Those involved in a naked photo shoot on a high-rise balcony in Dubai will be deported, authorities said Tuesday, after the footage went viral and prompted a crackdown in the Gulf Arab sheikhdom.
Dubai authorities detained at least 11 Ukrainian women who posed naked in broad daylight along with a male Russian photographer on charges of public debauchery and producing pornography. Earlier this week, images and videos of the naked women splattered across social media and sent a wave of shock through the emirate, where a legal code based on Islamic law, or Shariah, has landed foreigners in jail for tamer offences.
After an unusually speedy investigation, Dubai’s Attorney General Essam Issa al-Humaidan announced that those behind the photo shoot would be sent back to their countries, without elaborating further. Dubai police have declined to identify those detained. More than a dozen women appeared in the widely shared video. Ukrainian and Russian authorities confirmed the arrest of their citizens Tuesday, but the nationalities of the others detained were not immediately known.
The swift deportation is rare for the legal system in Dubai, an absolutely ruled sheikhdom. Such cases typically go to trial or are otherwise adjudicated before deportation.
“The public prosecutor ordered the deportation of the accused for their behaviour contrary to public morals,” al-Humaidan said, adding that the group of women had been charged with violating the country’s public decency law.
Dubai is a top destination for the world’s Instagram influencers and models, who fill their social media feeds with slick bikini-clad selfies from the coastal emirate’s luxury hotels and artificial islands. But the city’s brand as a glitzy foreign tourist destination has at times provoked controversy and collided with the sheikhdom’s strict rules governing public behaviour and expression.
The nude photoshoot scandal came just days before Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, and as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky landed in nearby Doha, Qatar, for an official state visit. Over the years, Dubai increasingly has promoted itself as a popular destination for Russians on holiday. Signs in Cyrillic are a common sight at the city’s major malls.
The generally pro-Kremlin tabloid Life identified the Russian man arrested as the head of an information technology firm in Russia’s Ivanovo region, though his firm denied he had anything to do with the photo shoot. The Associated Press was not able to determine if those arrested had legal representation or reach a lawyer for them.
Stanislav Voskresensky, the governor of Ivanovo, asked the Russian Foreign Ministry and Russia’s ambassador to the UAE to offer the Russian man their support.
“We don’t abandon our own,” Voskresensky wrote on social media.
It’s not the first time that foreign social media influencers, amateur and pro, have drawn unwanted scrutiny in the United Arab Emirates. Earlier this year, as Dubai promoted itself as a major pandemic-friendly party haven for travellers fleeing tough lockdowns elsewhere, European reality TV show stars came under fire for flaunting their poolside Dubai vacations on social media and for bringing the coronavirus back home. Denmark and the United Kingdom later banned flights to the UAE as virus cases surged in the federation of seven sheikhdoms.
Although the UAE has recently made legal changes to attract foreign tourists and investors, allowing unmarried couples to share hotel rooms and residents to drink alcohol without a license, the Gulf Arab country’s justice system retains harsh penalties for violations of the public decency law.
Nudity and other “lewd behaviour,” carry penalties of up to six months in prison and a fine of 5,000 dirhams ($1,360). The sharing of pornographic material is also punishable with prison time and hefty fines. The country’s majority state-owned telecom companies block access to pornographic websites.
Foreigners, who make up some 90% of the UAE’s population of over 9 million, have been imprisoned for comments and videos online, as well as for offences considered benign in the West, like kissing in public.
Dubai police often turn a blind eye to foreigners misbehaving — until they don’t.