A 15-year-old French boy who was gang-raped in Dubai is taking on the Emirates’ criminal justice system by trying to get his attackers prosecuted. And so far, he’s not having much success.
The authorities not only discouraged Alex from pressing charges, he, his family and French diplomats say; they raised the possibility of charging him with criminal homosexual activity, and neglected for weeks to inform him or his parents that one of his attackers had tested H.I.V. 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 school year, 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.”
Alex and his parents say they chose to go public with his case in the hope that it would press the authorities to prosecute the men.
Good for them.
This takes a lot of bravery — not only is Alex challenging a foreign criminal justice system, but he’s also speaking openly about his sexual assault. And he’s doing both in a country where male rape victims aren’t recognized, and homosexuality is incredibly taboo:
United Arab Emirates law does not recognize rape of males, only a crime called “forced homosexuality.” The two adult men charged with sexually assaulting Alex have pleaded not guilty, although sperm from all three were found in Alex. The two adults appeared in court on Wednesday and were appointed a lawyer. They face trial before a three-judge panel on Nov. 7. The third, a minor, will be tried in juvenile court. Legal experts here say that men convicted of sexually assaulting other men usually serve sentences ranging from a few months to two years.
It also highlights the taboos surrounding H.I.V. and homosexuality that Dubai residents say have allowed rampant harassment of gays and have encouraged the health system to treat H.I.V. virtually in secret. (Under Emirates law, foreigners with H.I.V., or those convicted of homosexual activity, are deported.)
Hopefully this case will make a small dent in the culture of homophobia and hate. But I’m not so sure it’s going to demonstrate that the criminal justice system in the Emirates is as modern and enlightened as Dubai’s physical development would lead one to believe. After all, in an attempt to prove that they’re taking the case seriously, one prosecutor has said that he’ll be seeking to execute Alex’s attackers — and the death penalty is about as backwards as it gets.
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