An Australian woman living in Abu Dhabi has been imprisoned, fined and deported, all for posting a picture of a badly parked car on Facebook. Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said that this is not the first time Australian nationals have been held before deportation by the United Arab Emirates
39 year old graphic designer Jodi Magi was living in an apartment complex in Abu Dhabi with her boyfriend when she snapped a picture of a car parked across two disabled spaces and uploaded the image to Facebook, the Sydney Morning Herald has reported.
She blanked out the number-plate of the car, but a complaint saw Ms Magi charged under UAE law for cyber crimes, including “writing bad words on social media about a person”. It is not clear whether there were words attached to the uploaded picture, which has since been removed from Facebook.
“”I have zero idea [what I have done wrong]. I used the internet,” Ms Magi told the Australian state broadcaster ABC.
Following her conviction, Ms Magi tried to voluntarily pay the fine of £1,727 and leave the country, but this was turned down by authorities who insisted that she present herself at court. It was then that she was forcibly detained.
No one is talking to me. No one’s telling me what’s going on,” she told the ABC from the back of a police van.
“They were about to put me in male lock-up and then they turned me away and no one knows what to do with me. I’m pretty scared.”
Julie Bishop has confirmed that Ms Magi is being held before deportation, in line with common practice in the UAE. She has told reporters: “I understand she was required to pay a fine and that she was taken into detention pending deportation. I’m expecting her to be deported in a very short time, and Australian consular officials are providing her and her husband whatever support we can.”
Mrs Bishop warned that travellers must take note of the laws of countries which they visit, as they are subject to them even if they do not align with Australian law. She also said that this was not the first time people had been held by the UAE to await deportation, rather than be allowed to leave the country voluntarily.
“I understand that it was considered to be a breach of UAE laws and, as I point out on our Smart Traveller advice, when you go to another country you are subject to the laws of that country whether or not they are laws that apply in Australia,” she said.
“This has happened in the past, and she’s been detained pending deportation, which I also understand has happened in the past.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed this to be the case, saying “”This is normal practice in Abu Dhabi.”
Ms Magi has accused the consulate of not providing support for her during her ordeal, but the spokesman denied this, saying “”Consular officials have provided all appropriate consular assistance to Ms Magi, in line with the Consular Services Charter, and have kept in close touch with Ms Magi, her husband and her lawyer.”
Nicholas McGeehan, a UAE researcher with Human Rights Watch, said Abu Dhabi was a more repressive place than many people realised.
“You now have a cyber-crime decree, which acts in conjunction with strong defamation laws, where basically anyone who says anything online, makes any comment online about another person, could fall foul of those laws if someone complains about them, particularly if someone has any connection to the authorities,” he said.
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