An Abu Dhabi court has sentenced two Singaporean [assigned at birth] males to a year in prison each for dressing in feminine attire, The Straits Times reported on Wednesday.
According to the Singaporean daily, the two defendants, one of whom is a transgender who has not undergone a sex-reassignment operation, were arrested at a mall for "wearing women's clothes in public and for behaving indecently".
Fashion photographer Muhammad Fadli Bin Abdul Rahman, 26, was in Abu Dhabi for work with his friend Nur Qistina Fitriah Ibrahim, 37, known to friends and family as "Fifi".
According to her sister, Ibrahim is a transgender woman who has not performed gender reassignment surgery. She has legally changed her name but her documents still identify her as male.
It is unclear whether Bin Abdul Rahman is transgender as well.
The two friends were arrested for cross-dressing and "behaving indecently" at a mall one day after arriving in the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
However, Bin Abdul Rahman, who had sent his family a photo of himself right before getting arresting, was allegedly wearing a "normal white shirt," according to his brother.
Based on the recommendation of the Singaporean embassy, the duo was not represented by any lawyer in court. The embassy had predicted that they would only face being fined and deported, suggesting that they simply apologize.
While the UAE passed a federal decree in 2016 legalizing sex-reassignment operations, cross-dressing is still considered a violation in the country.
With the defendants officially considered male, each of them was sentenced to a year in prison for cross-dressing and indecent behavior.
The pair can still appeal the court's ruling before September 4.
When contacted, a spokesman from the told TNP: "MFA is aware of this case and is rendering the necessary consular assistance. We are also assisting the family to seek legal advice."
"We just want him back"
"My parents were crying and worried about him over there," Bin Abdul Rahman's brother told The New Paper. "We just want him back. We want him back safely. They can even deport him."
"The UAE has many similar contradictions that can render tourists and expats highly confused and vulnerable to arrest," Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, said in a statement.
Stirling added that last year, the group helped a British man accused of cross-dressing get a reduced sentence consisting of a 5,000-dirham ($1361) fine along with deportation.