Two Singaporean men have been each sentenced to a year's jail in Abu Dhabi for wearing female attire.
Freelance fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli Abdul Rahman, 26, was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for work.
He was travelling with his friend Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, 37, known to family and friends as Fifi. Nur is a transgender person whose name has been legally changed but who has not undergone a sex-change operation.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Nur's 34-year-old sister, who wanted to be known only as Madam Rozy, said: "Fifi has not undergone gender reassignment surgery, so her personal documents still state her gender as male. We are worried about her."
Fadli and Nur landed in Abu Dhabi on Aug 8, and were arrested at the foodcourt of a shopping mall the next day.
A court document in Arabic said two Singaporean men were caught for wearing women's clothes in public and for behaving indecently. Cross-dressing, homosexuality and being a transgender person are crimes in the UAE.
LAWS REFLECT TRADITIONAL VALUES
The UAE has built a tolerant, cosmopolitan image, but the laws continue to reflect the conservative, traditional values of the society. It is not uncommon for visitors to be confused about what is or is not acceptable behaviour.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE RADHA STIRLING, of non-governmental organisation Detained in Dubai.
Madam Rozy said Nur had holidayed in the UAE about four times before and had come home safely each time. "We have a family WhatsApp group and Fifi often sent us messages whenever she was away. This time, she suddenly went silent and this was out of character. A few days later, we received a voice message from her saying she had been arrested. I was shocked."
Fadli's brother, Mr Muhammad Saiful Bahri Abdul Rahman, 32, who works in the property management sector, said his brother was wearing "a normal white shirt". Fadli sent his family a picture of himself, just before he was arrested. He called his father late last night, saying he had been arrested by the tourism police for wearing earrings.
Mr Saiful said his family was informed about his brother's arrest by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last week. On Monday, they were told Fadli had been sentenced to a year's jail on Sunday.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in an e-mail to the family seen by ST, said: "I'm sorry to hear about this. Rest assured that our consular and mission colleagues will do their best to assist your brother. I understand that they are already in contact with you and your brother. Please let me know if you need further assistance."
Both Singaporeans were not represented by a lawyer in the Abu Dhabi court, Mr Saiful said. "My brother was not present in court, and nobody from the Singapore embassy was there either. So he could not have defended himself."
ST understands, however, that MFA officers were at the Court to attend the hearing, but the hearing did not take place as the Judge had decided to pass the sentence without a hearing and without the detainees' presence. This is permissible under the UAE legal system.
ST also understands they can both file an appeal 15 days after the judgment - on Sept 4.
An MFA spokesman, in response to queries earlier, had said: "We are also assisting the family to get legal advice."
Local activist Vanessa Ho, who shares an apartment with Fadli, said she is trying to get a lawyer in Abu Dhabi to represent them.
She said: "We found that the American embassy has a very good handbook about detention in Abu Dhabi. It says citizens have a right to make a phone call home but Fadli has not contacted anyone."
In a post on LinkedIn, non-governmental organisation Detained in Dubai's chief executive Radha Stirling wrote: "The UAE has built a tolerant, cosmopolitan image, but the laws continue to reflect the conservative, traditional values of the society. It is not uncommon for visitors to be confused about what is or is not acceptable behaviour."