Student jailed for one year because she touched airport security guards arm

A student faces one year in prison after she tapped a Dubai airport security guard on the arm.

Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, has been detained by United Arab Emirates authorities for allegedly "assaulting and insulting" a member of the airport's security team. The flight connection which was meant to take just "six hours" has ended up with Los Santos detained in Dubai for three months and she has now been given a one year prison sentence.

The 21-year-old was heading home to New York City from Istanbul with a friend on July 14, when the pair decided to make an ill-fated detour. The student at Lehman College in the Bronx wasn't even meant to be transiting through Dubai in the first place, as her and a friend initially set to get their connecting flight in Paris.

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But because they thought Dubai "would be a more modern and futuristic city," they changed their flight. When Los Santos and her friend landed in Dubai, she was asked to remove her waist brace – needed as a result of her recently undergoing surgery – when going through security.

Los Santos was shown to a private booth where female staff members allegedly 'roughly' removed the compressor, hurting her while also laughing at her when she struggled to put it back on, the student's mum told Detained in Dubai.

With the security guards allegedly failing to help her put the support back on, Los Santos said she called out to her friend. She then leaned past a security guard in the way and in doing so, "gently touched [the security guard's arm] to guide her out of the way".

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The security guard whose arm Los Santos touched later filed a complaint against the 21-year-old, which led to the student being detained and allegedly told she could only leave if she signed a form which was written solely in Arabic.

After several hours, Los Santos and her friend were able to leave, but when they returned for their flight, they discovered Los Santos had a travel ban filed against her.

According to Detained in Dubai, Los Santos was told yesterday (October 2) she has a one year prison sentence but that if all "goes well", she would only be detained until she can "book a flight out of the UAE".

Detained in Dubai's founder, Radha Stirling, said in a statement on its website: "On top of being humiliated and traumatised 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. Is this the kind of transport hub that people would want to choose? She’s not the only US citizen who has fallen foul of the country’s backwards justice system.

"[…] Elizabeth is extremely worried that she will be detained in the notorious Al Awir prison and won’t (as promised) be allowed to leave the country. Even if she is allowed to be deported tomorrow, she will remain in prison until then, not knowing whether there will be further delays or whether in fact, she will end up forced to serve the whole sentence. This is an extreme situation for a 21 year old to go through."

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