A 25-year old American woman appeared in court Monday on misdemeanor charges for allegedly insulting the United Arab Emirates in public while waiting for a taxi at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.
The National, a government-owned newspaper in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, reported that the woman, who was not named, has been under arrest since Feb. 23. The newspaper says she told the Federal Supreme Court that she was waiting for a taxi at the airport when two men approached and spoke to her in a manner she did not like.
It quoted her as saying that she “refused to engage with them and nothing happened.” The report did not say if evidence was presented against her.
The National says she requested from the court to pay a fine and be released from jail. A verdict was set for May 2.
The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi responded to an Associated Press query by stating that the embassy, “is aware of the case and is providing consular services.”
While liberal on some issues, the UAE has strict laws governing expression. Unlike in many Western countries, defamation is treated in the UAE as a criminal rather than a civil matter. Insulting the UAE’s leaders, or the country itself, can carry a prison sentence and steep fines.
In 2013, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen from Minnesota was tried under a cyber-crimes law and accused of defaming the country’s image abroad for posting a spoof video online about youth culture in the UAE. He spent nine months in prison before being deported and fined $2,700.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.