British woman faces prison in Dubai for telling flatmate to ‘f*** off’ on Whatsapp

A British woman has been detained in Dubai after her flatmate reported her for saying ‘f**k you’ in a private WhatsApp row during lockdown. 


The unnamed woman, 31, had been arguing with her Ukrainian flatmate over the use of the dining room table while working from home in October last year. 

She then attempted to leave the United Arab Emirates and move back to the UK on Saturday, after finding a new job. But she was pulled aside by airport authorities, who told her she couldn’t leave the country as there was a police case against her. 

She is now facing up to two years in jail or could have to pay thousands of pounds in a fine. The woman has now been detained in Dubai, despite having already shipped her belongings back to the UK. 

She has begged her flatmate to drop the case against her – but said she had refused. She told The Sun: I can’t believe what my flatmate has done — she has been so spiteful. I pleaded with her to withdraw the complaint but she said, “This is a criminal case”.’ 

The woman also told Detained in Dubai how the pair had been ‘casual’ with one another and said she was shocked that a European was taking advantage of the UAE’s strict laws.

She said: ‘I’ve never been in trouble in my life, and I’m shocked that I’ve been criminalised over a private WhatsApp exchange with someone whom I lived with. 

‘What’s worse, the messages were from months ago and only now, when I’ve shipped all of my belongings, booked a flight and when my visa is about to expire, do I even find out about this case. 

‘I tried to plead with her to drop the case, but she doesn’t seem to care about the impact this is having.’ 

Saying ‘f**k’ is considered a crime in Dubai, as the word ‘disgraces the honour or the modesty’ of a person, according to Article 373 of the UAE Penal Code. Using swear words on social media or messaging platforms is also considered a breach of cyber law.

Fines for swearing online can stretch up to 250,000 dirhams – the equivalent of around £52,000. 

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai and Due Process International, is representing the woman. She said her client had sworn on a private message ‘in the heat of a stressful, lockdown-induced household dispute’. She continued: ‘The UAE’s overreaching cybercrime laws have been responsible for numerous arrests of foreign nationals. 

‘Visitors to the UAE can be arrested, detained and prosecuted over a swear word, an offensive statement or derogatory comment said in the heat of the moment, and the UAE’s cybercrime laws are extraterritorial, meaning that the statement could have been made from outside of the UAE. 

‘The absurdity of these laws allows for husbands and wives, colleagues, friends, school kids, vindictive and spiteful individuals and provocateurs to hold jail cards over people they interact with, and they don’t even need to know them. 

‘Complete strangers are able to report social media comments they find offensive to the authorities and under the laws, they will be prosecuted, fined and even imprisoned.’ 

Ms Stirling noted that legal proceedings in Dubai can take months to go through the system, meaning the woman will likely have to shell out for hotel accommodation, legal fees and visa overstay fines on top of her punishment. 

She added: ‘The human toll is often unimaginable, especially when family members are separated.’

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