(Dubai) - The relevant authorities in Dubai should complete a full and impartial criminal investigation into a report by a British woman that she was raped on New Year's Eve in a Dubai hotel, Human Rights Watch said today. A senior official involved in the investigation told Human Rights Watch on January 21, 2010, that officials did not find "one piece of evidence" of rape and that the story is "fabricated."
The statement raises serious concerns about whether the inquiry, which has not been officially concluded, is being taken seriously, Human Rights Watch said.
"The authorities in Dubai seem to have made up their minds already about whether this woman was raped even though it is clear that the investigation has not been completed," said Nadya Khalife, Middle East and North Africa researcher on women's rights for Human Rights Watch.
An article on January 8 in the UAE newspaper, The National, said that a 23-year-old British woman of Pakistani descent had reported that she was followed and attacked by a hotel worker after she passed out in a restroom of The Address Hotel on the Dubai Marina on New Year's Eve.
Other news reports said that when the woman and her fiancé reported the alleged sexual assault at the Jebel Ali police station on January 1, the police responded by questioning them about their relationship instead of pursuing the rape report. The police then arrested the woman and her partner, accusing them of having sex outside marriage and of public drunkenness.
"From the beginning, the authorities seemed to be more interested in this woman's so-called moral conduct than in the report about rape, a serious crime," Khalife said. "Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that they would contend they did not find ‘one piece of evidence' of rape."
A spokesperson for the British Embassy in Dubai confirmed to Human Rights Watch that two British citizens had been arrested on January 1.
The couple were held in custody overnight and released on bail, although their passports have been confiscated, and they are unable to leave the country, news reports say. If convicted, the couple could spend up to six years in jail.
The hotel employee the woman accused of raping her has denied the accusation and said the woman consented to having sex with him. News sources have reported that he has been charged with having illegal sex.
"These charges will make young women in the UAE, citizens, and tourists alike, think twice about seeking justice and reporting sexual assaults for fear of being charged themselves," Khalife said. "The message to women is clear: victims will be punished for speaking out and seeking justice, but sexual assault itself will not be properly investigated."