Australian artist Jodi Magi found herself in a UAE prison after she posted on Facebook a photo of a parked car blocking two disabled parking spaces outside her apartment block in Abu Dhabi.
Despite blacking out the car's license plate number, the 39-year-old artist was convicted of “writing bad words on social media about a person,” jailed, and then deported, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Magi was arrested when she went to pay a fine and was just released after spending 53 hours in prison. On her Facebook page, she describes her traumatic experience saying:
After 53 hours in custody, having been shackled at the ankles, strip-searched, blood tested, forced to sleep on a concrete floor without a mattress or pillow and having no access to toilet paper or eating utensils, I can happily say I AM SAFE & OUT OF JAIL AND ABU DHABI!
Obviously, I think a $3600 fine and deportation with a complimentary incarceration period was an extreme reaction to a jpg of a car when I did not swear or mention a single name and blocked the registration plate.
Magi shares what she saw in the Abu Dhabi prison for women:
Even though I am pretty traumatised by my own experience, what has affected me more are the many, many stories told to me by my fellow inmates at both the jails I ‘visited’. I will be forever heartbroken by the treatment of these inspiring and courageous women from the Philippines, India, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, Bangladesh, Syria etc at the hands of the U.A.E. ‘Justice System’.
If you think what happened to me was insane, spend a couple of days in an Abu Dhabi jail; I have nothing to complain about compared to the vast majority of women I met whose only crime was being poor, marrying the wrong guy, getting pregnant outside of marriage or/and being victims of rampant and systemic police corruption where ‘evidence’, ‘ethics’ and ‘due process’ are unheard of concepts.
Among numerous acts of kindness to me, these ladies welcomed me to The Big House with “We are your family now”, gave me a spoon to eat with, found me a blanket and a book to read and even sent me on my way to freedom with snacks in case I got hungry at the airport.
She vows to help:
I will do what I can to contact some of their families and let them know how/where they are, but I still feel incredibly guilty leaving them in there when I am typing this from the luxury of an airport restaurant.
I know 1000% after hearing their stories that I would never have been released in such a speedy fashion without a) my Australian nationality, b) the media coverage (surreal), c) the belated efforts of the embassy and d) all of the support from my friends as well as people I have never even met.
On Twitter, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Middle East and North Africa executive director Sarah Leah Whitson quipped:
— Sarah Leah Whitson (@sarahleah1) July 14, 2015
In 2012, the UAE enacted a new cyber crime law that has been condemned by human rights groups, among them Human Rights Watch, which described the decree as “a serious threat to the liberty of peaceful activists and ordinary citizens alike.”
At the time the law was passed, HRW said in a statement:
The decree’s vaguely worded provisions provide a legal basis to prosecute and jail people who use information technology to, among other things, criticize senior officials, argue for political reform, or organize unlicensed demonstrations. Although some provisions are aimed at preventing the proliferation of racist or sectarian views online, the principal effect of the law is severe restrictions on the rights to free expression and free association and assembly.
Article 29 provides the same penalties for anyone using information technology “with the intent of deriding or harming the reputation, stature, or status of the state, any of its institutions, its president or vice president, the rulers of the emirates, their crown princes or their deputies, the state flag, national safety, its motto, its national anthem, or its symbols.”
By enabling the authorities to imprison anyone who makes any critical comment about the country or its rulers, the new decree is at odds with international free speech standards.
It is not clear what was offensive in Magi's photograph, which aimed at highlighting the disregard of many to traffic rules and regulations.