A New York City college student was sentenced to one year behind bars by the United Arab Emirates for allegedly “assaulting and insulting” an airport security guard during a flight connection in Dubai over the summer, according to reports.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, 21, a student at Lehman College in the Bronx, was handed her sentence Monday after spending nearly three months effectively trapped in Dubai with a travel ban issued against her, according to the advocacy group Detained in Dubai.
“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,” said Detained in Dubai founder Radha Stirling.
“On top of being humiliated and traumatized by airport staff, Elizabeth has suffered months of being forced to stay in an expensive country, pay expensive lawyers and miss out on her university studies.”
Los Santos’ ordeal began on July 14, as she and a friend were heading home to New York from a vacation in Istanbul.
Their initial itinerary had them connecting home through Paris, but they changed the flight to transfer in Dubai so they could see the famous city during a 10-hour layover.
“We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city but we were completely wrong,” Los Santos said, according to Detained in Dubai.
While passing through security, Dubai airport staff requested that Los Santos remove a waist compressor she was required to wear after a recent surgery.
Shown to a private booth, female staff members removed the compressor, but Los Santos’ mother told Detained in Dubai they were rough and hurt her daughter’s still-healing surgery scars.
They also laughed at her, and when she asked for help to put the complicated garment back on, they refused.
“I was feeling uncomfortable and afraid. I felt really violated,” Los Santos said.
The compressor had “many, many pins and you need to stretch the edges and clip small, skinny pins together close to the body,” she said, and as staff continued to ignore her pleas for help, Los Santos leaned past a security guard blocking her way and called out for her friend to come and help her.
“I gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way, then desperately started crying to my friend for help,” she told Detained in Dubai.
Los Santos was then detained in a room for hours as the security guard she touched filed a complaint against her, and wasn’t allowed to leave until she signed a form written in Arabic.
When she returned to the airport later to catch her flight to New York, she was informed of the travel ban filed against her and was forced to remain in the country until the charges against her were heard in court.
After she had to stay in hotels for weeks, a judge allowed her to pay 10,000 AED (about $2,700 US) and be on her way, but Dubai prosecutors appealed the ruling and she was finally sentenced to a year in prison Monday.
“She is under the most incredible stress which is impacting her physical and mental health, disrupting her entire life and scarring her long-term,” said Stirling. “This is simply no way to treat visitors. It’s outrageous.”
Back in August, 29-year-old Tierra Young Allen returned to her home in Houston after spending months trapped in the country for yelling at a rental car clerk.
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