An Australian woman is now serving jail time in Abu Dhabi because of a post she made in Facebook that pointed out to a misdemeanor in a parking slot for disabled persons.
Jodi Magi, 39 years old, was flabbergasted when she saw a car parked across two disabled parking spaces. This happened in her apartment complex in Abu Dhabi. The car didn’t have any disability stickers.
Magi took a photo of the misdemeanor and posted in on Facebook. Next thing she knew, she was being arrested for “writing bad words on social media about a person,” when in fact she even purposely blocked the license number of the car to protect the identity of its owner.
But someone complained to the police. “I have zero idea [what I have done wrong]. I used the internet,” Magi told ABC.
She was found guilty of pointing out the act on Facebook. Authorities told her she may be deported.
Drewery Dyke, from Amnesty International, warned foreign nationals who plan to visit or live in the UAE to better read up and stock up knowledge of the country’s restrictive laws regarding free expression.
“Be careful where you point your camera, be careful what you take a picture of,” he told the SMH. “With the trends that have been set in motion since 2011, the space for expression, the space for fair procedures with the administration of justice, have narrowed. The restrictions have grown.”
Worse, despite the restrictions, Dyke said there is no call for change within the oil-rich Gulf nation. “There’s no internal demand in the UAE for it to change. It’s not as if there is an opposition party, there is no such thing, there’s no civil society to call them to account.”
Seemingly aware of what could happen next, and already afraid, Magi offered to pay the $3600 fine and to voluntarily deport herself in early July. But authorities said she could not leave without presenting herself to court. It was there while presenting herself to court that she was arrested and jailed.
Speaking to ABC from the back of a police van, she said she’s scared because she no longer has an idea of what’s coming next for her. “…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,” she said. “I’m pretty scared.”
Before moving to the United Arab Emirates in 2012 with her partner, Magi was a graphic designer in Melbourne and Perth. She teaches local Emirati women skills in graphic design and illustration at Zayed University.
— Jodi Magi (@Jodi_Magi) June 20, 2015
Nicholas McGeehan, a UAE researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the “luxury, modern tourism and business destination” image being portrayed of the country ends there. The draconian attitude to freedom of expression and other repressive laws continue to exist.
“Anyone who says anything online, makes any comment online about another person, could fall foul of their cybercrime decrees, if someone complains about them, particularly if someone has any connection to the authorities,” he said. The Gulf nation is a dangerous place to use Facebook and Twitter, he added.