Originally from Scotland, electrician Jamie Harron was in a Dubai bar when he reportedly lost his balance and had to hold a neighbor’s shoulder to regain his balance and then only to express his gratitude, patted the man on his behind after which Jamie Harron’s life changed.
Police were called. Harron was arrested and was well on his way to being featured in the latest anecdote about just how different things are in Dubai. Harron, an electrician from Stirling, Scotland, was traveling to Afghanistan for a new job. But what was supposed to be a relaxing two-day layover in Dubai, on the western edge of the Persian Gulf – he’d snapped photos of himself swimming in the Gulf and standing in front of a skyscraper – morphed into a months-long legal battle as Harron was tried, then convicted of sexual assault. He was also accused of raising his middle finger to his accuser as police were en route to the bar.
Harron’s ordeal ended Monday, when the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Maktum, nullified Harron’s conviction and the three-month jail sentence, The Associated Press reported. Harron was called to the police station (a summons he briefly feared was a trap) and handed his passport, free to leave the emirate whenever he wanted.
While navigating the legal maze, he’d lost his job and accumulated more than $40,000 in legal and other expenses.
“I’ve lost my job, I’m in debt now, I may be going to prison and all this for a two-day stopover,” he told the Independent newspaper. “The whole thing is like a horrible dream and I just don’t know when it is going to end. I thought it would be over by now but it feels like it will never be.
Harron is detained in Dubai, and an aid group that has been working with him applauded the ruler’s move but said the incident illustrates systemic problems in the United Arab Emirates. “Of course, a fully functional legal system would not require outside intervention, and a case like Jamie’s would never proceed in the first place,” the group said in a statement. “But we are enormously grateful to Sheikh Mohammed for stepping in and vindicating Jamie after months of hardship.”
Legal codes in the United Arab Emirates often ensnare expatriate residents and visitors lulled into assuming that the Western-style amenities – sprawling malls, five-star hotel bars and beach resorts – also mean relaxed rules on public behavior. Dubai, one of seven emirates that comprise the United Arab Emirates and the hub of the UAE tourist industry, does allow far more latitude on dress codes and other aspects compared with neighboring Persian Gulf nations. But UAE laws are still widely influenced by tribal codes and traditions that leave little flexibility.
Bouncing checks can be punishable by jail time, and women who report sexual assault can end up in legal trouble themselves on charges of having sex outside marriage. Travel groups and websites have made a cottage industry of listing how to avoid potential trouble in the UAE.