In Dubai, public kissing can land you in jail

In Dubai, British couple Charlotte Adams and Ayman Najafi were given a month in jail for public kissing. What do foreigners living in Dubai think of the case?

Kamran Jebreili/AP
An Iranian-Italian couple share a kiss on the observation deck of world tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday. Public kissing is an extreme sport in Dubai; a British couple faces a month in jail after a child witnessed them smooching in a restaurant late last year.

The news made for titillating global headlines:

“Smooching Brits banished from Dubai.”

“Blonde whose kiss could lead to jail.”

But foreigners here in Dubai express little shock or outrage that twenty-something Brits Charlotte Adams and Ayman Najafi were given a month in prison for kissing in public late last year. The appealed sentence was upheld by a judge here on Sunday.

Most foreigners express sympathy with the Dubai government’s point of view – and amusement at the whole affair.

“You have to respect the law of the land,” says Reza, an Iranian-American who moved here in 2007. Although, he adds, “my girlfriend is coming to visit, so I better watch out.”

RELATED: What are the rules for public behavior in Dubai?

Jana Barnard, a South African who’s lived here for six years, says that “when you come here you should check on what the rules are.... The international media blows it out of proportion while the local media try to play it down.”

Dubai attracts millions of tourists and expats with its beachside resorts, swank nightclubs, world's tallest building, and relatively liberal social mores compared with some of the countries in the region. But the police here occasionally crack down on foreigners’ behavior that is considered offensive, ranging from sexual text messages, to wearing a mini skirt, to adulterous affairs and, in a highly publicized incident in 2008, sex on a public beach.

It’s unclear if the crime in this case was “passionate” kissing, as the Emirati mother who reported the incident alleged, or, as the couple claim, a peck on the cheek that Brits often offer as a customary greeting.

Few witnesses

The Emirati woman first said she and her children had witnessed the incident, while eating at Bob’s Easy Diner at a beachfront promenade popular with Western expats. "My daughter told me that the accused were kissing on the mouth. Then I spotted them doing so myself. I also saw them touching each other, as they were seated two to three meters away from our table," she testified in court last month.

She later said only her children had seen the kissing. Waiters at the restaurant, decked out in red and turquoise, recently told the Monitor that nobody there had witnessed the incident.

During a short hearing at the appeals court on Sunday, neither the couple nor their lawyer or witnesses were allowed to speak. The judge upheld the couple's conviction and fined them 1,000 dirhams (about $270) each. They now have 30 days to appeal the ruling in higher court, or serve the sentence before their deportation.

On Sunday, Ms. Adams told the Telegraph that she would not appeal to the higher-level cassation court as permitted so “I can get on with my life.” Mr. Najafi, a resident in Dubai, may still appeal. He faces possible deportation. Both of their passports have been confiscated to prevent them from fleeing.

Hazy laws

Some expats interviewed expressed confusion at the uncertainty surrounding the laws on public display of affection.

Jessica Rusch, a visitor from Berlin, says that when her girl friend picked her up from the airport she warned that they shouldn’t give each other hello kisses. Are women allowed to kiss on the cheek in public, she asks, or will they be considered lesbians breaking the law? Indian men hold hands on the street as part of their culture, she continues, is that allowed?

Many foreigners say that, while it is important to respect local sensitivities, the punishment should fit the crime. The Dubai authorities are "just trying to have some kind of regulations or else things will go haywire,” says Amir, an Indian man who grew up in Dubai.

Still, he continues, “You could just say ‘stop.’ They would probably stop. You don’t need to jail them or deport them.”

After all, too much of a deterrent might undermine tourism and hurt the economy. “It seems a bit crazy,” says Ian Morgan, who is visiting with his wife from Britain for a week. “It would probably put you off from coming here.”

RELATED: What are the rules for public behavior in Dubai?

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