Handcuffed In Dubai On Valentine’s Day

Safi Roshdy
5 min readMar 8, 2024

One woman’s detention story, among others.

Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

It was Valentine’s Day 2024 but most of the other women who were brought to the jail where I was being detained were brought there because of court cases filed against them by their husbands.

“Did they put handcuffs on you?” I asked one of the women who was sitting next to me, referring to the guards who escorted her. She was just brought it with seven other women. She said that the guards had not. “They handcuffed me,” I said to her, and with that admission, the tears which I did not know I was holding back, came gushing through.

Until that point, I was by myself in a long, rectangular cell, behind a metal door that had a tiny window with bars. I had been there for close to an hour, not understanding where this unfamiliar experience would leave me, and how it would impact my dear mother who had accompanied me to the trial and witnessed the guard eagerly put the handcuffs on me and escort me out of the courtroom when the hearing was adjourned.

I proceeded to tell the woman my story and she told me hers. Her husband had sued her and so she sued him back. She did not go into much detail with her story but she showed genuine concern for me and my mom. I was brought in on a criminal charge while everyone else in the cell was brought in following the adjournment of a civil court hearing. She complained about the loudness of the other women, and while I sympathized with her, the loudness overwhelmed me with relief because it meant I was no longer alone.

“I just have a problem with those bars on the cell door,” exclaimed one woman. “I always smile and make the best of the situation, no matter what!” she continued and began to recount her story to those seated next to her, but her voice was loud enough, or perhaps the cell was small enough, for everyone to hear. Her husband, and father of her child, had taken on a second wife, and when the woman found out, she went “live” on social media and recounted the story to a large online following, and mentioned her own name and her husband’s full name in the process. Her husband then sued her.

Another woman was bawling her eyes out as she shared her story in return, in stark contrast to the levity with which the former had expressed hers. This woman’s now ex-husband wanted to have sole custody of their kids. Because of the parallel conversations taking place, I missed the part where the woman was explaining what she was accused of, but I was paying attention when another woman, who had prior court experience asked her how the police knew, to which the woman sharing the story replied that she had made the admission when asked by the police. “Oh, you should not have,” the experienced woman stated knowingly.

“Are they going to provide us with lunch?” Another woman asked ‘the experienced one.’ This was among the many other questions the other women had for ‘the experienced one.’ None of us seemed to know why we ended up in that cell, why the process had to be so dreadful, but some hypothesized: “They put you through this experience so you do not repeat what you did even if you are acquitted,” said one. “May God avenge us from those responsible for this,” prayed another one. “Oh, it’s just another unique experience you can talk about,” said another cheerful detainee.

“They put handcuffs on me,” the words now no longer felt heavy to me as I entertained the women with my pretend bragging. “I was also detained on arrival in a cell at the airport,” I continued listing my feats with the encouragement of a captive audience. None of the women detained looked or seemed dangerous. ‘The experienced one’ said that we could ask the guards to order food, so the women did, and somebody from the cafeteria came to take their orders, through the bars. “Order something and it’s on me,” offered the woman who was sitting next to me. In spite of the streak of lightheartedness brought upon me by the women’s company, I was still not in the right state of mind to have an appetite. “How are the eggs made in the egg sandwich?” asked one woman. “What kind of milk do you use for the cappuccino?” asked another. We clearly did not belong in jail.

The official charge against me by Dubai Public Prosecution was “insulting using an information network or information technology means”, which is a criminal charge that carries a hefty fine, a prison sentence and/or deportation. This was over an Instagram post which contained a screen capture of a newspaper article featuring a now former employee of the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. The post was made while I was in the United States, on the social media account of the advocacy initiative I had founded in the UAE.

When I arrived back in Dubai, mid-November 2023, I was detained, then informed of a complaint filed against me with Dubai Police. When I was questioned by the police I did not know what I was getting myself into, nor was I informed that a travel ban was going to be instated on me. The policemen, when I subsequently confronted them, appeared to be nonchalant about a situation, which to me was bewildering. I was back in Dubai on a 30 day visa and unless the person who had filed the complaint two years ago (the now former MOCCAE employee) withdrew the complaint, or I chose to admit guilt and pay a fine, I was essentially forced to endure months of agony.

“Dubai must really love me!” I found myself talking about the abuse on a phone call with a friend. I was away from Dubai for almost two years and I had pretty much gotten over my life in the city, and all the stress I was feeling over issues which bothered me here. I was very outspoken while in Dubai, but the breaking up allowed me to let go. I continued to seemingly recount a toxic relationship’s woes to my friend and asked rhetorically: “Why do they insist on keeping me here? Don’t they know what I end up doing here?”

This conversation with my friend was happening after I found out that Dubai Public Prosecution chose to appeal the Court of First Instance’s acquittal of me. I was originally relieved when I received the news of my acquittal from the guards while I was being held up in the cell with the other women. I was immediately hugged by the woman to my right, then the one to my left. Those women did not even know my name but their empathy was heartfelt. “Public Prosecution will appeal the decision,” then informed me ‘the experienced one,’ as I was being ushered out.

Even though prostitution is illegal in Dubai, no prostitutes were encountered by the author in the women’s detention facility. The bars prostitutes get to experience in the city are different.



Safi Roshdy

A proponent of human intelligence. Founded Dubai Public Defender and Ahlanwasahlan LLC