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Singaporean family detained in Dubai cell with criminals

A Singaporean family was prevented from boarding their flight at a Dubai airport and detained for 14 hours. The mother and her daughter were kept in a cell with other criminals. -TNP
Teh Jen Lee

Wed, Jan 04, 2012
The New Paper

Dubai spelt danger for several innocent Singaporeans after authorities there arrested them for reasons that were later proven to be false or unsubstantiated.

Including the latest case of a family wrongly detained on Christmas Eve, there have been three other cases from 2010 to last year.

In one case in January last year, a Singaporean, then pregnant, and her husband were arrested at the airport in Dubai on charges of holding forged passports.

They spent nine months in jail, during which the woman suffered a miscarriage because of the jail conditions.

In the Christmas Eve case, the family was prevented from boarding their departing flight at the airport in Dubai and detained for 14 hours in a case of mistaken identity.

It was a nightmare because the wife and her 13-year-old daughter were separated from the husband and made to spend the night in a crowded police cell.

In response to media queries, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the family was detained at the airport by Dubai immigration authorities on Christmas Eve last year.

Their mobile phones were confiscated and they were not allowed to contact their relatives or the Singapore Consulate-General in Dubai for assistance.

After being held at the airport for about three hours, the family was then taken to the Dubai Police Criminal Investigation Department Headquarters, where they spent the night in separate holding cells.

The spokesman said: "At no stage was the family informed of the reason for their detention nor were their questions addressed by the police personnel.

"The daughter was also kept with her mother in a cell with about 40 other females of ill-repute, despite her young age."

The following morning, the husband and wife were interrogated separately.

After the questioning, the Dubai police finally acknowledged that they were mistaken and had detained the wrong people.

The family was released on Christmas Day.

MFAsaid that throughout the detention of 14 hours, the family, especially the daughter, was put through considerable distress.

Not informed

"Furthermore, the Singapore Consulate-General in Dubai was not officially informed of the matter," said the spokesman.

"The MFA takes a very serious view of the incident, which involved the failure to allow for the detained Singaporeans access to consular assistance."

The MFA called in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) interim Charge d'Affaires last Friday to formally register their "grave concerns over the wrongful detention of and treatment of the Singaporean family".

MFA has further requested the UAE Embassy's assurance that such incidents do not happen again and reiterated the responsibility of the UAE authorities to promptly inform the MFA representative in the UAE whenever a Singaporean is arrested.

Said the spokesman: "Our Consulate-General in Dubai has also taken up this matter with the concerned authorities in Dubai to ensure that such incidents are not repeated in the future."

Economic ties have been flourishing between Singapore and the UAE.

Singapore established diplomatic relations with the UAE in 1985 and trade between the two countries has grown from $5 billion in 2002 to $13.9 billion in 2010.

The UAE ambassador to Singapore, Mr Mohamed A Al Qubaisi, said about 300 Singapore companies are represented in the UAE, with the number rising each year.

The Business Times reported that the Emirates airline will start daily Singapore-Dubai flights from February.

Many Singaporeans have been visiting Dubai, drawn by its mega-malls and resorts.

And it isn't just the Singaporeans who are visiting the city.

Last year, Dubai was the only Middle Eastern city that made it to the top 10 list of the most-visited destinations worldwide in a Euromonitor International report.

Singaporeans detained

June 2010

A Chinese Singaporean man living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was detained at the airport in Dubai after he was seen helping two women who were suspected of carrying forged Taiwanese passports.

He had met them while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Manchester, UK, that transited in Dubai. He helped them when they encountered language difficulties at the airport.

Little did he expect to be penalised for his good deed.

He was arrested on suspicion of human trafficking and accused of using a forged Singapore passport.

Despite the Dubai Consulate-General's insistence to the Dubai authorities that he was holding a genuine passport, they detained him until his case was heard in December 2010.

He was cleared of all charges and finally released.

January 2011

A Chinese Singaporean man and his pregnant wife, both in their 40s, were on a flight to Rome that had a transit in Dubai.

They were chaperoning four children as a favour to a friend.

The couple was suspected of holding forged passports, detained, and charged with human trafficking.

The woman had gone on the trip to visit places of worship in Rome and offer prayers for the safe delivery of her child.

But due to the conditions in her detention centre, she had a miscarriage.

The couple was detained for nearly nine months as it took eight months before their case was heard.

They were given a suspended three-month jail sentence each.

The Singapore Consulate-General in Dubai found out about the case only when they were contacted by the couple for emergency travel documents.

This was at the end of their period of detention as the authorities had misplaced their passports.

November 2011

During the Hari Raya Haji holidays, a Singapore Indian full-time national serviceman was detained because he was accused of photographing an Egyptian lady who was with her husband.

The Singaporean had merely been taking general shots of a mall.

The Dubai Consulate-General was initially able to get the Egyptian couple to withdraw the accusation.

However, instead of an amicable settlement, there was a stalemate when the Dubai police sided with the complainants, who wanted compensation.

After sustained pressure, the Dubai Consulate-General managed to get the Singaporean released after he spent one night in detention.

The man had been held at the notorious Bur Dubai police station, where a British national was previously beaten to death by the officers.

Other nationalities detained in Dubai

Dubai maybe one of the most-visited cities in the Middle East, but it's a place where you have to watch your step.

1) An Australian man claimed he was tortured and forced by police to admit his alleged participation in a jewellery shop break-in in Dubai, reported newspaper Gulf Today last week.

The 32-year-old S.H. denied his involvement in the 11 million dirhams (S$3.9 million) burglary last July, saying that the charges were "wrong, groundless and unfounded".

The Australian and a man from Afghanistan were sentenced to three years' jail last month for keeping the stolen gold with them.

2) One of Britain's most successful businessmen, Safi Qurashi, after paying £43 million (S$86 million) for a man-made island in the Gulf in the shape of Great Britain, was found guilty of signing two cheques with insufficient funds and cancelling another, reported The Guardian last February.

He claimed he was denied access to a lawyer and was handcuffed to a chair for 16 hours after he and his business partner were arrested in January 2010.

Qurashi is now serving a seven-year jail term in Dubai.A former Metropolitan police chief claimed Qurashi was the victim of a criminal conspiracy and had been wrongly convicted.

3) Two Australians have been detained in Dubai since January 2009 over a property deal gone wrong.

As verdicts of not guilty are almost unheard of in the United Arab Emirates, the British charity Detained in Dubai has written to Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd to seek his "urgent personal intervention" in the case, reported the Sydney Morning Herald last month.

Australians Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee have been detained in Dubai since January 2009 after the Gold Coast developer Sunland claimed it was duped in a multi-million dollar property deal.

But Sunland's chief operating officer in Dubai, Mr David Brown, has admitted in a separate Sunland action in the Victorian Supreme Court that he gave incorrect evidence to Dubai prosecutors.

4) Former Australian soldier Sun McKay, 32, was arrested for allegedly swearing at an airport policeman in Dubai last month.

Mr McKay said he later apologised, but was taken to a room and interrogated for three hours, reported His passport was confiscated and he is barred from leaving Dubai as he awaits trial on charges of using insulting and inappropriate language to a police officer.

5) German national Cat Le-Huy, 34, said an airport guard at the airport in Dubai found some melatonin tablets, used to combat jet lag, in his bag in January 2008, reported The Independent last April.

The guard claimed he found 0.06g of hash, which is lighter than a grain of sugar.

Mr Le-Huy spent 24 hours in holding cells at the airport, 12 of which were in solitary confinement.

He was eventually thrown into the airport detention centre and later an"outhouse" of the Dubai central prison, Al Wathba.

He was released two months later without charge.

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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