Pardoned Norwegian woman in Dubai rape claim case 'overwhelmed' by freedom

Marte Deborah Dalelv, sentenced to 16 months in jail for having sex outside marriage after she reported being raped, was pardoned yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, her lawyer confirms.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - July 22 2013 -  Marte Dalelv walks into the Norwegian Seaman's Center displaying her passport to the press. The center, located in Bur Dubai, became her safe haven during the course of her trial and initial sentencing. She is now a free woman after being granted a full pardon from the Prosecutor's Office. For Story by Ramola Tawar.   (Razan Alzayani / The National)

DUBAI // A woman sentenced to imprisonment for sex out of wedlock after she withdrew an allegation of rape was pardoned yesterday.
"My first emotion was that I was free," said Marte Deborah Dalelv, 24, an interior designer from Norway who lives and works in Qatar.
"I don't think people understand how much being free really means and when I got my passport back, I just had the overwhelming feeling that I'm free."
Ms Dalelv initially told police  she had been raped by a colleague in his hotel room after a night out during a business trip to Dubai in March. She later retracted the rape claim and said the sex had been consensual.
She was charged with having sex outside marriage, drinking alcohol and making false statements to police, and spent three days in prison.
She was found guilty last Tuesday and sentenced to 16 months in jail, but was released on bail pending an appeal in September.
She was pardoned yesterday by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
"I was told the Ruler of Dubai pardoned me, that I was a free woman," Ms Dalelv said. "They also dropped all charges and the deportation charge so I'm grateful for that. It's been a very difficult time."
Her colleague H?M, 33, from Sudan, who was sentenced to a year in prison for consensual sex and a month for consumption of alcohol, is also thought to have been pardoned. By law, a pardon must be extended to all those convicted in a case.
Ms Dalelv says she retracted the allegation of rape on the advice of an employee of her company, who told her it would be difficult to prove, and withdrawing it would help her to leave the UAE.
"They advised me it was a very difficult case and nobody was going to believe me," Ms Dalelv said.
"I took their advice but after I left the public prosecutor's office I was crying. I felt it was almost as bad as what had happened because I had to go against everything I believed and I believed in telling the truth."
Ms Dalelv's employers in Qatar, Al Mana Interiors, deny that she was advised to change her report to police. "This was not true," a spokesman said.
The company fired her on April 7 on the ground of "unacceptable and improper behaviour during a business trip in Dubai . that was in direct violation of the company policy". They say the decision had nothing to do with the rape allegation.
Ms Dalelv's case has attracted global attention, with more than 50,000 people supporting a Facebook page appealing for her release.
The Norwegian ambassador, Ase Elin Bjerke, who was with Ms Dalelv at the public prosecutor's office when the pardon was announced, said: "She is able to leave the UAE whenever she wants and is also free to come back. It has been difficult for her.
She is a good, talented girl and very mature.
"We are very happy with the dialogue we have had with the UAE from the political level over the last week. We will continue to work with the UAE and we are grateful this pardon was given during Ramadan."
Ms Dalelv has been living at the Norwegian Seamen's Centre while the case proceeded through the courts, and her family and friends have visited Dubai to support her. She said the experience had changed her.
"I have learnt so much about family and friends," she said. "I have met some incredible people and some of them have saved my life and would have done anything for me. This has really taught me a big lesson about life, that it's the little things that matter."
Ms Dalelv said she also learnt that she should have called the embassy when she reported the rape to the police.
"Back in Norway we are always trained with three numbers to call - the police, fire department and hospitals - when in a crisis, and I was in shock and so I called the police," she said.
"But maybe if I had contacted the embassy someone would have given me advice."