Norwegian rape victim is sentenced, then 'pardoned' in Dubai

Marte Deborah Dalelv's case highlights concerns over the vulnerability of women to sexual assault in the United Arab Emirates.

Kamran Jebreili/AP/File
In this July 19, 2013 file photo, Marte Deborah Dalelv from Norway talks to an Associated Press reporter in Dubai, after she was sentenced to 16 months in jail for having sex outside of marriage after she reported an alleged rape. Dalelv, at the center of a Dubai rape claim dispute, says she has been pardoned and is free to leave the country.

After a week of international outrage and diplomatic pressure, Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has pardoned Marte Deborah Dalelv.

Ms. Dalelv, a 24-year old Norwegian citizen, was sentenced to 16 months in prison last week, after reporting that a colleague raped her in March. Her case highlights concerns that often harsh laws on gender in the United Arab Emirates can leave women vulnerable to sexual violence.

An interior designer based in Qatar, Dalelv was on a business trip to Dubai in March when the rape took place while on a night out with colleagues. When she went to the police to report the incident, they took away her passport and money, reports the BBC.

Several days later, she was charged with the crimes of consuming alcohol, falsely reporting a rape, and having extramarital sex, reports Dubai’s Khaleej Times. Last week, a court sentenced her to 16 months in prison, followed by deportation from the UAE.

The sentence sparked an international outcry over the handling of Dalelv’s case and brought harsh international scrutiny upon the small Gulf country’s treatment of crimes against women, reports Reuters.

According to the UK-based Emirates Centre for Human Rights, Dalelv's is only the latest in a string of cases in which women who have reported being raped have ended up with jail sentences.

Among recent cases, a Briton who alleged she had been raped by three men was fined for drinking alcohol. An Emirati woman was sentenced to a year in prison after claiming to have been gang-raped. An Australian woman was sent to prison for 11 months after reporting a gang-rape to police, the Centre said.

Though marketed as cosmopolitan and Western friendly, justice in Dubai is still based on a strict, patriarchal interpretation of Islam prohibiting certain behavior that is common elsewhere, such as swearing and public displays of affection, reports the Australian. The justice system offers little protection to women who have been the victims of sexual violence. In order for a rape conviction to be made, for example, the victim must produce four adult male witnesses to the crime, or the perpetrator must confess.

According to CNN, Norway’s Foreign Ministry has been negotiating with their Emirati counterparts since the sentencing, applying diplomatic pressure. That, coupled with international concern over Dalelv, led to the pardoning.

Soon after, Noway’s Foreign Minister tweeted “Marte is released! Thanks to everyone who signed up to help #ReleaseMarte.” Ragnhild Imerslund, a spokeswoman for Norway’s Foreign Ministry, announced that Dalelv has not been deported and that she may remain in Dubai if she chose to, though she is due to return to Norway in a few days.

Her attacker, who was sentenced to 13 months in jail, has also been pardoned, reports the BBC.

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