UPDATED: Government authorities in Dubai, faced with a tourism boycott for jailing and convicting a young Norwegian woman who’d reported a rape, chose to pardon and release her on Monday. Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide had said over the weekend that the sensational case had reached “the highest political levels” and that he was optimistic the Norwegian government’s complaint had been heard.
Rape victim Marte Deborah Dalelv of Tønsberg had told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she remained nervous and frightened after being called in for a hearing on Monday with Dubai prosecutors. She was accompanied by her defense attorney, staff from the Norwegian Seamans Church in Dubai where she’d been staying pending her appeal of her conviction, and Norway’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Åse Bjerke, when she arrived for the meeting Monday meeting.
“We really don’t know what this means,” Dalelv told NRK. “I’m afraid I’ll be put in jail again.” Dalelv was charged and convicted, under Dubai’s Sharia law, with drinking alcohol illegally and having extramarital sex after she reported the rape to local police. She also was charged with perjury after prosecutors dismissed her rape claim. The man accused of assaulting her was not convicted of rape, but was sentenced to jail for also having sex outside of marriage.
Diplomatic drama ends
Dalelv’s nightmare appeared to be over on Monday after intense diplomatic pressure from Norway and a wave of criticism against the Dubai authorities, both within Norway and, later, internationally as news of Dalelv’s conviction spread. “Marte is released,” Eide wrote on the social media site Twitter after the meeting was concluded.
Eide and other government officials had initially been criticized by groups including Amnesty International, for not putting enough pressure on the Dubai authorities. Eide rejected the criticism, saying that indeed he and his colleagues had expressed in the strongest of diplomatic terms that they also found Dalelv’s arrest in March and not least her conviction last week “totally unacceptable.”
After weeks of contact between officials in Dubai and staff at Norway’s Foreign Ministry, who had succeeded in getting Dalelv released from custody back in March, Eide ended up having a personal conversation with his government counterpart in Dubai over the weekend. That came after her conviction last week sparked local and international outrage, and Eide said on a live NRK broadcast on Saturday that he was optimistic his appeal would be heard.
Violation of human rights
The very fact that Eide decided to challenge a court ruling in another country was in itself extraordinary. All countries are expected to have clear lines separating their legislative and judicial branches, and Eide noted that Norwegians or citizens of any country would likely not take kindly to another country demanding that a court ruling be overturned. In this case, however, Eide decided that the Dubai court ruling constituted a clear infringement of international human rights and violated international conventions to which Dubai has committed itself, despite its practice of Sharia law.
“Politicians, myself included, can’t go in and change a court verdict,” Eide told NRK. He said that since Dalelv had “reasonably enough” appealed her conviction, though, he decided that the Norwegian government could take the opportunity to argue her case and argue that victims of crime can’t be convicted of the crime themselves.
He felt Norway and the Emirates have “good relations” following years of doing business and that the sheik with whom he was dealing would understand that it was in Dubai’s best interests as well to drop charges against Dalelv.
Her case is not unique, though, and follows a string of similar incidents involving both tourists and foreign workers in Dubai and other Emirates. Dubai, officials have warned, can be a dangerous place for visitors accustomed to an entirely different set of social norms. Filipina maids, for example, have also been severely punished after being raped by their male bosses, and there are hopes such incidents will also be curtailed following the outcry over Dalelv’s case. Dubai regardless has received a heap of bad publicity over the Dalelv case, harmful for a place that has invested heavily in the tourism industry and promotes itself as a modern and international gathering spot. Eide said he thinks Dubai authorities realized the risks they faced if they upheld the verdict against Dalelv.
Heading home ‘as soon as possible’
Norwegian news bureau NTB also reported that Dalelv was given back her passport from the local authorities who had seized it after she’d reported being raped on a business trip to Dubai in March. Bjerke, Norway’s ambassador, told NTB that Dalelv should soon be free to leave the country.
Dalelv herself told NRK she was “very, very glad” that she’d been pardoned and that she looked forward to traveling home to Norway “as soon as possible.” She earlier has repeatedly expressed thanks for all the national and international support she received after her conviction was first reported by NRK last week.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, pausing in between memorials in Norway on Monday to the July 22 terror victims, told NRK he also was “very glad that Marte Dalelv was pardoned. We have meant all along that this court verdict was unacceptable.”
Eide summed up with two factors that he thinks led to her release on Monday: “Strong commitment in Norway and internationally for Marte Dalelv’s case, and good diplomatic contact.” He said he mostly used Dubai’s own international commitments to human rights and Norway’s relations with Dubai to pressure his counterparts into releasing Dalelv. He described cooperation from Dubai officials as “very good” in the end.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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