A single mother from London was recently arrested at Dubai International Airport (DXB) under the UAE’s strict cybercrime laws for two Facebook posts she wrote in 2016 about her ex-husband’s new wife. Both Laleh Sharaveshm, 55 and her 14-year old daughter Paris were detained on arrival in Dubai on the 10th March – Laleh is not allowed to leave the country until the case has been settled. She faces up to two years in jail and a £50,000 fine if found guilty.
The charity worker from Richmond in South London moved back to the United Kingdom with her daughter in 2016 after spending eight months in Dubai with her husband, Pedro who was working in the Emirate for HSBC. Laleh expected Pedro to join her and Paris after his secondment had finished but instead, she was shocked to receive divorce papers after several months back in the UK.
To rub salt into the word, Laleh opened Facebook one morning and saw that Pedro had just got married to a new wife that he had met in Dubai. In a fit of rage, Laleh took to Pedro’s Facebook wall and posted two “unpleasant” comments below a photo of his wedding ceremony to new wife Samah Al Hammadi.
Written in Farsi the two comments translated into English read: “I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse,” and “You married a horse you idiot.”
After her marriage broke up Laleh built a new life as a single parent with her daughter in London until Pedro suddenly passed away from a heart attack on March 3. Despite the breakdown of their marriage, both Laleh and Paris decided to fly to Dubai to attend Pedro’s funeral and pay their last respects on March 10.
“We were married for 18 years after all. And Paris wanted to say goodbye to her father,” explains Laleh.
“We flew to Dubai where we were intending to stay for just five days and were arrested immediately upon entry because Pedro’s new wife Samah had reported my old Facebook post to the police.”
Laleh says police initially wanted to take her to the infamous Jebel Ali prison but instead confiscated her passport so that she could look after Paris. Her daughter has since returned to the UK. Laleh is expected back in court on April 11 where she faces a two-year prison term and a fine of up to £50,000 if found guilty.
“I reacted badly. I lashed out and wrote two unpleasant comments about his new wife on his Facebook page,” Laleh says.
“I know I shouldn’t have. I should have behaved better, but I felt angry, betrayed and hurt. After 18 years of marriage, such a small amount of time apart, he was getting married so quickly. He didn’t even have enough respect for me to tell me in advance”.
Radha Stirling of British human rights charity, Detained in Dubai has been helping Laleh with her case. Stirling claims the UAE’s tough cybercrime laws have “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 UAE’s cybercrime laws apply extraterritorially and retroactively.”
“The Cybercrime laws prohibit sharing charities online such as Amnesty International, they prohibit fundraising, sharing photos taken in public, for example, that includes a vehicle or other people. The laws further forbid anything “defamatory” against the UAE and this can even include the reporting of a news article and further prohibit the use of a VPN.”
Stirling hopes that Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed may be able to intervene to secure Laleh’s release. In November 2018, the Sheikh granted clemency to British-born Matthew Hedges after he was arrested and jail for life on charges of spying on behalf of the British government.
“The post would never be prosecuted as a criminal offence in England, and if the UAE intends to detain tourists for posts made from England, it will find itself rendered a no go zone to foreigners,” Stirling claims.
According to Detained in Dubai, the UAE introduced its so-called ‘Combatting Cybercrimes’ law in 2015 – the far-reaching regulation criminalises a number of online activities including anything that challenges public morality, promoting protests or even charities without a proper licence. It’s also illegal to publish news or information with the intent to damage the reputation, prestige or stature of the UAE.
British national Scott Richards who previously represented by Detained in Dubai when he was was charged for sharing a charity on his facebook page.
Laleh says she has been left in at least £5,000 debt and has lost her job after being arrested. She says her life has been left in “ruins” and that being separated from her daughter has had a huge emotional toll.
While the UAE’s cybercrime laws do seem draconian it’s also worth pointing out that Ms Sharaveshm could have faced prosecution in the UK for the comments she made if a complaint had been filed. It’s also important to add that the vast majority of visitors to Dubai are incredibly unlikely to ever have a problem with authorities in the country – although that’s often the biggest issue. Nothing’s a problem until it is.
What do you think? Are the Emirati authorities being heavy-handed and would you consider avoiding Dubai International Airport even as a transit stop because of cases like this?
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.