How a two-year-old Facebook post may lead to jail time for a visitor to Dubai

Comments posted on Facebook two-and-a-half years ago could result in jail time for the British woman who wrote them.

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates arrested the woman as she entered Dubai last month to attend the funeral of her former husband, campaign group Detained in Dubai said.

In one of the alleged comments, Londoner Laleh Shahravesh, 55, described her former husband as an “idiot” after he left her for another woman, while in a separate comment she called his new wife a “horse.” Shahravesh posted the messages in 2016 while living in the U.K.

The UAE’s strict internet laws mean that a person can be punished for making defamatory remarks on social media, regardless of their location when the post was made. Besides a possible two-year prison term, Shahravesh could also be hit with a fine of up to $65,000.

In comments reported by Detained in Dubai, Shahravesh said recently: “I reacted badly. I lashed out and wrote two unpleasant comments about his new wife on his Facebook page. I know shouldn’t have. I should have behaved better, but I felt angry, betrayed and hurt.”

Shahravesh had been married to her husband for 18 years and lived in Dubai for eight months before she returned to the U.K. in 2016 with her 14-year-old daughter.

Plans for her husband to join the family in the U.K. a few months later were soon dashed when he told her he wanted to end the marriage. A short time after that, Shahravesh saw a post on Facebook revealing that he had remarried. Upon seeing photos of the newly married couple, Shahravesh reportedly wrote, in Farsi: “I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you,” before following up with a remark about her former husband’s new wife that said, “You left me for this horse.”

The bride reported the posts to the Dubai authorities, according to Detained in Dubai.

After the husband died of a heart attack in March 2019, Shahravesh took her daughter to Dubai for the funeral so that she could say a final goodbye to her father. Following her mother’s arrest, the teenager returned to the U.K. to be cared for by relatives.

The BBC reported that Shahravesh has been bailed until her court appearance on April 11. Her passport has been seized by officials to ensure that she doesn’t flee the country.

Dubai is a popular tourist destination for international travelers, with almost 16 million visitors booking hotel stays there in 2018. But it’s likely that few have any knowledge of the state’s strict laws governing social media content.

“Visitors to Dubai are rightfully unaware that they could be jailed for a Facebook or Twitter post made from outside the jurisdiction of the UAE, and made years ago,” Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained In Dubai, said in a statement. “The UAE’s cybercrime laws apply extraterritorially and retroactively.”

The U.K. Foreign Office is now investigating the case.

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