x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Sister of jailed woman quits UAE for South Africa

The sister of a South African woman jailed in Sharjah on a charge of having illicit sex has quit her job and left the country.

ABU DHABI // The sister of a South African woman jailed in Sharjah on a charge of having illicit sex has quit her job and left the country because her family feared she might also be accused of breaching the UAE's morality laws. Maxine Hillier, 20, had been working for a dive centre at the Beach Rotana hotel, but flew out of Abu Dhabi on Wednesday for South Africa. Her sister RH, 22, who worked at a dive centre in Khor Fakkan, is serving a three-month jail term for having sex outside wedlock and being alone with her boss in a commercial building after hours.

Meanwhile, an online petition urging the South African president Jacob Zuma to exert diplomatic pressure for her release on Wednesday reached 1,000 signatories. RH maintains the contact between her and her boss was innocent, a claim backed by medical tests that showed there had been no sexual contact. She was nevertheless found guilty and jailed. Her boss, MH, 41, had been sentenced to six months in jail but was released on appeal.

Since RH's arrest in a late-night police raid on May 16, her family has been trying to get her released by defending her against the charges, then challenging the conviction and sentence on appeal, and now by gathering high-level diplomatic support. A support group for RH on the social networking website Facebook has nearly 2,000 members from every continent except Antarctica. Freddie Hillier, the father of RH and Maxine, said it was a relief to hear that his youngest daughter was on her way home.

"Maxine has just left the UAE for good, never to return, and is now in the air on the way to South Africa," he said. "At least we will not have to worry about her now." He said he hoped his other daughter and wife, Ina, could leave soon, so "our nightmare will end". Ina Hillier said she had spoken to Maxine, and it had not been an easy decision for her to leave. "I think she had quite a good job here, and from what I understand from everybody, she was very happy, and I think her boss would have liked her to remain here," she said. "But we just couldn't, we're not prepared to do that."

Mrs Hillier said she visited RH in jail. She said her daughter was being treated well, although she had grown dispirited after nearly eight weeks in custody. "She's doing fine, but I think she's quite sad that her sister is leaving and going to a place where she'd love to go," Mrs Hillier said. "Once [RH] is released from jail, we'll all go to South Africa and have a happy reunion there." jhenzell@thenational.ae