A 21-year-old New York college student has been sentenced to a year in prison after she allegedly “gently touched” a security guard at a Dubai airport.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, 21, was at the Dubai International Airport for a layover while flying from Istanbul to New York in July when she was subjected to “degrading, painful, and humiliating searches,” according to Detained in Dubai, an organization that provides legal assistance to foreigners in the United Arab Emirates.
Elizabeth and her friend opted for a 10-hour layover in Dubai rather than a stop in Paris.
“Elizabeth only intended to transit through Dubai for six hours, but she’s been there for months on end and has lost $50,000 in expenses and lawyers costs,” Detained in Dubai founder Radha Stirling said in a statement. “She’s now been told she has a one-year prison sentence but that if all ‘goes well’, she will only be detained until she can book a flight out of the UAE.”
Elizabeth said female security officers requested she take off her doctor-mandated waist-training brace at the airport. When it was time to leave, officers refused to help her put the brace back on and blocked her from exiting, Detained in Dubai said.
That’s when Elizabeth “gently touched” a security guard’s arm so they could get her friend to help.
After the incident, officials told her she was being detained “for touching the female customs officer,” Detained In Dubai reports. Elizabeth was reportedly sentenced to one year in prison for “assaulting and insulting” Dubai airport staff.
Stirling said Elizabeth may not serve the full year, but she will still be detained until she is allowed to leave the country.
“Even if she is allowed to be deported tomorrow, she will remain in prison until then, not knowing whether there will be further delays or whether, in fact, she will end up forced to serve the whole sentence,” Stirling said. “This is an extreme situation for a 21-year-old to go through.”