DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A Norwegian woman sentenced to 16 months in jail in Dubai for having sex outside marriage after she reported an alleged rape said Friday she decided to speak out in hopes of drawing attention to the risks of outsiders misunderstanding the Islamic-influenced legal codes in this cosmopolitan city.
The case has drawn outrage from rights groups and others in the West since the 24-year-old interior designer was sentenced Wednesday. It also highlights the increasingly frequent tensions between the United Arab Emirates’ international atmosphere and its legal system, which is strongly influenced by Islamic traditions in a nation where foreign workers and visitors greatly outnumber locals.
“I have to spread the word. … After my sentence we thought, ‘How can it get worse?’” Marte Deborah Dalelv told The Associated Press in an interview at a Norwegian aid compound in Dubai where she is preparing her appeal scheduled for early September.
Dalelv, who worked for an interior design firm in Qatar since 2011, claims she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker in March while she was attending a business meeting in Dubai.
She said she fled to the hotel lobby and asked for the police to be called. The hotel staff asked if she was sure she wanted to involve the police, Dalelv said.
“Of course I want to call the police,” she said. “That is the natural reaction where I am from.”
Dalelv said she was given a medical examination seeking evidence of the alleged rape and underwent a blood test for alcohol. Such tests are commonly given in the UAE for alleged assaults and in other cases. Alcohol is sold widely across Dubai, but public intoxication can bring charges.
The AP does not identity the names of alleged sexual assault victims, but Dalelv went public voluntarily to talk to media.
Dalelv was detained for four days after being accused of having sex outside marriage, which is outlawed in the UAE although the law is not actively enforced for tourists as well as hundreds of thousands of Westerners and others on resident visas.
She managed to reach her stepfather in Norway after being loaned a phone card by another woman in custody.
“My stepdad, he answered the phone, so I said, that I had been raped, I am in prison … please call the embassy,” she recounted.
“And then I went back and I … just had a breakdown,” she continued. “It was very emotional, to call my dad and tell him what happened.”
Norwegian diplomats later secured her release and she has been allowed to remain at the Norwegian Seamen’s Center in central Dubai. She said her alleged attacker received a 13-month sentence for out-of-wedlock sex and alcohol consumption.
Dubai authorities did not respond to calls for comment, but the case has brought strong criticism from Norwegian officials and activists.
“This verdict flies in the face of our notion of justice,” Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, told the NTB news agency, calling it “highly problematic from a human rights perspective.”
Previous cases in the UAE have raised similar questions, with alleged sexual assault victims facing charges for sex-related offenses. Other legal codes also have been criticized for being at odds with the Western-style openness promoted by Dubai.
On Thursday, Dubai police said they arrested a man who posted an Internet video of an Emirati beating a South Asian van driver after an apparent traffic altercation. Police said they took the action because images of a potential crime were “shared.”
In London, a spokesman for the Emirates Center for Human Rights, a group monitoring UAE affairs, said the Dalelv case points out the need for the UAE to expand its legal protections for alleged rape victims.
“We urge authorities to reform the laws governing incidents of rape in the country,” said Rori Donaghy, “to ensure women are protected against sexual violence and do not become the targets of prosecution when reporting crimes.”