Middle East

Prison term dropped for Scottish man in Dubai bar dispute

A three-month prison sentence has been dropped for a Scottish man over touching another man’s buttocks in a dispute at a Dubai bar, an activist group said Monday.

Radha Stirling of Detained in Dubai said Jamie Harron’s passport was returned by police on Monday and that he was planning to leave the sheikhdom soon. The decision came only days after a Dubai court ordered 27-year-old Harron imprisoned over the incident.

Dubai police and the Dubai Media Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment to The Associated Press. The phone number for the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi rang unanswered.

Stirling said she believed a decree from Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, had resolved the case.

In Dubai, as in the other seven sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, absolute power rests with the hereditary ruler.

“It was just a public-relations nightmare for the country,” Stirling told the AP.

Harron was accused by another man of sexual assault for touching his buttocks during a dispute at the bar in July. One of Harron’s friends, British national James Allen, 37, who lives in Dubai, told prosecutors that the Scotsman bumped into the accuser’s arm on accident, sparking the argument, according to court documents.

He said Harron apologized to the accuser and “placed his hand on the side of his buttocks as a way of apologizing,” according to court papers.

Harron’s accuser told authorities that the Scotsman had come from behind and hit him on the buttocks while drunk, according to court documents. The accuser said Harron “laughed” when he asked why he did it and later gave him the finger before police arrived.

Harron also faced charges of drinking alcohol without a permit and over allegedly giving the accuser the finger during the argument. He did not attend his court hearing. The AP does not identify victims in sexual assault cases.

Dubai, home of the long-haul airline Emirates, long has sought to make itself a tourism hub. It has the world’s tallest building — the Burj Khalifa — as well as man-made islands, an indoor ski slope and miles of air-conditioned walkways in its high-end malls. It also will host the 2020 World Expo, a world’s fair held every five years.

Part of Dubai’s year-round tourism draw is also its alcohol sales, as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran ban the purchase of liquor and beer. Even neighboring Sharjah, another of the UAE’s sheikhdoms, bans it.

However, alcohol possession for foreigners is technically illegal without a government-issued license obtainable only after gaining their employer’s permission, though liquor and beer are widely available in bars.

Foreigners also have faced charges in the past for having sex outside of marriage. Such laws are common in other Mideast nations, based in part on Islamic legal codes.

Recent incidents involving British nationals apparently forced U.K. Ambassador to the UAE Philip Parham to write a letter warning citizens to exercise more caution and understand local laws in the sheikhdoms. Over 100,000 British citizens live in the UAE, while another 1.5 million visit each year, he said.

“Local laws and customs are very different to those in the U.K. and that there may be serious penalties for doing something which may not be illegal in the U.K.,” Parham warned.

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