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08/02/2008 00:00:00

UK: Tourists Warned of UAE Drug laws

Travellers to the United Arab Emirates are being warned to avoid
carrying any banned substances or face jail under the country's zero
tolerance policy.

British tourist Keith Brown was sentenced to four years in prison after
Dubai customs officers found a 0.003g trace of cannabis stuck to his shoe.

Fair Trials International said there had been a steep rise in such cases.

Travellers were being arrested for tiny amounts of illegal drugs and
some over-the-counter medicines, it added.

Golden beaches

Possession of painkillers like codeine and some cold and flu medication
could result in a mandatory four-year prison sentence, the legal charity
Fair Trials International said.

In one of the most extreme cases, it reported a man being held after
poppy seeds from a bread roll were found on his clothes.

In recent years, chic hotels, skyscrapers and golden beaches have turned
Dubai and Abu Dhabi into popular tourist destinations.

Many have no idea what risks they're taking or their vulnerability to
this very strict approach - Catherine Wolthuizen, Fair Trials
International chief executive

Businesses too have flocked to the UAE, which promises a high standard
of living because of its oil wealth.

However, while it is considered one of the most liberal countries in the
Gulf, the Muslim country's drugs laws are severe.

Last year, 59 Britons were arrested in the UAE on drugs-related charges,
according to the Foreign Office.


Keith Brown, 43, Middlesex: Four-year jail term for possession of 0.003g
of cannabis
Robert Dalton, 25, Kent: On trial for alleged possession of 0.03g of
20-year-old, West Yorkshire: On trial for alleged possession of 0.02g of
Tracy Wilkinson, 45, West Sussex: Held in custody for eight weeks for
possession of codeine before release
Swiss national: Four-year jail term after poppy seeds found on his clothes
Source: Fair Trials International

Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said
customs authorities were using highly sensitive new equipment to conduct
thorough searches on travellers.

"So many people now travel to Dubai and, as we're seeing, many have no
idea what risks they're taking or their vulnerability to this very
strict approach," she said.

"If they find any amount - no matter how minute - it will be enough to
attract a mandatory four-year prison sentence.

"What many travellers may not realise is that they can be deemed to be
in possession of such banned substances if they can be detected in their
urine or bloodstream, or even in tiny, trace amounts on their person."

Jet-lag tablets

Keith Brown and his wife had been on their way from London to Ethiopia
when they were stopped and searched at Dubai airport.

At first customs officers found nothing, but then a roll-up cigarette
was spotted caught in the tread of his shoe.

The 43-year-old, from Middlesex, was charged with possession of 0.003g
of cannabis and was sentenced to four years in prison.

"I suppose there's a sense of disbelief more than anything else" -
Cat Le-Huy, held in Dubai

British resident Cat Le-Huy was arrested in Dubai for carrying Melatonin
jet-lag tablets, which are sold over the counter in the US and Dubai.

Mr Le-Huy told BBC Radio 4 he was forced to sign a document in Arabic
and was refused a translator.

He said once the tablets were proved to be Melatonin, police took what
he described as dirt from his bag and said they were now testing it to
see if it was cannabis.

Speaking from inside the prison, he said he knew nothing of any drugs in
his bag.

"I suppose there's a sense of disbelief more than anything else. I miss
my friends and family back in London and I'm also aware of the other
stress this is causing to friends and family.

"As far as my welfare, I'm being treated relatively well and I have to
go through the system and whatever path that takes, I'll just have to
deal with it."

Bread roll

Aside from illegal substances, travellers have also been held for
possession of prescription drugs.

Tracy Wilkinson was held in custody for eight weeks before customs
officers accepted the codeine she was carrying had been prescribed by
her doctor for back pains.

Meanwhile, a Swiss national is serving a four-year jail term after three
poppy seeds from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow airport were found on
his clothes.

Fair Trials International has published a full list of banned substances
on its website.

The Foreign Office is advising all travellers carrying any prescription
drugs to take a doctor's letter detailing exactly why they need the
medicine and the exact dose.

The UAE Embassy in London said it would not comment at this stage.

LCA FORUM invites YOU:

Author: BBC News via UKCIA

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