The UAE’s strict cyber-crime laws have come under scrutiny once again after it emerged that a British woman arrested last week in Dubai may face up to two years in jail for making insulting remarks on Facebook about her ex-husband’s new wife.
Londoner Laleh Shahravesh was arrested at Dubai airport. The 55-year-old, thought to be of Iranian descent, was on her way to attend her former husband’s funeral.
According to the campaign group Detained in Dubai, Shahravesh was married to her ex-husband for 18 years, during which time she lived in the UAE for eight months. While she returned to the UK with her daughter, her husband stayed in the UAE, and the couple got divorced.
Shahravesh is said to have discovered that her ex-husband was remarrying when in 2016 she saw photos of the new couple on Facebook. She described the new wife, Samah Al Hammidi as a “horse” and called her former husband an “idiot”.
Writing in Farsi Shahravesh is reported to have said: “I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse”.
Shahravesh and her 14-year-old daughter flew back to Dubai on 10 March to attend the funeral of her former husband who had died of a heart attack. She was arrested at the airport after her ex-husband’s new wife, who lives in Dubai, reported the comments that were made nearly three years ago.
Following her arrest, Al Hammidi was reported saying that she had “suffered in silence” for years and alleged that Shahravesh had sent numerous disparaging and abusive remarks since the divorce.
Under the UAE’s cyber-crime laws, a person can be jailed or fined for making defamatory statements on social media. Shahravesh may face up to two years in prison or a fine of £50,000, despite the 55-year-old writing the Facebook posts while in the UK.
The case raises further questions over the UAE’s reaction to issues related to cyber security, which came under criticism after UAE courts issued British academic, Matthew Hedges, a life sentence.
Hedges was later released after the Foreign Office (FCO) intervened on his behalf and are now seeking to free Shahravesh. It’s reported that officials at the FCO asked Al Hammidi to withdraw the allegation, but she is said to have refused.
The FCO said in a statement: “Our staff are supporting a British woman and her family following her detention in the UAE.”
According to the BBC Shahravesh’s 14-year-old daughter is putting together an appeal for her mother’s release. It also said that the FCO had come under criticism from rights group for failing to adequately warn tourist about the UAE’s complex and severe cyber-crime laws.