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The British head of a professional soccer team, David Haigh , was ordered jailed for seven months for a tweet that he says could not have been from him — since he was already in jail without a phone. An Australian aid worker living in Dubai, Scott Richards, was locked up for trying to raise money to buy blankets for freezing Afghan children, because he was not part of a recognized charity.
Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, portrays itself as welcoming to foreigners. Its boosters claim it is the fourth most-visited tourism destination in the world , and it has at least 12 times as many foreign residents as citizens.
But a legal system based on a hard-line interpretation of Shariah law often lands foreigners in jail for offenses that few Westerners would dream were even crimes. Hotels do not ask couples for their marriage licenses. Dubai has a lively night life, with numerous gay bars and nightclubs where East European prostitutes openly solicit customers.
Yet cohabitation is a crime, homosexuality is subject to the death penalty though it is rarely imposed and prostitution can be punished with lashes and even worse. Even victims of violent crimes can be accused of morality offenses: Gay people who report assaults have been jailed along with their attackers, and women who report being raped can be imprisoned for adultery if they do not have four male witnesses to support their story. Radha Stirling, a British lawyer, says she has represented hundreds of Westerners who have been jailed in Dubai for behavior that is usually permitted there.
Stirling, who runs a British-based group, Detained in Dubai , that publicizes such cases. Two recent cases, both handled by Ms.