LONDON — In 2016, a British woman discovered that her ex-husband of 18 years had remarried after seeing photos of the new couple on Facebook. Angered, she posted comments in her native Farsi, branding him an “idiot” and his new wife a “horse." Now, the mother faces a three-year jail sentence in Dubai and a fine of up to 50,000 pounds ($65,000).
The case of 55-year-old Laleh Shahravesh and the old social media posts that have come back to haunt her has gripped Britain in recent days, turning attention to the United Arab Emirates’ strict laws and the penalties those traveling there can face.
According to a human rights organization called Detained In Dubai, Shahravesh was arrested on March 10 at Dubai’s airport after flying in with her teenage daughter Paris to attend the funeral of her Portuguese ex-husband, Pedro Manuel Coreia Dos Santos, who is also her daughter’s father. Shahravesh and Dos Santos had lived together for eight months in Dubai, where he worked for a bank, before she returned to Britain in 2016 with their daughter. Dos Santos was residing in Dubai with his second wife at the time of the March 3 heart attack that killed him.
Despite posting her Facebook comments while on British soil, she is now awaiting trial in Dubai for breaking a cybercrime law by publishing the insults.
According to the organization, the Facebook comments were reported to Dubai police by the new partner of Shahravesh’s ex-husband. “I hope you go under the ground you idiot. Damn you. You left me for this horse,” read one of the gibes.
Talking to the BBC about Shahravesh’s well-being, Radha Stirling, the chief executive of Detained in Dubai, said: "Her emotional state is terrible, really. The whole family is suffering tremendously as a result of this.”
Since her mother was arrested in Dubai, 14-year-old Paris Shahravesh, returned home to the United Kingdom and has been campaigning for her mother’s release. “I ask kindly: please, please return my mother’s passport, and let her come home,” the teen wrote in an emotional letter to the ruler of Dubai.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy hunt expressed his concern for Shahravesh earlier this week, adding that she “is getting the best possible service” from British diplomats.
In recent years, Dubai has become a choice vacation destination for British and other tourists, although many are unaware of the Emirates’ strict laws and penalties if found guilty of inappropriate behavior.
In 2017, a 27-year-old Scottish man was sentenced to three months in a Dubai jail after touching another man’s hip in a crowded bar. He was charged with public indecency. He returned home after the United Arab Emirates’ prime minister and ruler of Dubai exonerated him.
In May 2018, British academic Matthew Hedges was arrested at Dubai International Airport after a two-week visit to the country. He was sentenced to life in prison in the UAE, accused of spying for the British government. After spending months in solitary confinement, he received a presidential pardon and was released in November.
At the time, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said it was time for the two countries to move on. The case of Laleh Shahravesh suggests that there is still plenty for the two countries to talk about.