ABU DHABI // Although popular perception might make it seem as though public indecency is a crime police are on the lookout for, that is not the case, according to Col Maktoum al Sharifi. "It never happened that we arrested a man and a woman just for being alone together in a public place," he said. Even if two people were found alone in a car, or holding hands on the beach at night, the officer has no right to arrest them, he said.
"There are no instructions to that effect, and if they were standing in a suspicious place, police could ask them for identity in case the place is where thefts took place," he said. "But the policeman does not ask if they are related to one another." More physical displays of affection, such as kissing in front of others, can be violations but are up to the discretion of the officer, he said. If a man flirted with a woman and gave her his number in public, she could file a complaint against him at the police station, and he would face charges for violating public decency, added Col al Sharifi.
Many visitors and residents see the UAE glamour and forget that it is still a Muslim country, said Hassan Matar, a prominent defence attorney. Mr Matar represented Michelle Palmer, who was convicted of having sex on a Dubai beach. "There is a difference between a normal kiss and what we call a 'hot' kiss," Mr Matar said. "There is nothing illegal about kissing your spouse at the airport or when you are saying goodbye, but there is a clear difference in a hot kiss. This is up to the judge to decide.
"The UAE is making more effort to put signs on beaches, malls and even in some hotels. The patrons have to respect these cultural rules," he said. * The National, with additional reporting by Marten Youssef