An American who faced two years in a United Arab Emirates prison for calling her ex a “dirty animal” in an email has been released without charge.
Melissa McBurnie was accused of violating the UAE’s strict cybercrime laws after allegedly sending an insulting email to an Egyptian ex-boyfriend, whom she said had been cyber-bullying and sexually harassing her for years.
With the support of British advocate Radha Stirling, who works for UAE civil and criminal justice specialists Detained in Dubai, 57-year-old McBurnie was able to persuade UAE prosecutors to drop the charge against her.
Stirling’s organization said that McBurnie’s 58-year-old Egyptian ex had waged a four-year digital campaign designed to cause his former lover pain and embarrassment.
The Egyptian allegedly sent intimate images of McBurnie to strangers and asked third parties to slander her online. He is also accused of sending McBurnie over 120 sexually explicit emails and text messages, some of which included pornographic videos in which he himself featured.
California-born McBurnie, who used to work as a personal assistant to celebrities including Rob Lowe, John Denver, and Joan Rivers, was arrested after allegedly retaliating to her former lover’s digital abuse.
“He had stolen photographs of her and circulated them privately and even to the US Embassy,” Radha Stirling explained.
“When she retaliated, she said, ‘I can’t believe you did that, you are a dirty animal.’ He then raised that with his lawyer and had her arrested.”
Under UAE cybercrime law it is strictly prohibited to insult anyone in any electronic format.
“They can look through your history,” said Stirling, “and even if you’ve posted something on Facebook or Twitter from three years ago, and even from outside of the country, that could be considered offensive in the UAE.”
McBurnie, who had been living in the UAE since November, was arrested at the Khalidiya police station in Abu Dhabi on February 24. She was released from a detention that lasted two hours after posting $1,300 bail but was not permitted to leave the country.
Detained in Dubai used the media to raise awareness of McBurnie’s case after learning that it wouldn’t be heard until May and that the former PA could face two years behind bars. McBurnie has now left the UAE.
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