The nightclub was hopping when Laura stepped away from her drink to dance. The 22-year-old Dutch tourist had come to Qatar on vacation with a friend. Now she was partying at one of the few places to drink alcohol in the country: the Crystal Lounge at the W Doha Hotel.
As she danced between a mirrored floor and swirling disco balls, however, Laura suddenly began to feel sick and blacked out, according to her attorney.
When she regained consciousness, she was in a stranger’s apartment building. Her clothes were torn.
“Laura realizes from that moment that she was drugged and raped,” Brian Lokollo, her attorney, told the Telegraaf. “She suspects that someone in an unguarded moment threw something into her drink.”
When Laura went to Qatari police to file a report, the man she accused of raping her was quickly arrested.
But so was she — for reporting her own rape.
Laura spent the past three months in a Doha jail cell on a charge of adultery, according to the Associated Press. In Qatar, it is illegal to have sex out of wedlock.
On Monday, Laura was convicted by a Qatari court. She received a one-year suspended prison sentence and will likely be deported back to the Netherlands later this week, Yvette Van Eechoud, the Dutch ambassador to Qatar, told Al Jazeera after the hearing.
The man she accused has also been convicted, but not of rape. He has been sentenced to 140 lashings for adultery and public drunkenness, according to Al Jazeera.
The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault. In this case, however, Laura’s mother and attorney used her first name and photo in an attempt to pressure Qatari officials to release the young woman. Her first name has also been used in a social media campaign. The Post is not publishing her photo for privacy reasons.
Laura was released Monday into “the care of the Dutch Embassy,” according to the AP.
“Glad that #Laura can soon come home,” Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, said in a tweet after the decision. “Relieved.”
Laura’s mother was also happy to have her daughter headed home.
“I’m shaking in my legs. I can’t believe it,” she told Dutch news program EenVandaag, according to Al Jazeera. “She has been sentenced. I don’t know for what but I don’t care. This is the best I could have wished for.”
Lokollo noted, however, that Laura had been fined roughly $845 for reporting her own rape.
The young woman’s imminent deportation follows a sudden flurry of attention on the case after nearly three months of secrecy and silence.
But it will likely bring little comfort to the accuser, who is at least the third woman in recent years to be arrested in the region after reporting a rape.
The case also adds to ongoing concerns over Qatar’s suitability to host the 2022 World Cup.
Laura was arrested in mid-March after telling police that she had been drugged and raped.
Her case remained out of the headlines until last week, however, when her mother shared Laura’s first name, photo and story with Dutch media.
“It’s a nightmare,” Marian, also identified by only her first name, told the Telegraaf.
Marian said the trip to Qatar was her daughter’s first independent holiday. Laura traveled to the oil-rich country with a friend.
Laura was drinking and dancing at the Crystal Lounge when she suddenly felt sick. From then on, she only remembers “snatches,” according to Lokollo, her Dutch attorney.
Laura vaguely remembers a man grabbing her by the arm and taking her to a taxi, he said.
“Later she sees a man on top of her,” Lokollo told the Telegraaf.
Upon regaining consciousness and realizing what happened, Laura contacted police, only to find herself arrested.
“Laura was accused immediately,” Lokollo said. “A prosecutor shouted at her constantly: ‘Why did you [sleep] with him!”
“Laura was terrified, intimidated, embarrassed terribly and finally signed an Arabic statement she could not read,” the attorney added.
The man Laura accused was also arrested, but on adultery and public drunkenness charges, not rape. He has been identified by Al Jazeera as Omar Abdullah al-Hasan, a Syrian citizen.
Hasan claimed the sex was consensual and that Laura had only gone to police after demanding money and trying to steal his watch and cellphone, according to the Guardian.
After Marian went public with her daughter’s ordeal, supporters launched a #FreeLaura campaign online.
Some critics suggested boycotting the 2022 World Cup in Qatar over the case. The tournament, which in 2014 drew one million tourists to Brazil, is already likely to test Qatar’s strict rules on alcohol. The country only allows foreigners to drink in a few international hotels, or in private upon obtaining a permit.
The country has also faced criticism from human rights groups for the harsh conditions in which many World Cup stadiums are being built.
Laura’s arrest isn’t the first of its kind in the region. In 2008, an Australian woman was jailed for eight months after reporting she was gang-raped at a hotel in the United Arab Emirates, according to the AP. Three years ago, a Norwegian woman reported being raped in Dubai only to be arrested for adultery and sentenced to 16 months in prison. She was ultimately pardoned and allowed to leave Qatar, however.
On Monday, Laura was convicted and released — but not before she paid her $845 fine.
Hasan was also convicted, according to Al Jazeera. He will receive 100 lashings for adultery and another 40 for public drunkenness and will be deported, according to the Doha-based television network.
Laura’s account drew some scrutiny in the Netherlands after media reported that her traveling companion had admitted to working as a prostitute, the Guardian reported. Another “complicating factor,” according to the Dutch foreign ministry, was that her mother said Laura had converted to Islam during her detention.
On Monday, however, Marian said she was simply happy her daughter was homeward bound.
“This is the news I have been waiting for for days,” she told Dutch national broadcaster NOS, according to the Guardian. “I haven’t slept for nights, but I’m very happy.”
The sentence could easily have been much stiffer, a Qatari court official told Al Jazeera.
“Had she been a Muslim woman, she would have received at least five years in jail,” he said, adding that Laura’s sentence was “lenient.”
“No one can get out of such charges here in Qatar.”