Dubai’s drug laws & Cat Le-Huy

Something I drew attention to back in November was Dubai’s tough anti-drug laws.

It’s surfaced again because there’s a web campaign under way for the release of German citizen and UK resident Cat Le-Huy, who was detained under the laws. The campaign says that he is not guilty and was falsely imprisoned, the medication he was carrying was not banned and the ‘marijuana’ he was accused of carrying was in fact specks of dirt. Several bloggers have joined in, while the main site pushing the issue seems to be

According to these sites, Le-Huy was detained on suspicion that the (legal) Melatonin bottle found in his bag contained other pills. They say that tests conducted by the authorities indicated that the bottle did not contain any other substances and the Melatonin was cleared, that Le-Huy’s urine sample also tested negative for any drug use that the German Embassy expected that Le-Huy would be released at this time, but authorities have called on an option to extend his detainment in order to investigate the specks of dirt that they found.

Because I have no way of telling the truth of Le-Huy’s case I won’t comment on it. Except to say that if he is indeed innocent then he should be released immediately with at the very least a fulsome apology and some sort of compensation.

I must point out though that there are some tabloid-style hysterics on the site though that are misleading for travellers in general, and that’s dangerous.

They also make ridiculous demands of the tourism authority.

I’ll go into both later.

The main point this issue raises, as I did back in November, is that as travellers the onus is on us to make ourselves aware of laws that may affect us – wherever we’re going. That applies in particular to people such as myself who have to take medication with them.

What about Japan? Did you know, for example, that codeine is illegal in Japan? So are any medications containing stimulants, such as pseudoephedrine – which means that many OTC cold-cures and anti-histamines are illegal. Prescription medications are restricted to a one-month supply, larger amounts may be seized, and you could be charged with intent to sell illegal substances.

Tourist-friendly countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia have the death penalty for drug trafficking. Westerners, among others, have been executed and many others are serving very long jail sentences.

It’s naive in the extreme to assume that every country has laws the same as your own. Believing that could land you in big, big trouble in many countries around the world.

In one of my earlier postings I pointed out that: “A Canadian brought in a tiny amount of marijuana, 0.66 grams for personal use.He fired his layer, pleaded guilty and asked the court for a ‘fast verdict’, saying he would pay a fine and leave.

He has been sentenced to four years in jail followed by deportation.”

The lesson is simple. Whether you’re visiting Dubai or anywhere else, make sure you know the rules!


The inaccurate, misleading ‘information’ on the website damages the credibility of their campaign to protest Le-Huy’s innocence. His interests would be better served if they stuck with the truth because in any context using inaccurate information throws doubts on the accuracy of anything else that’s said.

The writer says that the Dubai tourist board campaign “provide a false image in regards to Dubai’s safety for Western travelers due to its hidden policies…the government-created DTMC website, which advertises itself as an all-in-one tourist resource, fails to mention any of the new, strict laws that ensnare Western travelers in Dubai’s prisons daily.”

* Travellers, western or otherwise, are not jailed on a daily basis as the writer outrageously claims.

* The drug laws are not new, they’ve been in place for over two years.

* These are not hidden policies, they are the published laws of the land and are there for anyone who cares to look.

* Dubai’s safety for tourists is not a false image. It is one of the world’s safest cities which 7 million tourists visited last year. A tiny, tiny fraction ran into trouble with the law.

What’s a tourist authority for?

And I must comment on the ridiculous demand that a tourism authority’s advertising should ‘mention any of the strict laws’ of the country.

All tourist boards have responsibility for only one thing – to attract tourists. They do not, any of them, list laws that tourists may fall foul of. Nor should they be expected to. They do not warn tourists of the dangers they may face, and it’s ridiculous to think they should.

Would you expect the South African tourist authority to warn in its advertising that it’s known as the world crime capital?

I don’t see telling tourists that their fair city is the murder capital of America, and I wouldn’t expect it to.

I also don’t like the racist implication on the website that: “The website,, will highlight cases of detainment and imprisonment of Western tourists. “

Why specifically ‘western’ tourists?

They also say that: “The Committee seeks to educate travelers about the dangers of traveling to Dubai and hopes to work with Dubai officials to make the new laws more widely-publicized to prevent such unfortunate situations from occurring in the future, and to secure the deportation of current prisoners who fell victim to these under-publicized laws.”

New? Under-publicised?

If you take a few seconds to google ‘dubai drug laws’ you’ll get over 11,000 pages of information and ‘dubai banned drugs’ gets you over 1,500 pages.

The laws are clearly flagged in various countries’ travel sites, for example the UK,
US State Dept. and the Australian Government.

So, to sum up:

If Cat Le-Huy is innocent, he should not be in jail.

Inaccurate information on the website is not helping anybody.

Don’t expect tourism authorities to list the laws of their country.

Check the laws regarding medicines in any country you plan to visit. You are responsible for this, no-one else is.

The information is already out there, all you have to do is look.

2 Comments so far

  1. Scott Richards (unregistered) on February 4th, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    * With Dubai Shopping Festival on, 9 people are being detained a day.

    * No awareness is made on the flight over, about items people may not consider to be illegal.

    * People are held without charge for long periods of time, some have not seen a ‘judge’ after a year.

    * Cat was detained for having melatonin, a legal over the counter drug in Dubai. The subsequent search found an unidentified brown spec at the base of his bag.

    * After 9 days no charges have been filed.

    * Reports and charges change frequently in quantity; i.e the adjourment of Groove Rider’s case where the defence and the prosecutor had two different quantities listed; dramatically different. A charge went from 0.01 grams of hash to 0.4 for another inmate overnight.

    * There is no form of bail for these charges; infact nothing one can do when there are no charges.

    * The Police can extend, seemingly with extra-legal recourse the period of a detention. As they are allowed 48 hrs + 24 hrs if they file with the Attorney General or the PM of Abu Dhabi.

    * Signed confessions are routine procedure, under the promise of immediate deportation.

    * Security at the airport paid a commission for all successful searches that reveal drugs and thus contribute to the false positives.

    * Given the number of searches and illegality of minute amounts the possibility of ‘cross contamination’ of evidence is large.

    * Dubai is a wonderful place to live, it’s crime rate is low but it’s ‘legal process’ in these matters has a long way to go!

  2. Seabee (unregistered) on February 4th, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

    Scott, you say nine people a day are being detained. I don’t know what the figure is but if nine is correct it’s very low compared to other countries, including western. You also have to look at the number against the bigger picture – 20,000 tourists a day land in Dubai and 800 new residents move here every day. Hardly a big percentage is it.

    No flight announcements are made – so maybe there should be a campaign to encourage the airlines to do so. In-flight announcements are their responsibility. To rant on at the tourist authority and to make the accusation of laws being hidden as the website does is attacking the wrong target.

    Held with no charge – it’s always wrong in my opinion. But these days it’s hardly unique to Dubai. People are being detained without charge in any number of western coutries, for considerable periods of time.

    On your other points, I agree that the justice system has a long way to go. Changes are being made but not as many nor as quickly as I would like to see. It’s a subject I’ve posted about on my personal blog.

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