Authorities in Qatar were reported yesterday to be preparing to deport a Dutch woman who was prosecuted for having sex while unmarried when she reported to police that she had been raped. The woman has been fined roughly USD 845 for reporting her own rape.
The case highlights the very different, sometimes almost medieval, laws that apply in some Middle Eastern countries. While millions of western tourists and travellers fly to and through the Gulf region each year, few realise that their legal rights differ markedly from what they are used to at home.
In the latest case, the 22-year-old Dutch tourist said her drink was spiked at a Doha nightclub. She woke in a strange apartment and realised to her horror that she had been raped.
That was in March. When she reported the crime to police, she was arrested, charged and convicted of having sex out of wedlock. Sex outside marriage is illegal in Qatar, and rape appears to count as sex.
Her alleged rapist is also being held, though he says the sex was consensual. Recent reports say he has been sentenced to a severe flogging: 140 lashes for adultery and being drunk in public.
The BBC reported the woman had gone dancing at a hotel in Doha where alcohol was allowed, “but when she returned to the table after the first sip of her drink… she felt very unwell” and realised she had been drugged, her lawyer Brian Lokollo told Dutch broadcaster NOS-Radio1.
The woman may also be charged with an alcohol-related offence, news website Doha News reported.
A similar case in 2013 happened in Dubai in the neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE), when a Norwegian woman received a 16-month prison sentence for perjury, extramarital sex and drinking alcohol after reporting to police she had been raped.
She was later pardoned and allowed to return to Norway.
A better idea for Australian travellers, it would seem, is to report any sexual assault to the nearest Australian consulate.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) notes on its Smartraveller website: “It is possible for victims of sexual assault in Qatar to face arrest, detention or criminal prosecution for having sex outside of marriage, depending on the circumstances of the assault.
“Sexual assault victims should contact the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi or Consulate-General in Dubai, or the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, as quickly as possible to obtain relevant information on these issues and guidance on what support services may be available.”
DFAT also points out that travellers are subject to the local laws of Qatar, “including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards.
“If you’re arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can’t get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.
“Qatar has strict laws in relation to personal conduct. Public displays of intimacy are illegal. Australians have been detained by police for obscene language or gestures, defamation, and more frequently, alcohol-related offences.
“Homosexual activity is illegal in Qatar and may lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment and fines.
“Sex outside of marriage is also illegal in Qatar. Foreigners have been imprisoned for having sex with people to whom they are not legally married.”
In 2013, Dubai pardoned the young Norwegian business traveller sentenced to 16 months in prison after she reported to local police that she had been raped.
Her case and the court’s sentence sparked outrage around the world.
The Norwegian victim was not the first woman to find herself thrown into prison in Dubai after reporting being raped. Alicia Gali, an Australian, earlier in 2013 described how she was jailed in Dubai for eight months after being raped at Le Méridien Al Aqah hotel while working for the Starwood hotel chain there.
Under Sharia-influenced laws, sex outside marriage is completely forbidden in many Middle Eastern countries. Rapists can be convicted only if they confess, or if four adult Muslim males witness the crime. An unmarried couple holding hands in public can be jailed.
In 2012, a British woman, allegedly kidnapped and gang-raped by three men in Dubai, was prosecuted for drinking without a licence and fined about AUD 250.
Written by Peter Needham