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Elizabeth Polanco The jailing for a year of an American student in Dubai for the trivial crime of touching an airport security guard is a warning to the millions of holidaymakers who travel to the strict Arab state, a campaigner has claimed.

Radha Stirling, who runs the Detained in Dubai pressure group, said the sentence imposed on Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was a prime example of how holidays to the United Arab Emirates can end in a nightmare.

Speaking to MailOnline, she warned a trip to the country could end up being a ‘one way ticket’ to jail.

Stirling said British tourists have in the past fallen foul of the harsh laws in the desert paradise known for its glitz and glamor and favored by an army of influencers.

‘Tourists are vulnerable to vindictive, false and unevidenced harassment that could leave them languishing in notorious jails,’ said Ms Stirling. ‘They are vulnerable to extortion schemes like we see from airport staff, rental car agents, taxi drivers and so on.’ She added: ‘For many tourists a trip to Dubai can be a one-way ticket to jail. ‘

New York-based student De Los Santos was accused of ‘assaulting and insulting’ officials during a 10-hour stop-over at the country’s international airport following a flight from Turkey where she had undergone a medical procedure.

After a medical corset fitted after her operation showed up on an airport security device she was forced to strip semi naked to prove to staff what she was wearing. Unable to get the corset back in place, she reached out and touched the arm of a female security guard to get help.

The 21-year-old was accused by Dubai author of ‘assaulting and insulting’ the guard and banned from leaving the country. She denied the prosecution.

Elizabeth Polanco Age

Elizabeth Polanco Age is 21 years old.

New York student, 21, is jailed

After being fined over the incident in July the security guard appealed against the court’s decision and this week De Los Santos found out she was sentenced to a year in prison. Earlier this year, another American visitor Tierra Allen was jailed after being accused of shouting at car rental staff. Ms Stirling has been campaigning for De Los Santos’s release.

She said: ‘The recent high-profile cases of Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos and Tierra Allen serve as examples of what happens in Dubai on a daily basis.

‘The leadership has spent billions on marketing a glamorous city to British and American audiences, relying entirely on the naivety of visitors and investors to bring in dollars. ‘At the same time, the leadership has done very little to make the venue safe to the very people they lure in. ‘Tourists are vulnerable to vindictive, false and unevidenced accusation that could leave them languishing in notorious jails.

‘They are vulnerable to extortion schemes like we see from airport staff, rental car agents, taxi drivers and so on.’

She added: ‘For many tourists a trip to Dubai can be a one-way ticket.’

Detained in Dubai has assisted dozens of British tourists who have faced harsh jail sentences for seemingly trivial offences.

Laleh Shahravesh, 55, was detained under strict cyber-crime laws when she visited the country with her daughter Paris in 2019 She was accused of calling her ex-husband’s wife a ‘horse’ in a Facebook post.

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Despite the social media post being made three years ago to her trip to Dubai she was arrested and threatened with jail.

The 55-year-old paid a fine of £625 and was allowed to leave the country and vowed never to return. Others who have fallen foul of the Dubai laws include Scottish electrician named Jamie Harron who was jailed for three months for touching a man in a bar.

Australian aid worker living in Dubai, Scott Richards, was locked up for trying to raise money to buy blankets for Afghan children.

Authorities said he was not a registered charity and did not have permission to collect cash.

Former Apprentice contestant Selina Waterman-Smith faced jail earlier this year over a ‘bounced cheque’ she claims she did not write.

She claimed a former business partner had harassed her for several years and she was the victim of extortion.

But because she refused to pay £27,000 her former partner claimed she owed she she had not been able to leave the country.

Stirling said: ‘In Dubai it’s not about guilt or innocence. A mere allegation is sufficient to secure a conviction whether there is evidence of wrongdoing or not. Often troubles are used by complainants to secure large settlement payments to close the case.

‘Tourists from the UK and America need to be aware that Dubai is a dangerous place to visit.

‘Any country where a mere unevidenced allegation can result in lengthy imprisonment is an unacceptable choice for tourists and Dubai needs to work hard to stop this kind of legal abuse.’


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