A kiss on the cheeks may land you in jail in Dubai

March 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Dubai, public displays of affection will land you in jail.  That’s what happened to a British woman and her boyfriend who kissed each other (on the cheek) at a public restaurant, only to be promptly reported to the police and then arrested.

Meeting at Bob’s Easy Diner, a seaside restaurant in Dubai, 25-year-old Charlotte Adams greeted 24-year-old Ayman Najafi with what the couple describes as a harmless exchange of cheek kisses.

“We kissed each other on the cheek as a greeting, nothing more,” Najafi said at a court hearing on Sunday.

Sitting at a nearby table, however, were an Emirati woman’s two daughters, who told their mother that the couple had kissed on the lips. The mother called the police, and Adams and Najafi were arrested on charges of public indecency and drinking alcohol.

“My daughter told me that the accused were kissing on the mouth. Then I spotted them doing so myself. I also saw them touching each other, and they were seated two to three meters away from our table. A number of customers witnessed the scene as well,” the Emirati woman who filed the complaint testified in a court appearance Sunday.

Their passports confiscated, the couple now face the prospect of one month in jail and subsequent deportation from Dubai.

According to ABC News, employees at the restaurant said they saw no signs of inappropriate behavior from the couple.

“They said they were just sitting, laughing like everyone else,” the restaurant’s manager told ABC News. “The managers wouldn’t let it happen — we know the culture of the country, and we wouldn’t allow this at all.”

“There was no lip kissing. It was just a normal greeting that is not considered offensive,” lawyer Khalaf al-Hosani told the court, adding the complainant’s testimony was contradictory.

The British man’s mother in London said her son, Ayman Najafi, had vowed to clear his name.

“My Ayman is a good boy, he’s very wise and mature. I can’t believe it,” his mother Maida Najafi was quoted as saying in The Independent. “He knows the rules over there. He would never do that. He wouldn’t even do it over here.”
While alcohol is sold at hotels and bars in Dubai, technically it is against the law to drink without a liquor permit from the Ministry of the Interior.   At their discretion, police can impose fines or imprisonment, especially in cases involving public drunkenness.

On its Web site, the U.S. Department of State warns travelers from the U.S. about the strict nature of Dubai’s legal code.

Americans have been arrested in the past for obscene hand gestures, using inappropriate (foul) language with a police official, and for making public displays of affection, such as kissing.  Adams, a real estate agent who came to Dubai for a vacation, and Najafi, a marketing consultant based in Dubai, are free on bail pending an April 4 court date.  The pair, free on bail, were also fined 1,000 dirhams ($272) for illegal consumption of alcohol, the lawyer said.

Dubai’s foreign population has expanded rapidly in recent years as expatriates flocked to the Gulf Arab trade and tourism hub for its tax-free earnings and year-round sunshine.

The changes have challenged the Emirati population, which is now vastly outnumbered by foreigners, raising concern that their emirate’s rapid pace of growth is a threat to their social and religious identity in what remains a deeply conservative region.

In a high-profile case in 2008, a British couple narrowly escaped jail after a court found them guilty of engaging in drunken sexual activity out of wedlock, and for doing so in public on a beach in the emirate.

They were sentenced to 3 months in prison followed by deportation, but had their jail terms overturned on appeal.

In a separate case this year, a British couple who shared a hotel room managed to escape trial in Dubai for having sex out of wedlock by producing a marriage certificate.

A British embassy spokesman said it could confirm that a British national was arrested in November and the mission had provided consular assistance, but gave no further details.

The case is the third time in less than 2 years in which Brits have hit the headlines by falling foul of decency laws in Dubai, a flashy Muslim emirate popular with sun-seeking Western tourists and expatriates.

-janette dillerstone

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