a large foreign population and it's not uncommon for foreigners to run afoul of the law that enforces conservative religious norms. A Norwegian woman who reported being raped by her boss received a 16-month jail sentence in 2013 for extramarital sex, perjury and consuming alcohol without a license after changing the story she'd told police. She was only freed after receiving a special pardon. Two British nationals were convicted of sex on the beach in 2008, while a British mother-of-two and her alleged lover were jailed for adultery after being reported by the estranged husband.

A spokeswoman for Britain's Foreign Office declined comment, referring all questions to the prosecutor's office in Dubai.

jar/sms (AFP, Reuters)