x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Appeal ruling postponed for pair jailed on sex charges

A South African dive assistant and her Emirati boss face another week in jail in Khor Fakkan before learning if a court will overturn their prison sentences.

A South African dive assistant and her Emirati boss face another week in jail in Khor Fakkan before learning if a court will overturn their prison sentences for having sex outside marriage. The pair have been in jail since being arrested during a late-night police raid over a month ago at their dive centre in the east coast town.

The South African, a 22-year-old identified only as RH, said she was asleep upstairs in a bedroom while her boss, MH, 41, was in another part of the building working on the diving equipment. They maintain there was no illicit conduct. Medical tests to assess whether there had been sexual activity came back negative. RH and MH had hoped to be freed yesterday by the Court of Appeal in Khor Fakkan, where they challenged their convictions for having sex outside marriage and being alone together in a commercial building after hours. However, the appeal judges reserved their decision, which they will deliver next week.

The case has attracted international media attention since the pair were convicted by a panel of three judges at Khor Fakkan on June 1. The woman was sentenced to three months in prison and her boss to six. In South Africa, that nation's diplomatic staff in the UAE were heavily criticised for initially failing to help RH. A South African consul was in court yesterday. The British media have compared the case with the arrest of an unmarried British couple around the same time. That couple were jailed after police caught them leaving a Dubai hotel. Officers had been tipped off by the woman's husband, a pilot for Emirates Airline.

The dive centre case has also been reported in the US, Cyprus, Poland, Portugal and Australia, and highlighted on the websites of about a dozen anti-Islamic groups that have used it to criticise Shariah law and the UAE. RH's father, Freddie Hillier, has deplored the way the case had been "twisted way out of proportion" by groups with their own agendas. He had to return to his job in Albania after the previous hearing and must follow events from afar.

RH "is doing well under the circumstances. She has received overwhelming support and encouragement from all the friends on her Facebook support page," he said by e-mail yesterday. A Facebook group, entitled Friend Support for [RH], has attracted more than 400 messages, a selection of which have been printed and taken to RH in jail by her mother, Ina Hillier, who is in the UAE on a visitor's visa, and her sister Maxine, who works for a dive school in Abu Dhabi.

jhenzell@thenational.ae