x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Woman convicted of making obscene gesture claims she was harassed

A journalist convicted of public indecency after making an obscene gesture at an Emirati army officer says man harassed her on the road.

ABU DHABI // A woman convicted of making an obscene gesture at an Emirati army officer yesterday denied the charge at a retrial and said the man had reported her because he thought she would go to the police after he harassed her on the road.
"I am innocent," MH, a 22-year-old Tunisian journalist, told the Court of Appeal . "I was put in prison and I swear to God I did not do anything wrong. He was the one who did something wrong."
MH has appealed twice against the conviction. The man, an officer in the UAE Armed Forces from Fujairah, had a witness in his car to back his testimony. On the last appeal, the Court of Cassation ordered a retrial.
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MH told prosecutors she was driving her Range Rover from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, where she lived, when a man started to drive close to her.
"He started harassing me, showing me his mobile, tailgating my car and trying to pull me over to the side of the road," she said in court yesterday. "I was driving around 140kph and he forced me to slow down to 20."
She said he finally drove away when he saw her typing his car details into her mobile phone.
But the man told police he was driving when MH made an obscene gesture. He gave them her car details and presented his passenger in the car as a witness.
Ali al Abbadi, MH's defence lawyer, told the court that the appeals court had erred in accepting the witness's testimony, because he was the officer's friend and colleague who lived in the same area in Fujairah.
"She was convicted based on his description of the car, the man's words and those of his friend," Mr al Abbadi told the judge. "The evidence is insufficient.
"The lower courts erred in law in basing their decisions, which ruined the defendant's future, on hearsay."
Mr al Abbadi reiterated the argument that was accepted by the Court of Cassation before the appeal court yesterday, and asked that MH be acquitted.
The incident took place about six months ago on the motorway near Al Rahba.
The woman was asked to come to the police station to be questioned. A few days later, she was told she had been charged with violation of public decency. She said prosecutors never questioned her and the lower court did not allow her to offer a defence.
The court asked the man to swear on the Quran that she had reviled him. He did and Al Rahba Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced her to six months in jail and deportation. She was freed on bail after two weeks in prison.
She appealed against the verdict and the Abu Dhabi Court of Appeal sentenced her to a suspended sentence of six months and deportation.
She appealed again at the Court of Cassation, which rejected the verdict last month and sent the case back to the appeal court for a retrial.
MH was sacked from her job after her conviction. She is the sole breadwinner for her family of six, which includes her unemployed mother who lives in the UAE and grandmother who lives in Tunisia.
The judges will issue a verdict on April 17.
hhassan@thenational.ae
hdajani@thenational.ae