ABU DHABIi // A young South African woman and her Emirati employer hope to be cleared within two weeks of the indecency charges for which they were jailed under Sharia law. The 22-year-old woman, identified as RH, and her dive school boss, MH, in his 40s, were found guilty of having sex outside marriage and of being found together after hours in the dive centre in Khor Fakkan, Sharjah, last month.
On Monday they were sentenced to three months and six months in jail respectively. Both maintain the relationship was professional and not sexual. RH's father, Freddie Hillier, said both defendants had filed appeals against the verdicts and the sentences, with a hearing set for June 14 in Khor Fakkan. He had hoped to see his daughter walk free from court while he was in the UAE but had to fly out of Dubai early yesterday to return to work in Albania. RH's mother, Ina Hillier, will remain in the UAE to support their daughter and attend the appeal.
"It's tough, leaving while [RH] is still in jail," Mr Hillier said. "It's devastating that they got locked up and having to say goodbye to her. They allowed me to visit to say goodbye. "It's not easy and I'm hoping and praying that justice will be fair." The family had not wanted widespread publicity about the case before the verdicts because of concern it might prompt the judges to take a harsh line.
But after the sentences, their case has been reported in the UAE and throughout South Africa, and supporters have been trying to highlight the defendants' plight via global media outlets, such as CNN and the BBC. The case follows another involving two Britons who were jailed for adultery after being stopped by police as they emerged from a hotel a month ago. After the news of RH's jailing, a support group for her on the social networking website Facebook attracted about 300 members from 20 countries. Some of the messages of support were printed and shown to her during family visits in prison.
Several voiced outrage at the sentence but other people urged tolerance and respect for local customs. One, Beth Thomas, wrote: "We are all doing everything possible to sort this and are exhausting every contact and every possible avenue to get [RH] out. "While your messages of support, love and encouragement are really valuable and appreciated at this time, on behalf of Freddie, please don't post any derogatory comments about Dubai, Sharjah or the system here in the UAE.
"As a public site and with the news hitting the worldwide press, this support site will attract a lot of attention. Any derogatory comments about the country or its systems pose a serious risk to the success of the appeal and will make things a lot harder than they already are." firstname.lastname@example.org