Dubai pardons Norwegian rape victim of extramarital sex

DUBAI, July 22, 2013 (AFP) - A Norwegian woman in a rape case in Dubai said she was pardoned Monday of an extramarital sex charge in the Muslim emirate and allowed to fly home, ending a four-month ordeal.

"I was told that I've been pardoned," a smiling Marte Dalelv, 24, told reporters outside a Scandinavian social centre, adding her passport had been returned and she would leave the Gulf state "as soon as possible".

"I'm very, very happy. This is the perfect ending (and) it feels really, really good," said Dalelv, dressed in a white shirt and a mid-length skirt.

In Oslo, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide also said Dalelv was being allowed to leave the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a member.

"Marte (Dalelv) is released! Thanks to everyone who signed up to help," the minister wrote on Twitter, adding that she would be returning home soon.

A spokeswoman for his ministry told AFP that Dalelv had been pardoned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum and was not being deported.

"She hasn't been deported, she has been pardoned. She can remain in Dubai if she wishes. Her passport has been returned to her," said Ragnhild Imerslund.

Dalelv had risked 16 months in jail after she reported having been raped by her boss in the UAE.

Her boss, who was sentenced to 13 months in prison for alcohol consumption and sex outside marriage, was also pardoned, her lawyer Mahmoud Azab told AFP.

On Monday, Oslo's envoy in Abu Dhabi, Ase Elin Bjerke, who was accompanying Dalelv, told AFP that "we are very grateful for the outcome of this case ... It has been very challenging."

She said they have not yet been informed of the reason for the pardon, but "the very fruitful dialogue that we have had at a senior level has given result."

"She has not only been pardoned but she can stay until she decides herself to leave and she is allowed to return to the UAE anytime," said Bjerke.

Dalelv had said she remained hopeful that she would succeed in an appeal against the ruling by a Dubai court that convicted her last week of extramarital sex, perjury and consuming alcohol without a permit.

She reported the rape to police back in March and was immediately detained, being released four days later with the assistance of Norwegian diplomats.

The young woman has since been staying at the Norwegian Seamen's Centre in Dubai.

Norwegian authorities had agreed to pay for legal fees after she spent 55,000 Norwegian kronor (7,000 euros) on legal assistance, she said.

Eide has said it was "very strange that a person who reports rape is sentenced for acts which in our part of the world is not even a crime."

But according to Kathrine Raadim, the foreign minister's political advisor, it was out of the question for Norway to react by recalling its ambassador to the Gulf emirate.

Dalelv's appeals hearing was to have taken place on September 5, before she was called to appear at the public prosecutor's office and informed of the pardon on Monday.

"Marte was a victim of her boss's moral corruption," her lawyer Azab told reporters.

Dalelv, who had come to Dubai on a business trip from Doha when the incident took place, told AFP that she has not yet decided if she will go back to Qatar.

Her boss, a Sudanese identified as Hawari in his 30s, "was also handed back his passport" and freed, Azab said.

A petition on campaign group Avaaz for her release had obtained over 72,000 signatures while several Facebook groups were set up to demand her freedom.