Western tourists oblivious to the severe drugs laws in the United Arab Emirates often end up in jail after arriving in the conservative Muslim country with tiny amounts of narcotics for their own use.
But the UAE authorities do not deviate from their strict rules which stipulate imprisonment for a minimum of four years followed by deportation for those convicted of having drugs in their possession.
AdvertisementPeople convicted of the more serious offence of drugs trafficking can face capital punishment, although executions rarely take place in the desert Gulf nation.
With Dubai a favourite holiday spot, dozens of Westerners have been arrested upon arrival in recent years, according to a diplomatic source familiar with cases of people caught with small amounts of narcotics.
One such visitor was British dance DJ Grooverider, who was arrested last November for possession of 2.16 grammes (0.076 ounces) of marijuana upon arrival in Dubai.
He had been due to perform a club gig in the emirate, which is known as one of the party capitals in the Middle East.
Grooverider was quoted in local press reports on January 28 as telling a court he had forgotten he had a small amount of the drug in his pocket. His case was adjourned until later this month.
"There are over a million British tourists a year coming to the UAE," said Simon Goldsmith, spokesman at the British Embassy in Dubai. "We have a travel advice making it clear that the penalty is very severe" for drug possession.
AFP tried unsuccessfully to get a comment from the office of Dubai's public prosecutor.
Most Western countries warn their citizens about the consequences of drug possession in the UAE.
In its travel report, the Canadian foreign ministry says that "even if used while outside of the UAE, (using drugs) can be punishable by law if traces of the substance are found in the blood or urine, and can also carry a minimum prison term of four years."
In London the foreign office warns Britons travelling to the UAE that "the presence of drugs in the system is counted as possession," cautioning also that "the possession and/or import of even the smallest amount of drugs can result in a minimum prison sentence of four years."
The US embassy meanwhile adds that even having poppy seeds, which are used for cooking in some countries, could send their carrier to prison.
But many people do not think to check travel warnings before setting off.
In 2006, acclaimed US hip-hop music producer Dallas Austin was sentenced to four years in jail after he was found in possession of 1.26 grammes (0.04 ounces) of cocaine and other banned substances.
But the 34-year-old composer, who had come to Dubai for a three-day birthday bash for British supermodel Naomi Campbell, was pardoned by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum immediately after sentence was pronounced.
"Our experience is that authorities have a zero tolerance policy," Goldsmith said, adding that the British embassy can only help people arrested on drug charges by seeing them within 48 hours and providing them with a lawyer.
A French consular source said that 19 French citizens have been arrested during the past 18 months at Dubai airport for possession of drugs, including four in one day on January 1.
Eleven out of 12 jailed were pardoned after a few months while seven other cases are still being investigated, said the source who requested anonymity, adding that because of the increase in the number of cases investigating each one lasts about two months.
After they have been convicted and sentenced, one hope left to Western offenders is that they will be included in one of the royal pardons usually issued during festive seasons.
A Canadian benefited from one such pardon on the occasion of the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast last December.
Bert Tatham, 35, was jailed for four years in Dubai in June after he was arrested during a stopover from Afghanistan, when customs officials found two poppy flowers in his luggage and 0.6 grammes (0.02 ounces) of hashish in his clothes.
He was also charged with having traces of drugs in his urine.
Also in June, a 24-year-old Italian tourist landed a four-year jail term followed by deportation after being found in possession of 0.01 grammes of hashish, which he said he had forgotten in a jacket pocket.
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