SINGAPORE - A fundraising campaign to help two Singaporean men jailed in Abu Dhabi has hit its target of $25,000 in just a day.
Freelance fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli Abdul Rahman, 26, was in Abu Dhabi with his friend Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, 37, when the two were arrested for dressing in women's clothes and for behaving indecently.
Nur is a transgender woman known to friends as Fifi, but whose identification documents state is a man because Nur has not gone for sex reassignment surgery.
It is illegal to cross dress in the United Arab Emirates.
The pair had arrived in Abu Dhabi for work purposes on Aug 8, and were arrested the next day. On Sunday (Aug 20), the pair was sentenced to a year's jail without a hearing and with no lawyers representing them.
Their worried friends and family set up a new bank account and a Facebook page called Free Fad and Fifi, appealing for donations to fund lawyer fees.
The page was created on Thursday (Aug 24) morning, and by Friday 12pm has raised $25,600 from about 150 donors.
Fadli's brother Muhammad Saiful Bahri Abdul Rahman, 32, who works in property management, said his family is overwhelmed by the support.
"We didn't expect the money to be raised this quickly. We are very grateful to everyone who donated," he told The Straits Times.
Human rights activist Vanessa Ho, who lives in the same apartment as Fadli, had opened the bank account to raise funds. "Both families told us they couldn't afford the lawyer fees. We were searching for a lawyer that was within their budgets but couldn't find one," she said.
The amount raised will foot the lawyer fees for both Fadli and Fifi.
The lawyer will start work only when payment has been made, said Ms Ho.
The Straits Times understands they can both file an appeal 15 days after the judgement - on Sept 4.
Ms Ho had created a new bank account instead of using crowdfunding sites such as GiveAsia because those sites take between seven and 14 days to release funds but the families need the money immediately.
Fadli had called his father on Wednesday night, saying he was arrested by tourism police for wearing earrings, said Mr Saiful.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it is rendering consular assistance and helping the family get legal advice.
In an update on Friday afternoon, MFA said that the Singapore Embassy in Abu Dhabi has been “closely monitoring developments to ensure that due process is accorded to them”.
Officials from the embassy met both Singaporeans on Wednesday “to ensure their continued well-being while in custody”.
The ministry said that embassy representatives also attended the bail hearing for the two on Thursday. Before the hearing, on the same day, the representatives met the two Singaporeans as well, the fourth time the embassy met them since they were arrested.
The embassy first met them on Aug 10, the day it was informed of the pair’s case.
“Singaporeans are also reminded that they should respect and abide by the local laws when they travel overseas,” said MFA.