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Published On: Thu, Sep 12th, 2019

Horse bite victim faces 5 years in UAE jail for requesting unpaid wages

American Nichole Coffel is facing a possible jail term in Abu Dhabi because she asked for her unpaid wages and compensation for medical bills after her employer’s horse bit her. Instead of paying Nichole what she owed, celebrated UAE jockey, Anoud Sultan Al Suwaidi filed a complaint on June 9th against her with the police, alleging Nichole violated Cybercrime laws by insulting her in the messages she sent requesting her wages.

Nichole had not been paid for 3 months, and had suffered a severe injury when Al Suwaidi’s stallion bit her. In her WhatsApp messages to Al Suwaidi, Nichole pleaded for her salary and compensation, telling her that it was “haram” not to pay people; using the Arabic word for “religiously forbidden” in an attempt to persuade Al Suwaidi. In her complaint to police, Suwaidi alleged that Nichole had called her “harami”, an Arabic word meaning “thief” or “bastard”; which is regarded as a serious insult in the Gulf.

According to UAE Cybercrime laws, any perceived insult or slander communicated via electronic means is treated as a criminal act, with sentences ranging from fines to lengthy prison sentences and Nichole was told by Abu Dhabi police that she faces up to 5 years in prison.

Nichole did not threaten or insult Ms Al Suwaidi, she simply asked to be paid for her work and for her injuries, says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, who has taken up Nichole’s case.

 The police who registered the complaint did not speak English, and the language Nichole used in her messages was mistranslated. Nichole herself was held for hours and questioned without a translator until finally the US embassy insisted they provide one remotely. Nichole’s request for payment was calculatedly misconstrued in order to fit the UAE’s opaque definition of a Cybercrime violation, and to distract from Ms Al Suwaidi’s own responsibility to pay Nichole’s wages.

When Nichole was called in to the police station last June she was detained for several hours, her passport was confiscated, and she was forced to sign papers in Arabic. She attempted to file a counter complaint, but later learned that the police never registered the case.

They spent the entire time talking to Anoud, Nichole says. They would not even provide a translator when they interviewed me, until the Embassy arranged for them to provide one remotely, but still, they paid no attention to what I had to say. All I did was ask for my salary, and help with covering the cost of the medical bills after Anoud’s horse bit me. Now I’m told I could be jailed for five years, It is so unfair and so scary.

Nichole’s mother Cathy said that many staff members have gone without their salaries for months.

We have contacted Ms Al Suwaidi to encourage her to drop the charges, Stirling says, we have contacted the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi to request intervention, and we have reached out to Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri to seek his assistance. Ms Al Suwaidi is abusing her status as a public figure and as a local with influence in the UAE to deny Nichole her rights and wrongfully accuse her. This case is wholly unjustified and it has traumatised an innocent family, all to avoid paying the small sum Ms Al Suwaidi owes. If the charges are not dropped, the authorities should dismiss them as a clearly spiteful manipulation of the law.

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