Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, a 21-year-old US student, has been released from a notorious Dubai prison after her sentence was commuted. The young student was initially sentenced to a year in prison after being accused of “assaulting and insulting” a female customs officer during a security check at Dubai’s airport – allegations she firmly denied.
Elizabeth’s ordeal began during a mere six-hour transit in Dubai en route from Istanbul to New York. Due to medical reasons, she wears a waist trainer. During a security check, she was instructed to remove the garment. The removal process, which she described as “degrading and invasive”, was compounded when she was led into a booth where she encountered plain-clothed women in local dress. Despite her appeals for help, her concerns were met with laughter and apparent indifference. Struggling to remove her waist trainer, she felt humiliated and panicked until a male officer permitted her friend to assist.
Following this unsettling experience, Elizabeth was accused of “assaulting and insulting” the customs officer. She was held for several more hours and was made to sign documents in Arabic. To her dismay, she later discovered a travel ban had been imposed on her.
Radha Stirling, CEO of the advocacy group Detained in Dubai, stated: “Elizabeth boarded her flight home to New York late Tuesday night.” Stirling highlighted the plight of tourists in Dubai, commenting on recent high-profile cases that underscore the potential perils of visiting the UAE city. “The leadership has spent billions on marketing a glamorous city to international audiences,” she said but warned of the “naivety of visitors” facing possible false accusations.
Stirling further lamented the trauma and financial loss Elizabeth endured, stating, “She has been left with the scars of an incomprehensibly traumatic experience for a young student, she has lost US$50,000 that she will never be compensated for.”
Furthermore, Stirling called for reform within Dubai’s justice system. “The government of Dubai should forbid workers from accepting compensatory payments as it only encourages workers to make false allegations,” she argued, highlighting the system’s potential misuse for extortion.
The saga resulted in growing concerns regarding the safety of US citizens traveling to the UAE. Detained in Dubai, along with other advocates, now calls for updated travel advisories, urging the US State Department to highlight these issues. The support from the US Embassy and Congressman Ritchie Torres was notably acknowledged.