On August 9th, two Singaporean Nationals were arrested in Abu Dhabi for “looking feminine”, both were charged with a criminal offence, and have already been sentenced. The Embassy advised them not to hire a lawyer. One is identified as a man and the other a pre-operative transgender woman (i.e. “male” on their passport).

The two were sentenced yesterday to 1 year jail. Crossdressing, transgenderism and homosexuality are crimes in the United Arab Emirates.

Similarly to previous clients of Detained in Dubai, the pair were arrested in a shopping mall. Information received so far suggests that they were in Dubai in a professional role, to work on a photo shoot.

It is believed the pair were unaware of the strict laws in place throughout the Emirates concerning impersonating a woman.

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said in response to the case, “The UAE has built a tolerant, cosmopolitan image, but the laws continue to reflect the conservative, traditional values of the society. It is not uncommon for visitors to be confused about what is or is not acceptable behaviour. In a very similar case just last year, we represented a British National who was arrested for “crossdressing”. Fortunately, our representation in that case led to the client being granted bail and ordered to pay a fine. But transgenderism and similar lifestyles continue to be criminalised in the UAE with often severe penalties, and visitors are advised to be cognisant of this fact.”

Though it is unclear at this point what the two were actually charged with, transgender people are generally categorised as “crossdressers”; as a man who dresses as a woman, or vice versa; which means that the transwoman in this case will be jailed in the male prison because that is what is stated on their passport. Stirling says, “We are concerned about the safety of both individuals; and we are in the process of securing legal representation for them, as well as being in touch with the Singaporean Embassy to support them in any way possible.”

Ms Stirling’s partner in Stirling Haigh (a UAE legal advisory firm) David Haigh, the former managing director of Leeds United Football Club was himself held in Dubai jail and suffered torture and abuse because of his sexuality. Haigh says “the UAE needs to be clear on what the law is and apply that law consistently. This is never more relevant than when it comes to the UAE law on homosexuality and transgenderism. Dubai, for example, has a significant gay and transgender community including many overtly gay bars & clubs. Understandably, this leads the tourist or business-person to believe homosexuality and transgenderism are acceptable. However, homosexuality and transgenderism are serious criminal offences, which will mean a lengthy jail term. This case is very close to my heart as I witnessed first-hand police in Dubai physically and verbally abusing transsexual women. The gay community around the world and the local gay community in the UAE needs to pressurise the UAE authorities to amend the outdated legislation. I call upon the UAE authorities to immediately release our clients and return them to their home”.

The pair now have 14 days to prepare an appeal against the court’s sentence.


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