An artist was imprisoned in Abu Dhabi this week, but not for political activism, or any other reasons you might expect.
West Australian illustrator Jodi Magi was arrested Sunday night for “writing bad words on social media,” ABC reported. In February, the 39-year-old woman noticed a car without disability stickers sprawled across two handicap parking spaces outside her apartment building. She took a photo of the offending vehicle, blanked out the license plates, and posted it to Facebook with some choice words.
The critique didn’t sit well with a neighbor, who saw the picture and complained to the police. Magi was summoned to an Abu Dhabi court, where two weeks ago she was found guilty of a slander and told she would be deported. Magi volunteered to leave the country of her own accord, but authorities told her she couldn’t do so before appearing at court to pay a $3,600 fine. When she showed up, they took her to jail.
According to reporters, Abu Dhabi authorities strip-searched the artist and left her shackled at the ankles for 53 hours. She was forced to sleep on a concrete floor without a mattress or pillow and had no access to toilet paper or eating utensils. She was finally released Tuesday evening and taken directly to the airport. She told ABC that she still doesn’t really know what her crime was. “I have zero idea,” she said. “I used the internet.”
Magi isn’t the first to be imprisoned for online comments. In 2012, the UAE passed the Cyber Crimes Law with provisions that made it illegal to slander another person, business, governmental official, or Islam online. Since then, countless people have been arrested, including foreigners. In March, the American helicopter pilot Ryan page took to Facebook while in Florida to complain about a sick leave dispute he was having with his UAE employer. When he returned to the UAE to quit his job, he was arrested by police and faced the prospect of spending up to five years in prison; his employer ultimately dropped the charges.
Magi, who first moved to Abu Dhabi in 2012 to teach graphic design to local women, was astounded by her treatment. “Obviously, I think a $3,600 fine and deportation with a complimentary incarceration period was an extreme reaction to a jpg of a car posted to a closed Facebook page, when I did not swear or mention a single name and blocked the registration plate,” she wrote in a blog post.
But she says it’s nothing compared to what some of the other women she met in prison had endured. “If you think what happened to me was insane, spend a couple of days in an Abu Dhabi jail,” she wrote. “I have nothing to complain about compared to the vast majority of women I met whose only crime was being poor, marrying the wrong guy, getting pregnant outside of marriage or/and being victims of rampant and systemic police corruption where ‘evidence’, ‘ethics’ and ‘due process’ are unheard of concepts.”