I Was Charged By Dubai Public Prosecution And Detained In The UAE. This Is My Story.

Safi Roshdy
6 min readJan 23, 2024

If the purpose of charging me was to deter me from speaking out, here I am at it again. There are relatively few of us out there who are willing to take a risk against tyranny, and speaking out, in spite of the consequences it can entail, seems to be our calling. I am by no means claiming to be a hero like many brave souls who have made priceless sacrifices, but to me the risk of a prison sentence, of being deported from my birthplace, and of a minimum fine of USD 68,000 (and a maximum fine of USD 136,000) is serious, and if I am willing to take it on, what I am standing up for must really mean something to me.

I spent the past week giving myself a crash course in drafting a defense memo in Arabic, and educating myself on the United Arab Emirates Penal Code articles related to the charge brought against me. I do not have the financial means nor the will to spend at least $7000 on a lawyer, who in turn cannot guarantee whether I will win or lose my case when it is presented in front of a judge. I have therefore decided to attempt to represent myself in court, quoting the country’s law and presenting evidence as it applies to my case. The alternative out of this is to subjugate myself to the demands of somebody who took it upon themselves to use the threat of punishment to shut the initiative I founded up.

The case should have never made it this far. The reason it did, based on my assessment, is because firstly, the UAE government has in place a system which allows for unjust complaints to be filed against non-citizens, and secondly because UAE government officials do not want to take the blame for not standing up for citizens against non-citizens, i.e. if citizens complain about something, their complaint had better be addressed, and in my case, if a citizen felt offended by an online post, it had better be removed. Will my attempt at self defense as a non-citizen in a UAE court then make any difference?

I am being accused of attributing to a public officer an incident which made them the object of contempt by others, and the official charge is that of “insulting using an information network.” The post in question, was made in February 2022 on the Instagram account of the environmental initiative I had founded in the UAE. The post was made while I was in the United States with my mom who was undergoing surgery at the time. My dad, who was in the UAE then, was asked to report to the police station for questioning because the phone number on the initiative’s website (a number our family has had for at least 15 years) was registered under his name. Hearing of this while overseas, and not completely understanding what trouble I had allegedly caused, I ended up extending my stay in the US because my mom was genuinely concerned for me.

Fast forward to 2023, my dad, who had worked in the UAE all his life, was ready to retire and had to leave the country and I wanted to help pack out any of the belongings I had left behind that I did not wish to get thrown out. The environmental initiative I had spent so much of my own money, time and energy on had already been shuttered in the UAE because it was no longer worth the headache for me to attempt to convince anyone there that what we were doing and how we were doing it mattered. The horror stories published of UAE court convictions of non-citizens, over issues they would not have been convicted of elsewhere, did not help bring me any comfort either. I was not sure if going back to the UAE still presented a threat to my freedom, but on the night of 15 November 2023, I found out that it did.

I arrived in Dubai Airport and was directed, in a very rude manner, to the immigration desk after being trapped inside the Smart Gate for at least half an hour. When I arrived at the desk I was told there was a warrant out for me by Dubai Police but that it was not clear why this was the case. Since it was already midnight and my parents were expecting to pick me up, I asked if I could just leave now and go to the police station in the morning, but I was made to wait for seven hours without my passport until I was finally transferred to the airport’s police station, which was located on the floor above, only to be locked up in a cell after being told vaguely why I was being arrested, in a very disconcerting manner, in front of my parents who were finally able to meet me before I was held behind bars.

Long story short, it felt like I was a criminal, and when I asked a male guard, who was informed that I was on my period, to use the restroom after almost two hours of being locked up, I was told it was time for me to be transferred to another police station, so I went along, and got into a prison van, all the while not knowing where I was going, for what purpose, or how long I would be detained, and at the same time worrying about a potential blood stain on my pants. At the next police station I was questioned about the Instagram post from 2022, even though I had not had any real rest for almost 34 hours. The trip I had taken from the US to the UAE alone took 24 hours.

When I finally made it home, after having to go back to the airport to pick up the luggage I was required to leave behind, I felt overwhelmed and I still had no idea that a travel ban was imposed on me. I was told after questioning that it would be up to Public Prosecution to decide how to move forward with the case but that the best way to move forward would be to get whoever filed the complaint to withdraw it. It was Thursday, and Friday was a half day at government offices so I allowed myself to rest, but I went to the office of the UAE Minister of Climate Change & Environment first thing Monday morning.

The Ministry had nothing to do with the complaint, I was told, and the person who made the complaint no longer worked there. But, what really got to me was the fact that when the official from the Minister’s office spoke to the person on the phone, the feedback was that it was assumed that I would no longer be allowed back in the country because of the complaint they made. The complaint in itself was an end. The intimidation was the name of the game, in legalese it was also known as deterrence. It was an all too familiar flex of citizenship known to those who were born and have lived in the UAE all their lives, but who were always made to feel like outsiders, having to renew their residency every so often, and always running the risk of getting expelled at any time.

The next few weeks were an interesting blend of bringing myself to come to terms with the gravity of my situation, going back and forth between government departments to understand why a law I clearly thought made the post in question legal did not prevent the complaint from being filed in the first place, and not knowing what overstaying my tourist visa on arrival meant in terms of fines. Yes, after all those years spent in the UAE, I was a tourist and I was experiencing a very special form of hospitality, that of an open air prison. If it were not for my parents, I would have also been homeless. But, yesterday, a formal charge was made by the Dubai Public Prosecution against me in a document meant for a court hearing, and nothing I had already been through could prepare me for what was coming next.



Safi Roshdy

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