This is lengthly but worth the read. ~KYO
DUBAI: Alexandre Robert, a French 15-year-old, was having a dream summer in this tourist paradise on the Gulf. It was Bastille Day, and he and a classmate had escaped the July heat at the beach for an air-conditioned arcade.
Just after sunset, Alex was rushing to meet his father for dinner when he bumped into an acquaintance, a 17-year-old native-born student at the American school, who said he and his cousin could drop Alex off.
There were, in fact, three Emirati men in the car, including a pair of former convicts, aged 35 and 18. They drove Alex past his house and into a dark patch of desert, between a row of new villas and a power plant, took away his cellphone, threatened him with a knife and a club and told him they would kill his family members if he ever reported them.
Then, Alex says, they stripped off his pants and one by one sodomized him in the back seat of the car. They dumped Alex on the side of the road across from one of Dubai's luxury hotel towers.
Alex and his family were about to learn that despite Dubai's status as the Arab world's paragon of modernity and wealth, its legal system remains a perilous gantlet when it comes to homosexuality and legal protection of foreigners.
The authorities not only discouraged Alex from pressing charges, he says; they have left open the possibility of charging Alex with criminal homosexual activity, and neglected to inform him or his parents that one of his attackers had tested HIV positive while in prison four years earlier.
"They tried to smother this story," Alex said by phone from Switzerland, where he fled a month into his 10th grade, fearing a jail term in Dubai if charged with homosexual activity. "Dubai, they say we build the highest towers, they have the best hotels. But all the news, they hide it. They don't want the world to know that Dubai still lives in the Middle Ages."
United Arab Emirates law does not recognize rape of males, only a crime called "forced homosexuality." The two adult men charged with molesting Alex appeared in court Wednesday, and will face trial before a three-judge panel on Nov. 7. The third, a minor, will be tried in juvenile court. Men convicted of sexually assaulting other men usually serve sentences ranging from a few months to two years, legal experts here say.
The two adults have pleaded not guilty to kidnapping with deceit and illicit sexual intercourse.
Rape and assault are not unknown in Dubai, a bustling financial and tourist center where at least 90 percent of the residents are not Emirati citizens. Alex's Kafkaesque journey into the Dubai legal system brings into sharp relief questions about unequal treatment of foreigners that have long been quietly raised among the expatriate majority here. It also throws into public view the taboos surrounding HIV and homosexuality that Dubai residents say have allowed rampant harassment of gays and have encouraged the health system to treat HIV virtually in secret. (Under Emirates law, foreigners with HIV, or those convicted of homosexual activity, are deported.)
Prosecutors here tout their system as modern, Western-style and fair.
"The legal and judicial system in the United Arab Emirates makes no distinction between nationals and non-nationals," said Khalifa Rashid Bin Demas, head of the Dubai Attorney General's technical office, in an interview. "All residents are treated equally."
Dubai's economic miracle - decades of double-digit growth spurred by investors, foreign companies, and workers drawn to the tax-free Emirates - depends on millions of foreigners, working jobs from construction to senior financial executives. Even many of the criminal court lawyers are foreigners, because there are not enough Emiratis.
Lawyers here say that corporate law heartily protects foreign investors, but that equal protection before the law does not always extend to foreigners in criminal court. "Equality exists in theory, but not in practice," said a Western diplomat with close knowledge of the Dubai legal system.
Alex's case has raised diplomatic tensions between the Emirates and France, whose government has lodged official complaints about the apparent cover-up of one assailant's HIV status and other irregularities in the case.
Demas said that the police and prosecutors followed procedures, and that officials informed the victim's family of the assailant's HIV status as soon as they learned it. The Dubai authorities have no intention of prosecuting Alex for homosexual activity, Demas said, and are seeking the death penalty for the two adult attackers.
"This crime is an outrage against society," Demas said.
However, the investigation file in Alex's case and a pair of confidential French diplomatic cables obtained by The New York Times confirm the accounts of inexplicable and at times hostile official behavior described by Alex and his parents.
