x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Two jailed in Sharjah for tryst in dive centre

Couple maintain their innocence and plan to appeal as woman, 22, receives letters of support from Facebook friends worldwide.

Freddie and Ina Hillier, the parents of a woman jailed for having sex outside of marriage
Freddie and Ina Hillier, the parents of a woman jailed for having sex outside of marriage

KHOR FAKKAN // A young South African woman and her Emirati employer have been jailed after being found guilty of having sex outside marriage. The two defendants, identified as RH and MH, said they would appeal against the verdict, maintaining that their relationship was purely professional.

They both worked in a dive shop in the Sharjah town on the east coast where they were found in a late-night police raid last month. The woman, RH, sobbed after a court translator leaned over to her and told her she been found guilty on both charges and sentenced to three months in jail, and MH to six months. Her parents, Freddie and Ina Hillier, had flown in from their home in Albania and had been hoping to celebrate their daughter's freedom after 17 days in jail, one of which was her 22nd birthday.

But instead they watched their daughter being led away weeping and in handcuffs by a female prison officer. MH, in his forties, had a 26-year career in the UAE military but was on leave without pay running his dive company. One of his supporters in court said the conviction was likely to cost him his full pension, which after 20 years is 80 per cent of his pay for the rest of his life, and his military career.

No reasons for the decision were given at the brief hearing at Khor Fakkan court, at which the head judge, Ahmed al Naqbi, sitting with Ahmed Abu al Majd and Al Fata Hamad, announced the verdicts and sentences on two related charges of having sex outside of marriage and of being found together in commercial premises outside of working hours. RH's case has attracted attention around the world, with messages of support from people in about 20 countries on five continents posted on a Facebook page dedicated to her situation just over a week ago.

By yesterday's hearing, the group had more than 250 members, and around 200 messages had been posted. Some had been printed and taken to RH in jail to bolster her spirits. Some questioned whether Khor Fakkan's location within the small east coast outpost of Sharjah, with its stricter rules on alcohol and morality than the other emirates, was a factor in the case. Others vowed to do what they could to highlight the case.

Outside court, the Hilliers and their other daughter, Maxine, who works for a dive company in Abu Dhabi, said they would keep fighting for RH's release, initially by bail and then by appealing. Mr Hillier said his daughter and MH maintained their innocence, which had been supported when tests to see if they had had sex came back negative. At the time of the police raid, he said, RH had been asleep alone and with the door locked inside a bedroom at the dive centre and that MH had been elsewhere in the building, sorting equipment after a night dive. "We know she's innocent of these charges," he said.

Mrs Hillier said her daughter had a close relationship with RH and had been enjoying her work in the UAE since arriving in November last year. "I talked with her almost every day," Mrs Hillier said. "She wanted me to come and visit and to tell me basically that she was making a success of her life and coping on her own." Of the weekend when the pair were arrested, she said: "We didn't hear anything, but she'd said her phone was full of water so I assumed it was broken.

"I called Maxine and asked her to phone and check that everything was OK." jhenzell@thenational.ae