A West Australian woman has been jailed in Abu Dhabi for a photo she posted on Facebook.
Jodi Magi, 39, shared a photo of a car parked across two disabled car parks outside her apartment in Abu Dhabi, taking care to blank out the licence plate number when she did. But a complaint about the photo was made, the local court found Magi guilty of “writing bad words on social media about a person”.
After volunteering to deport herself and pay the $3600 fine, her attempts were rejected and she was arrested and thrown in jail.
Australian authorities are providing consular assistance and have told Magi to seek legal advice.
A spokesperson for the Australian government told The West Australian: “Australians travelling overseas are subject to the laws of the country they are in, and consular officials can’t prevent the detention of Australians or retrieve their passport if it is held by local authorities.”
This reflects the advice found on the Smart Traveller website.
“The UAE is a Muslim country and local laws reflect the fact that Islamic practices and beliefs are closely applied. Laws may also vary between individual Emirates. You should familiarise yourself with local laws, and their impact on your personal circumstances, before you travel.
“Legal and administrative processes are significantly different from those in Australia. If you are arrested, you may face a significant period of detention before your case comes to trial. You could have your passport held by UAE authorities and be prevented from leaving the country. The resolution of even simple legal issues can be prolonged and complex.”
However in a press conference this afternoon Treasurer Joe Hockey said that Abu Dhabi’s response to the situation was “an extraordinary reaction”.
Foreign Affairs minister Julie Bishop added: “I’m expecting her to be deported in very short time… We’re providing her and her husband whatever support they need”.
It’s not the first time that Australians, and other foreigners, unfamiliar with local laws, have been jailed in the United Arab Emirates.
In 2009 Melbourne businessmen Marcus Lee and Matthew Joyce were arrested in Dubai, accused of fraud over property deal involving Australian developer Sunland.
Lee spent nine months in jail, including two in solitary confinement, before being charged and was then acquitted twice in a five-year ordeal before he was allowed to leave the country in January 2014.
Joyce was convicted of bribery and fraud-related charges and faced up to 10 years in jail, but was cleared on appeal in December 2013.
According to Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade every year almost 1000 Australians are arrested overseas and about 220 are in prisons overseas at any one time.
In 2008 an Australian woman, working as a beautician at a hotel in the UAE, was jailed after her drink was spiked and she was raped by three men.
Under traditional Islamic law, it is illegal to have sex outside of wedlock, and rape falls under that same law.
She spent eight months in prison for adultery and drinking without a permit before being pardoned in March 2009. Read more about that here.
She’s also not the first woman to be sexually assaulted in the UAE and find herself in jail, rather than her perpetrators.
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