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Jailed in Dubai over Charity T-Shirt



Next time you’re traveling to the United Arab Emirates, be careful of what you wear. Its common knowledge that when you travel overseas, checking up on the local laws and customs of your particular destination is a must do. However over the past few years stories keep emerging of the difficulties tourists are encountering during their visits to the UAE.


Raffi Nemekian, a Lebanese national holidaying in Dubai, has a unique story of the complications many hope to never experience on their journeys. On 29 November 2008 Nemekian was in a local bakery wearing a t-shirt that depicted celebrity Victoria Beckham partially nude. The more private parts of Beckham’s body were covered by her hands and a slogan which stated, ‘Protect the Skin You’re In’.


Whilst at the bakery Nemekian was confronted by a local man who found the t-shirt offensive. An argument between the two ensued and after which Nemekian left the bakery to change. On returning to the bakery Nemekian was surprised and confused to find the police waiting for him. Nemekian was subsequently charged with three offences: public drunkenness, fleeing the scene of a conflict and offending public decency. Not long after, the first two offences were dropped.  However, Nemekian was detained for 48 hours before he was released on bail. After he submitted his passport to police, he was found guilty on April 19 and sentenced to one month imprisonment after he was convicted in the Dubai Courts. Nemekian’s later attempts of appealing his sentence were unsuccessful. Once his sentence was served Nemekian was deported from the UAE.


The t-shirt was part of a collection by the well known fashion designer Marc Jacob created for a cancer awareness campaign. The former skin cancer survivor had convinced other celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Winona Ryder, Rufus Wainwright, Julianne Moore, Heidi Klum and Helena Christensen to pose nude for the campaign. All the of the proceeds raised were to be donated to New York University’s School of Medicine’s Interdisciplinary Melanoma Cooperative Group for their research project on skin cancer.


Nemekian was at the time employed as a brand manager for Chalhoub Group, which holds the franchise for Marc Jacobs in the Dubai region and had lived in Dubai for the past five years. The controversial t-shirt was purchased by Nemekian during a visit in New York the previous year. Whilst Chalhoub Group declined to comment on the situation, an anonymous employee said the t-shirts weren’t sold in the UAE.


It has been 3 years since the cancer awareness campaign began where more than US$1 million has been raised for the NYU School of Medicine’s Interdisciplinary Melanoma Co-operative Group.


Since Nemekian’s experience, the UAE has updated its laws which now include that “clothing shall not indecently expose parts of the body, be transparent, or display obscene or offensive pictures and slogans”.


So if after reading this article you feel anxious for your next trip in the UAE region, there are ways of preventing something like this from happening to you. It’s just a matter of being careful and thorough with your background check of the country.


Produced by Simone Faunt, March 2010.

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