It was reported yesterday that Marte Deborah Dalelv, a Norwegian citizen based in Qatar and on a work trip to United Arab Emirates, has been pardoned and released from what would have been a 16-month jail sentence.
Dalelv had been convicted for “extramarital sex” after she reported to police that she had been raped by a manager in a Dubai hotel.
When initially sentenced, Dalelv had said, “I received the harshest sentence for sex outside marriage, harshest sentence for drinking alcohol and on top of that I was found guilty of perjury.” After being pardoned yesterday she said, “I just want to go home.”
The case is not a lone example, and echoes for example the conviction against Australian Alicia Gali, who was sentenced over “illicit sex” after she reported being raped in 2008 at a hotel in UAE where she was working as a manager. Her drink had been spiked prior to the attack, which left her with broken ribs, and she served eight months in jail before returning home. Gali has since campaigned to draw attention to the mistreatment and inequality in UAE law and the alleged “abandonment” by her employers.
Responding to the Dalelv case, Sonja Eggerickx, president of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), said, “Of course the news that Marte is free is to be welcomed. In this case, pressure from the Norwegian government has helped to secure her release, perhaps by making it clear to the authorities in UAE how this pattern of legal victim-blaming is perceived internationally.
“However we must not mistake Marte’s pardon, made for political and business expediency, for any kind of progress in UAE law.
“We must not let the attention that accrues to international cases obscure the reality that domestic nationals in UAE face this same travesty of justice, a legal system which is deeply entwined with Sharia law and where victims of rape are told on the basis of Quaranic precedent to produce four male witnesses.
“The legal situation for victims of rape in UAE reinforces deeply held cultural misogyny under which women are stigmatised and blamed for the grave crimes committed against them, and factors such as outgoing behaviour or alcohol consumption are used to attack the victim and to blame her even for the most brutal assaults made against her by others.
“The UAE must not be allowed to deflect criticism by simply pardoning foreign nationals, ducking the legal failure and concealing the majority of cases which do not receive such attention. The authorities should reflect on the international condemnation and move towards reform. We join with other human rights groups around the world, and echo the call of the Emirates Center for Human Rights for fundamental legal reform.”
The Emirates Center said yesterday: “Authorities must not end their reaction to this case with a pardon. Marte should not need a pardon, she should have been given support and protection by the law.
“In what has been the latest in a long line of similar cases, we call on authorities to ensure the law is changed to stop this happening.”