"The grave deficiencies or incoherence of the investigation appear to result, in part, from gross incompetence of the services involved in the United Arab Emirates, but also from the moral, pseudo-scientific, and political prejudices which undoubtedly influenced the inquiry," the French ambassador to the United Arab Emirates wrote in a confidential cable dated Sept. 6.
Most infuriating to Alex and his mother, Veronique Robert, they said, the police inaccurately informed French diplomats on Aug. 15, a month after the assault, that the three attackers were disease-free. Only at the end of August did the family learn that the 36-year-old assailant was HIV positive. The case file contains a positive HIV test for the convict dated March 26, 2003.
"They lied to us," Robert said. "Now the Damocles sword of AIDS hangs over Alex."
So far the teenager has not contracted HIV, but he will not know for certain until January, when he gets another blood test at the end of the disease's six-month incubation period. A forensic doctor examined Alex the night of the rape, taking swabs from his mouth for DNA and from his anus. He did not take blood tests or examine Alex with a speculum. Then he cleared the room and told Alex in private: "I know you're a homosexual. You can admit it to me. I can tell."
Alex, outraged, said he told his father in tears: "I've just been raped by three men, and he's saying I'm a homosexual because my anus is distended."
The doctor, an Egyptian, wrote in his legal report that he had found no evidence of forced penetration, according to Alex's family, an assessment that could hurt the case against the assailants.
In early September, after the family learned about the older attacker's HIV status and the French government lodged official complaints with the UAE authorities, the Dubai attorney general's office assigned a new prosecutor to the case.
Only then were forensic tests performed to confirm that sperm from all three attackers had been found in Alex's anus.
Alex decided to stay in Dubai in order to testify against his attackers, and went back to school in September, despite unsettling flashbacks.
In early October, however, the family's lawyer warned him that the authorities were weighing charges of homosexuality against Alex, which carry a prison term of one year.
Veteran lawyers here say the justice system is evolving, like the country's entire system of governance, which has blossomed as the economy and population have exploded in just a few decades. Despite its shortfalls, the United Arab Emirates has combined Islamic values with best practices from the West to create "the most modern legal system among the Arab countries," said Salim Al Shaali, a former police officer and prosecutor who now practices criminal law.
"We are very proud of what we've achieved," Shaali said.
In business and finance, the UAE has worked hard to earn a reputation for impartial and speedy justice. But the criminal justice system has struggled, balancing a penal code rooted in conservative Arab and Islamic local culture, applied to an overwhelming non-Arab population of foreign residents.
A 42-year-old gay businessman who would speak only if identified by his nickname, Ko, described routine sexual harassment by officials during his 13 years living in Dubai. Ko, an Australian of Asian origin who described himself as a "queen," said that his effeminate walk and tight clothes frequently attracted censure from police officers and labor and immigration officials, who would demand sex in exchange for not filing criminal charges or for issuing a work permit. He cut his shoulder-length hair to avoid attention, he said, but after years of living in fear of jail or deportation, he is selling his businesses and is leaving the country.
"On the outside Dubai is beautiful, but on the inside it's still the third world," Ko said. "It's a dictatorship with a softer touch."
Ko said violent rape was common, and that most foreign victims remained silent rather than face deportation or a prison term for homosexuality if they reported an assault.
Although victims generally keep quiet, others who have been raped in Dubai have shared testimonials in recent days on boycottdubai.com, a Web site started by Veronique Robert as a result of her son's case.
Prosecutors moved forward with the case against her son's attackers only as a result of public pressure and diplomatic complaints, Robert believes. Now, she hopes, the attention could prompt more humane and even-handed justice for future rape victims here.
Alex says he wants to see his attackers executed or jailed for life, but he does not want to return to Dubai, no matter how crucial his appearance in court would be to the case.
"Sometimes you feel crazy, you know?" he said. "It's hard, but we have to be strong. I'm doing this for all the other poor kids who got raped and couldn't do anything about it."
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