x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Plea to Amnesty over jailed woman

International rights body criticises prison term as 'unlawful interference' with the right to privacy as family press for daughter's release.

The family of a young South African woman jailed in Khor Fakkan for breaching Sharjah's strict morality laws are trying everything they can to get her released, including appeals to leaders in the UAE and South Africa as well as Amnesty International.

The 22-year-old woman, identified only as RH, has served almost half the three-month jail term imposed for having sex outside marriage and for being alone with a man after hours. This is even though the man she was accused of being with - MH, 41, her employer at the diving centre where they both worked - was acquitted on appeal on identical charges. Freddie and Ina Hillier, RH's parents, have made direct appeals to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and to the South African president, Jacob Zuma.

They have also created a support group calling for her release which has attracted more than 1,500 members from every continent except Antarctica, begun an international petition asking Mr Zuma to provide support at the highest level in the effort to secure her release as a prisoner of conscience, and have also had her case assessed by a worker for Amnesty International. Amnesty cited the jail term imposed on RH when it called on the UAE to end the criminalisation of consensual sexual relations between adults and to release "immediately and unconditionally" prisoners like her.

In a statement, the organisation said the case was one of an increasing number of convictions in the UAE involving what it called the unlawful interference with the right to privacy as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "The organisation considers that those detained on such grounds are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for non-violent acts that relate to the legitimate exercise of their rights," the Amnesty International release stated.

Freddie Hillier said his daughter maintained there was no improper conduct between her and MH. The Hilliers had been in Albania when they learned of their daughter's arrest after a police raid in the early hours of May 16 and immediately came to the UAE to support RH, who turned 22 in jail. Mr Hillier had to return to his job after his hopes were dashed that the case would be dismissed by the Court of First Instance in Khor Fakkan. Mrs Hillier remained in the UAE on a 30-day tourist visa, visiting RH daily and hoping to be able to escort her out of the UAE after the appeal of her case on June 21. When the appeal court upheld the original judgment and sentence, she was forced to fly out of the country alone.

Mr and Mrs Hillier are now in Tanzania, where the family had been living before RH took the job at the Khor Fakkan dive centre, and are unable to return on another visitor's visa until 30 days after their last departure. Mr Hillier said he was in contact with the UAE consulate in Tanzania in an effort to get the 30-day rule waived in their case, so Mrs Hillier could return to support their daughter as she serves her sentence.

Mrs Hillier said she "just can't leave her alone" in jail and worried about her daughter's ability to serve the rest of her sentence without family support. At each hearing, RH had been hoping to be released but each time was taken back to jail handcuffed and in tears. After the appeal a week ago, the Hilliers were told that the judges made a distinction between RH and MH because she had made admissions to the police when being questioned and he had not.

Mr Hillier claimed his daughter had been frightened into making the statement and then into signing the police report in Arabic, a language she does not speak or read. jhenzell@thenational.ae