News this week that a young Norwegian woman had been jailed in Dubai after reporting a rape there last spring has led to strong protests, also against the Norwegian government. Critics claim Norwegian officials should lodge a formal protest with the Dubai authorities for violating the woman’s human rights, while Norway’s foreign minister claims he already has “reacted strongly.”
The case has continued to dominate media coverage in Norway and has been picked up internationally, after Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) first reported on Wednesday that the woman had been sentenced this week to one year and four months in prison in Dubai. Judges in the Gulf city that’s emerged as a major tourist destination in recent years ruled that she was guilty of illegally drinking alcohol and, by being raped, was also guilty of engaging in extramarital sex.
Went public with her story
Rape victims are rarely identified in Norwegian media, but the woman herself decided to go public with her story. Marte Deborah Dalelv of Tønsberg, about an hour’s drive southwest of Oslo, told NRK and other media outlets including newspaper VG that she has appealed the ruling but still feels like a fugitive in Dubai because authorities there seized her passport. She meanwhile has been given refuge at the Norwegian Seamans Church in Dubai.
Her story took another dramatic turn on Friday after she revealed that she also was “suspended” from her job with a Qatar-based home furnishings company called The One. It had recruited her from Norway, as it reportedly has recruited many other Scandinavian design graduates, but made moves to fire her after her arrest, for her allegedly “unacceptable and improper behavioural” (sic) during her business trip to Dubai. Now the Norwegian design schools that have cooperated with The One are considering cutting all ties with the firm, after Dalelv claimed it did nothing to help her and instead effectively fired her. Nor did any company official contact her family back home in Norway. The company did not respond to NRK’s requests for comment.
“If it’s correct that this woman was fired after having reported (the rape), that The One failed to contact her family even though they knew about the situation, and that they don’t look out for the best interests of their employees, then we don’t want to have any connection with this firm,” Vibecke Osfoss, marketing and communications chief at Westerdals School in Oslo, told NRK.
Dalelv told NRK that her immediate boss in Qatar arrived at the hotel where she was being questioned by police after reporting the rape in March, reportedly by a colleague also based in the Middle East. The One’s press manager also was present, Dalelv said, and accompanied her to the police station. “The last I heard from them, though, was ‘Marte, we can’t get you out,’” Dalelv told NRK.
Shortly after that she received a “suspension letter” that the company itself wrote was “based on the incident report of 6th March 2013 issued by the Police Authorities in Dubai.” Even though The One’s website (external link) claims to value “the happiness of our staff” along with its customers, the company accused her of “gross misconduct on the job in direct violation of the Company’s policy,” with a final decision regarding her termination to be taken by “senior management.”
While Dalelv describes her situation as “unreal,” calls were rising in Norway for the Norwegian government to put more pressure on authorities in Dubai. The Gulf emirate has become a popular tourist destination for Norwegians, especially in the winter, but few seem aware of how dangerous it can be if they’re accused of taking a drink outside hotels, for example, or become victims of sexual assault.
“Dubai can appear very western and pulsating with tourists, full of action and fun,” one Norwegian who lives in Dubai told NRK, “but in reality, there are completely different rules that apply, completely shocking rules.” Those rules, he claimed on the grounds he not be identified for fear of retribution, follow Sharia law and violate what’s viewed as human rights elsewhere.
He cited numerous cases where foreign housemaids are raped by their wealthy local employers, but they’re the ones prosecuted and jailed for illegal sexual relations. The young Norwegian woman, he said, has basically found herself in the same situation. Tourists from other countries have also landed in trouble: A British woman was arrested for extramarital sex after also being raped in January 2010. Another British woman was arrested and jailed for a month for having kissed a man while at a restaurant next to the Jumeirah Beach complex.
“It can seem modern here, and the comfort level is high,” the Norwegian resident said, “but it’s a Muslim country and folks must realize that before they travel.” In many ways, the United Arab Emirates, for all their flashy development, he said, “are still stuck in the Middle Ages.”
Foreign ministry now protesting
Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told NRK late Thursday that he has “reacted strongly” to Dalelv’s story and claimed her prison sentence in Dubai “collides with our sense of justice.” Eide said that he now is “working further” on her case.
“It can’t be that a woman who reports a rape gets convicted herself,” Eide told NRK.
He noted that her sentence hasn’t taken effect because she has filed an appeal. “We will continue to offer assistance to this woman until the appeal is heard, where the outcome hopefully will be better,” Eide said.
Dag Øistein Endsjø, a professor of religion at the University of Bergen, published a commentary on Friday in which he accused Eide and other government officials of not reacting strongly enough. Eide responded that he and his colleagues will now “make it clear” to the authorities in Dubai that they must not punish rape victims the way they have Dalelv and others. It wasn’t clear whether Norway would advise Norwegians against traveling to Dubai or the other states in the United Arab Emirates.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund