A Muslim woman in Abu Dhabi who accused six men of gang rape -- and was consequently threatened with lashes for having premarital sex -- has retracted her allegations.
"The charges allege that because she had agreed to be in the car, the two had, therefore, met to have sex," wrote the state newspaper The National. "According to court records the primary suspect, 19, called five of his friends – four Emiratis and one Iraqi – and invited them to join him."
Six men had been charged with the gang rape after a forensic examination.
Yet the woman, identified by the initials LH in news reports, retracted all of her accusatory statements in a hearing on Monday. If prosecuted and convicted for lying under oath she could face a punishment of up to two years in jail.
Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security analyst with Dubai-based think tank INEGMA, said the retraction was common in a legal system that can assign blame to victims of sexual assault.
"It's the nature of the law. The status here is that if a female is caught having illegal sex, no matter what the instance, this is seen as haram [forbidden]," he said.
The case is latest high-profile prosecution on morality laws in the United Arab Emirates. Earlier this year a couple was arrested for allegedly kissing in a Dubai restaurant, while neighboring Sharjah began a door-to-door campaign to catch unmarried couples cohabitating against the law. In January a British woman told police she had been raped in a Dubai hotel, but she and her fiancé were instead arrested on accusations of having sex out of wedlock.
"These charges will make young women in the UAE, citizens and tourists alike, think twice about seeking justice and reporting sexual assaults for fear of being charged themselves," wrote Nadya Khalife, a Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch, shortly after the hotel rape case became public.
"The message to women is clear: victims will be punished for speaking out and seeking justice, but sexual assault itself will not be properly investigated," Khalife said.
Karasik, the Dubai-based security analyst, says that in sexual assault cases, local cultural values are reflected in legal norms and expectations.
"They are immediately going to go after [women] when these cases come to light," he said. "From [officials'] perspective women shouldn't be putting themselves in that situation in the first place."
"It's just their system, and they're going to continue to be beholden to that and write laws that support that," Karasik said.