Two Singaporean nationals were arrested in Abu Dhabi for ‘looking feminine’ and sentenced to one year in jail.
They were arrested earlier this month in the United Arab Emirates city and have already been sentenced.
One of the people was male, but the other was a trans woman whose passport still had her gender listed as male.
Detained in Dubai – a not for profit organization that helps people who are ‘victims of injustice’ – said the Singaporeans were detained at a shopping mall.
The group said the two were unaware of the UAE’s strict laws against impersonating a woman.
‘The UAE has built a tolerant, cosmopolitan image, but the laws continue to reflect the conservative, traditional values of the society,’ said Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai.
Stirling said her organization had represented a British person last year who was arrested for ‘crossdressing’. They were eventually released on bail and ordered to pay a fine.
In the UAE trans people are categorized as ‘crossdressers’.
‘But transgenderism and similar lifestyles continue to be criminalised in the UAE with often severe penalties, and visitors are advised to be cognisant of this fact,’ Stirling said.
The organization does not know exactly what the two have been charged with. But Stirling said they were very concerned about their safety.
‘We are in the process of securing legal representation for them, as well as being in touch with the Singaporean Embassy to support them in any way possible,’ she said.
The pair have 14 days to prepare an appeal against the court’s sentence.
In 2016, the UAE made it legal for people to undergo gender affirmation surgery. But in the same year a 21-year-old Lebanese man was arrested for doing drag and posting it on Instagram in Abu Dhabi.
In August of 2016, celebrity YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous was detained at Dubai Airport because she’s trans. She described it as ‘one of the scariest moments of my entire life’.
David Haigh is a partner in a UAE law firm and was himself detained and abused because of his sexuality.
‘The UAE needs to be clear on what the law is and apply that law consistently,’ he said.
‘Dubai, for example, has a significant gay and transgender community including many overtly gay bars an clubs. Understandably, this leads the tourist or business-person to believe homosexuality and transgenderism are acceptable.
‘However, homosexuality and transgenderism are serious criminal offences, which will mean a lengthy jail term.’