By The Straits Times
Asia News Network
Freelance fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli Bin Abdul Rahman, 26, was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), for work. Fadli was travelling with his friend Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, 37, also known to family and friends as Fifi. Nur is a transgender person who has legally changed the name but has not undergone a sex-change operation to become a woman.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Nur's 34-year-old younger sister, who wanted to be known only as Madam Rozy, said: "Fifi has not undergone gender reassignment surgery, so her personal documents still state her gender as male. We are a very close-knit family and are very worried for her."
Fadli and Nur landed in Abu Dhabi on Aug 8, and were arrested at the food court of a shopping mall the next day.
An official court document in Arabic said two Singaporean men were caught wearing women's clothes in public, and for behaving indecently. Cross-dressing, homosexuality and being transgender are crimes in the UAE.
Madam Rozy said Nur gone on holiday to the UAE about four times before and came home safely each time. She said: "We have a family WhatsApp group and Fifi often sends us messages whenever she's away. This time, she suddenly went silent and this was out of character. A few days later, we received a voice message from her saying she had been arrested. I was shocked."
Fadli's brother, Muhammad Saiful Bahri Bin Abdul Rahman, 32, who works in the property management sector, said his brother was wearing "a normal white shirt". Fadli sent his family a picture of himself, just before he got arrested.
Saiful said his family was informed about his brother's arrest by Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) last week. Then on Monday, they were told that Fadli had been sentenced to a year's jail on Sunday (Aug 20).
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, in an e-mail to the family seen by The Straits Times, said: "I'm sorry to hear about this. Rest assured that our consular and mission colleagues will do their best to assist your brother. I understand that they are already in contact with you and your brother. Please let me know if you need further assistance."
Both Singaporeans were not represented by a lawyer in the Abu Dhabi court, Saiful said. "My brother was not present in court, and nobody from the Singapore embassy was there either, so he could not have defended himself."
The Straits Times understands they can both file an appeal 15 days after the judgment, on Sept 4.
Local activist Vanessa Ho, who shares an apartment with Fadli, said she is trying to get a lawyer in Abu Dhabi to represent the two Singaporeans.
Ho said: "We found that the American embassy has a very good handbook about detention in Abu Dhabi. It says citizens have a right to make a phone call home but Fadli has not contacted anyone."
In a post on LinkedIn, non-government organisation Detained in Dubai's chief executive Radha Stirling wrote: "The UAE has built a tolerant, cosmopolitan image, but the laws continue to reflect the conservative, traditional values of the society. It is not uncommon for visitors to be confused about what is or is not acceptable behaviour."
MFA, in response to queries, said it is aware of this case and is rendering consular assistance. "We are also assisting the family gets legal advice," said an MFA spokesman.