Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Sunny Day When Bodies Fell Out of the Sky

Horrific road accident on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi highway. Maybe ten people killed, scores injured, who knows how many cars fubared.

Why? Most likely because it was foggy, visibility was extremely poor, and people were driving with their hazard lights instead of headlights, and zipping along at 40kph over the speed limit, anyway.

That's how this shit always happens in the UAE. Carelessness and stupidity coupled with the insane need to get somewhere first.

It's nowhere close to where we were, and it wasn't a route we took all that often (I never made it to AD, CJ went maybe once a year for a conference at ZU's AD campus). But I can't help but wonder if any students or friends were hurt or injured, let alone killed.

The UAE IS a small world, after all.

My heart and hopes go out to the victims and their families.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Victory in Dubai - Cat Le-Huy Freed

As of today, the BBC has reported that Cat Le-Huy, head of Technology at Endemol UK, has been released from Al Wathba prison in Dubai, and is free to leave or stay in the UAE as he chooses. This brings to a close a month-long drama that attracted worldwide media and internet attention, and may have gotten the tourist and business-seeking Emirate to seriously re-evaluate how it deals with minor drug issues in immigration. (Then again, it may not.)

As reported earlier on this blog, Le-Huy, a German citizen, was detained upon arrival in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, for possession of an over-the-counter jet lag, Melatonin, which is illegal in Dubai for some strange reason. He was strip-searched, made to give a urine sample and forced to sign arabic documents that he did not understand, and that the authorities would not translate.

Mr. Le-Huy tested negative for drugs, and the Melatonin was cleared by authorities. But he remained in prison, without any charges being laid against him, while the authorities tested the dirt in his bag (.003 grams) to see if it was, as they suspected, hashish. It's almost as if they were desperately searching for something to bust him for.

In the meantime, his friends set up a website, The Truth About Dubai, which hosted a petition (which garnered more than 5700 signatures) and numerous informative links.

Before the results on the contents of his bag were even learned, Mr. Le-Huy was moved from his cell at the airport to Al Wathba prison, to be housed with other detainees awaiting trial. At that point he was told it might be another three months before he got to trial, and could expect a horrendous legal bill due to the small number of drug-offense lawyers operating in the UAE. He also learned that the substance in his bag had tested positive for drugs, but due to "incorrectly followed evidence procedures" the matter was still being investigated, and he still had yet to be charged.

As was noted at the time:"Authorities have called on another extension for 7 days. At the conclusion of this 7 day period, an extension will most likely be sought for a further 30 – 40 days at which point a date for the hearing should be arranged and will cause further delays. At such time, his council will begin negotiations with the prosecution to drop the case and urge for a swift deportation. If he is not successful, Cat will have to wait a few more days for a preliminary hearing."

That was February 10th. Less than a month later, Cat Le-Huy was a free man - all charges dropped, in spite of the police claiming that the .003 grams of dirt in his bag was cannabis, after all. Mr. Le-Huy denies knowingly carrying drugs, and as the equipment they use to detect drugs is so sensitive that it could pick up almost anything, the "cannabis" could have been in there for who knows how long.

(One moral of this story: when traveling to Dubai, purchase entirely new bags and clothing, and make sure your shoes are clean.)

Why the sudden turn-around? Normally, if something's dodgy in a drugs case, Dubai puts the accused on trial anyway, finds them guilty, sentences them to four years and then quietly deports them in the middle of the night after a few weeks or months. That way, they save face by looking merciful and benevolent by arranging an early release rather than looking stupid by admitting their overeagerness.

In this case, I think it was the massive press attention and protest actions that may have tipped the balance. Dubai as a rule abhors bad publicity, and the louder it gets the more likely they are to try and sweep something under the rug as quietly - or at least as quickly - as possible.

But however and whyever it happened, the fact remains that Cat Le-Huy is free, and the people made it happen.

The BBC went to Dubai to cover this story, and interviewed key officials in the case. The reporter and our attorney are saying that damage control is underway: many prisoners are about to be released, and they're promising reforms which could reduce these sorts of arrests happening to future travelers. Not holding my breath, but if this does transpire, then we've basically achieved everything we set out to do from the beginning, and that's a fair bit of awesome.


The media attention we've drawn from our collective efforts has resulted in not only Cat's release, but that of other prisoners and the subsequent changes that are under review. That's a pretty serious accomplishment.


I never thought I'd see the day where I said the internet restored my faith in humanity. This is the geek equivalent of an 80's movie ending.