'My Dubai holiday ended with traumatising three-month stretch in prison'

Dinchi Lar (right) in Dubai the day before she was arrested. Credit: Handout

By Multimedia Producer Wedaeli Chibelushi

"It's very demoralising, it's humiliating, it's traumatising," Dinchi Lar says, as she describes the conditions in the United Arab Emirates's Al Awir Central Prison.

The overcrowding is such that in each cell, a minimum of 10 people fought for three bunk beds, and as a result, Ms Lar found herself sleeping on the floor.

"There's nothing like personal space... you are sleeping and somebody is in your face. You're literally sleeping on top of another person," the 38-year-old told ITV News.

Furthermore, "extreme" air conditioning created a freezing microclimate. ("If being in prison doesn't break you, the temperature inside the prison will.”)

The chilly temperatures led to her becoming ill, but "you have to be at the point of death" to see a doctor for any ailment, Ms Lar said.

Over three months, she was only able to step outside and "see the sun", during one 15-minute stretch.

In August last year, Ms Lar had flown from Nigeria to Dubai for a summer holiday with her sister.

"The trip was supposed to be because I needed to go and clear my head," Ms Lar, who had recently been made redundant, said.

"I'm like, 'okay, let's just go for a few days, rest, do some retail therapy and come back'."

On arrival in Dubai, immigration officials pulled her and a group of other Nigerian passengers into a side room. The Nigerians' passports were held and they waited in the room, without knowing why, for approximately six hours.

Ms Lar said that, at one point, an official yelled at passengers who were pushing for answers.

“So I record on my phone, I record like a few seconds of that altercation of him yelling at the people that were asking,” Ms Lar said.

“I post it on my [Twitter] timeline… I said, this is what is happening at Dubai Airport. We just landed. We're not told why we're being detained.”

Ms Lar after immigration officials at Dubai airport had ordered her and other Nigerian passengers into a side room. Credit: Dinchi Lar/Twitter

After more waiting, Ms Lar was eventually allowed to enter Dubai. Her and her sister enjoyed five days of Dubai's luxury shopping, audacious architecture and iconic nightlife.

With a more relaxed disposition and heavier suitcases, Ms Lar found herself back at the airport. But before boarding the flight back to Jos, she was shocked to find she’d been slapped with a travel ban.

Unbeknownst to Ms Lar, her video of the immigration officials had racked up thousands of views after being shared relentlessly by Nigerians back home. UAE authorities had flagged her video and after she turned up at the airport to fly home, she was arrested, charged and sentenced for “breaching the privacy of government employees at Dubai airport” and “sharing a video of them online without their consent”.

Ms Lar said: “They tell me my sentence is one year, that I'll be finishing my sentence in September 2023. So I was really shocked. I didn’t commit murder, I didn’t steal… I posted a video of harassment of myself and my fellow countrymen.”

Ms Lar and her sister in Dubai before her arrest. Credit: Handout

She was alarmed to find that many of her fellow prisoners had received lengthy sentences for offences such as dissenting, begging, hawking and overstaying visas.

Throughout her stay, Ms Lar says she was discriminated against by prison officers. According to the UN - migrants from around the world make up around 88% of UAE’s total population - a statistic that's reflected in prisoner demographics. Ms Lar spoke of a “racial hierarchy” within the prison system. She said British citizens were sometimes allowed to see the doctor, "but for me, when I was sick and I wanted to see the doctor, I was not given the chance".

"Okay, I see, because we are black. Like why weren't we enjoying the same privileges?" she said.

She was also "baffled" that some inmates' children, from newborn babies to children of around 12 years old, lived in the prison. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among several countries across the globe where young children can accompany their incarcerated caregiver to prison. Many female detainees want to keep their children with them. According to local media, youngsters are not kept in cells and can leave the prison to go on excursions and to school.

Mr Lar's claims would be no surprise to Breda Guckion, whose son, British football coach Billy Hood, is serving a 10-year sentence in a Dubai prison for the possession of CBD vape oil.

Billy Hood is serving a sentence in a Dubai jail.

While being interviewed by ITV News, Mr Hood's mother, Breda Guckion, received a phone call from her son.

“The conditions here are shocking, I still haven’t got a mattress after seven days of being moved in,” he told her. After a mere 25 seconds of conversation, the phone line disconnected.

After his arrest, Dubai's authorities had taken a signed confession from Mr Hood, but the 24-year-old said he was coerced into agreeing to the document. He said the confession was written in Arabic, a language he cannot speak, read or write.

Incarcerated Brit Billy Hood speaks to his mother and uncle on the phone

A spokesperson from Migrant Rights, a human rights non-profit covering the Gulf states, told ITV News that in general, "the rule of law in the UAE is quite weak".

"You can be detained for whatever reason without having access to communication and access to lawyers," she said.

Meanwhile, the racial discrimination Ms Lar spoke of "tends to reflect the racialisation that exists in UAE society in general".

The spokesperson said: "You'll have the white people at the very top, then you'll have the Arabs, then you'll have Asians and then you'll have Africans at the very, very bottom.”

Ms Lar's sentence was eventually reduced from one year to three months, a decision she believes was due to social media campaigns and an intervention from her local parliamentary representative, Beni Lar.

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Although she is now back home in Jos, her stint in Al Awir remains with her.

"I've been doing therapy to try and help me cope. There's still that feeling of shame. There's been no wanting to be in the midst of people. There's not wanting to talk about the whole thing," she said.

She also worries about her employment prospects.

"You've been to prison, are there people that want to give you a job? Many people might not be comfortable with that," Ms Lar said.

In a statement, Dubai’s Public Prosecution office told ITV News the wait when Ms Lar originally flew into Dubai was caused by Ms Lar travelling on an incorrect visa. Ms Lar maintains the agent who sold her the visa had assured her it was the right one.

The statement continues: "While Dubai immigration officials were trying to resolve the issue, she filmed them without their consent and published the video on her Twitter account.

"Under UAE cyber laws, legal action was taken against Ms Lar on charges of breaching the privacy of government employees at Dubai airport and sharing a video of them online without their consent.

"Under the UAE’s cyberlaws, she was sentenced to a year in prison. The sentence was later reduced by the Court of Appeal to three months. After she served her sentence, Ms Lar was released."