DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Houston woman known online as the “saucy trucker” has been stuck in Dubai for months after an altercation at a car rental agency, the latest case showing the limits of speech in this skyscraper-studded city-state.
The case against Tierra Young Allen, 29, comes as the seven kingdoms of the United Arab Emirates have rules that strictly govern speech well beyond what is common in Western nations. A raised middle finger in a traffic dispute, a text message calling someone by her name, or swearing in public can easily trigger criminal cases, something foreign tourists who flock here may not realize until it’s too late.
Allen traveled to Dubai in April, his social media accounts with tens of thousands of followers showing videos of him test driving a Mercedes truck, going to the beach, visiting tourist attractions and partying in nightclubs.
But towards the end of Allen’s trip, a rental car driven by a friend he was with was involved in an accident on April 28, said Radha Stirling, who heads a UAE advocacy group called Dubai Detainees. After the accident, Allen tried to retrieve personal items that were still inside the car from the rental agency, leading to an altercation, Stirling said.
The circumstances of the altercation at the unnamed car rental agency remain unclear. Stirling has described Allen facing possible charges for “yelling” at a rental car agency employee, without elaborating on what Allen specifically said at the time. Stirling accused the car rental employee of “raising his voice and following her out of the store” during the incident.
Allen “was ‘scared’ and intimidated by his assault,” Stirling said.
Allen did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press, which Stirling blamed on the “risk of additional charges from the United Arab Emirates government” if he spoke publicly.
In a statement, Dubai police disputed Stirling’s description of the altercation.
The “Dubai police received a complaint from a car rental office, accusing it of slandering and defaming an employee amid a dispute over car rental rates,” the police said in their statement. “The individual was questioned as per legal procedures and subsequently released pending the resolution of the ongoing legal proceedings between her and the car rental office.”
Usually, the police impose travel bans on the people involved in such cases until a resolution is reached. The police take statements from both parties and then determine whether they should be sent to prosecutors. Cases are resolved when the complainant drops the case, the two parties agree to settle, or go to court. Police are holding Allen’s passport, Stirling said.
In response to an AP query, the US State Department acknowledged that it was “aware that a US citizen, Tierra Young Allen, is not allowed to leave Dubai.” However, he did not elaborate on the circumstances of Allen’s case.
“We take our commitment to help American citizens abroad seriously and are providing all appropriate assistance,” the State Department said. “The Department remains in regular communication with her and her family. We will continue to monitor her case closely.”
The State Department separately advises travelers arriving in the United Arab Emirates that “individuals may be arrested, fined, and/or deported for… making rude gestures, swearing… and making derogatory statements about the United Arab Emirates, royal families, local governments, or other individuals.”
Under Emirati law, publicly insulting another person can carry a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of $5,450. Disputes over car rental agency fees have also seen other foreign tourists stuck in the city-state in the past.
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