DUBAI — A Norwegian interior designer jailed in Dubai for illicit sex after she reported being raped says she has no regrets about coming forward if her warning will protect others from a similar fate.
A court on July 17 sentenced Marte Deborah Dalelv to 16 months in prison for having sex outside marriage, drinking and making false statements. She says a male colleague pulled her into his hotel room and raped her after she asked him to help her find her own room when they had had a few drinks.
The 24-year-old has been released on condition she remain at a Norwegian Christian center in Dubai pending the outcome of an appeal. Asked if she regretted reporting the assault, Dalelv said no: “The truth is the only thing that will help me get through this.”
The news has dominated the front pages in Norway and raised questions about the judicial system in the Gulf state, which lures large numbers of expatriates and tourists with a Western lifestyle but has little-publicised conservative laws on its books covering sex and alcohol.
Norway has complained. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told reporters: “We believe this is a completely unacceptable verdict, which is contrary to human rights and the basic sense of justice.”
In the United Arab Emirates, as in some other countries using Islamic law, a rape conviction can require either a confession or the testimony of four adult male witnesses.
According to the UK-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, Dalelv’s is only the latest in a string of cases in which women who have reported being raped have ended up with jail sentences.
Among recent cases, a Briton who alleged she had been raped by three men was fined for drinking alcohol. An Emirati woman was sentenced to a year in prison after claiming to have been gang-raped. An Australian woman was sent to prison for 11 months after reporting a gang-rape to police, the Centre said.
Dubai promotes itself as a resort destination and a base for international business. Its hotels have licensed nightclubs, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol openly.
But rarely enforced laws actually define it as illegal for residents to drink without a special license that few obtain. Possessing alcohol outside a licensed bar or being drunk in public are offenses, even if the alcohol was bought legally. Such laws can be used to prosecute visitors who are involved in accidents or report crimes.
In an interview with Reuters, Dalelv said that by coming forward she hoped to alert other people not to expect Western standards of judicial protection.
“Dubai seems like a Western city, but a lot of tourists don’t know, for example, that it’s not legal for them to drink alcohol,” she said.
Dalelv said she did not realize she would be treated as a criminal rather than as a victim, until after she reported the assault and found herself being interrogated at a police station. An officer asked if she was making the rape report because she had not enjoyed sex.
“That is when I knew: I don’t think they are going to believe me at all,” she said.
She was held in prison for four days until contact was made with the Norwegian consulate and bail arranged. She still expected to be exonerated when her legal team presented its case. Her conviction came as a shock.
“I am very surprised because we had a DNA report, we had a medical report … and still [the authorities] didn’t believe me.”