In a concerning legal development, a 21-year-old college student from New York City, Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, has been handed a one-year prison sentence by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The conviction stems from an alleged assault and insult directed towards a female airport security guard during a flight layover at Dubai Airport. Elizabeth, a student at Lehman College in the Bronx, found herself in this predicament after a tumultuous journey, which saw her stuck in Dubai for nearly three months due to a travel ban imposed on her.
Elizabeth’s ordeal began on July 14 when she and a friend were returning to New York from a vacation in Istanbul. Initially planning a layover in Paris, they decided to opt for a connection through Dubai, offering them the chance to explore the renowned city during a ten-hour break.
The trouble began at the airport’s security checkpoint when personnel requested Elizabeth to remove a waist compressor, a post-surgery necessity. She was escorted to a private area, where female staff proceeded to remove the garment. Elizabeth’s mother alleges that they handled the procedure roughly, causing discomfort to her daughter’s healing surgical scars. She further claims that they mocked Elizabeth, and when she requested assistance in reattaching the intricate garment, her request was denied. Elizabeth herself described feeling “uncomfortable and afraid,” stating that she felt violated. She pointed out the complexity of the garment, explaining that it had many pins that required precise fastening close to the body. Frustrated by the lack of help, she lightly nudged one staff member’s arm and called out to her friend for assistance.
Following this incident, Elizabeth was detained in a room for several hours as the security guard she had touched filed a formal complaint against her. She was not permitted to leave until she had signed a document written in Arabic.
Upon her return to the airport later to catch her flight to New York, she was informed of the travel ban and was compelled to remain in the country until the charges against her were addressed in court.
After enduring weeks of hotel stays, a judge eventually granted her the opportunity to pay a fine of 10,000 AED (approximately $2,700 USD) and leave the country. However, Dubai prosecutors contested this ruling, leading to the one-year prison sentence.
Referring to Article 297 of the Federal Decree Law No. 31 of 2021 on Crimes and Penalties, the Public Prosecution clarified that anyone who employs force, violence, or threats against a public servant or an individual responsible for public service with the intention of coercing them to perform or refrain from performing any duties within their role shall be liable for detention for a minimum duration of one year.
Furthermore, the statement highlighted that in instances where the crime was committed with premeditation, by multiple individuals, with the perpetrator in possession of a weapon, or involving physical assault, the penalty would entail detention for a minimum term of one year, coupled with a fine not exceeding Dhs100,000. This directive underscores the UAE’s commitment to safeguarding public servants and ensuring their protection while they fulfill their duties.
The U.S. State Department has acknowledged the detention of a U.S. citizen in Dubai, and advocacy groups, legal representatives, and concerned individuals are rallying to support her cause. They are urging the U.S. State Department to reconsider travel advisories concerning the risks of false allegations and extortion scams in Dubai. This case highlights the need for greater awareness of potential legal pitfalls when traveling abroad and the importance of diplomatic intervention to ensure the protection of citizens’ rights.