A New York business arts student has been jailed for a year in Dubai after she tapped an airport security officer on the arm during a strip search as they checked her medical waist binder and left her half-naked.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, 21, who attends Lehman College in the Big Apple was heading to New York from Istanbul with a friend when they were detained during a ten-hour layover at Dubai International Airport on July 14.
But what she thought would be a short stop in the UAE has turned into a months-long nightmare, after airport security was alerted to a brace Santos was wearing with underwiring on it. She told airport officials she had recently had surgery and was mandated to wear the surgical brace around the clock.
She was carted off to a private room and instructed to remove the brace, leaving her semi-naked and feeling ‘violated’. She was eventually cleared to go, but since she was unable to get the brace back on herself, she ‘gently’ touched one of the female customs officer’s arm to get her friend to help her.
The female officers accused Santos of ‘assaulting and insulting’ them, which De Los Santos denied. She was forbidden to travel home, and on Monday, she was sentenced to a year behind bars despite paying a AED 10,000 ($2,722) fine.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos., 21, and a friend were heading to New York from Turkey and were detained by airport security during a 10-hour layover at Dubai International Airport
Pictured: Dubai’s Al-Awir Central Prison located in the United Arab Emirates
Dubai International Airport where the July 14th incident took place
Judges had ordered De Los Santos to pay the fine on August 24, but instead of being allowed on her way, customs officials appealed the sentence.
She has now undergone a months-long ordeal and had to fork out $50,000 to afford accommodation in the expensive nation along with lawyers costs.
Since mid-July, De Los Santos has had to move from one hotel to another and was waiting for court hearings before she learned of her sentence.
It’s unclear where De Los Santos is currently being held but Detained in Dubai, the nonprofit advocating for her release, says she fears she will be held in the notorious Al Awir prison.
Detained in Dubai has made urgent representations on behalf of Santos and is also calling on officials to put safeguards in place to prevent any other visitors to the country facing lengthy and unfair detention.
Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, said people could end up detained in the UAE for years on bogus or minor charges and wants to warn Americans Dubai is ‘a dangerous place to visit’.
‘Elizabeth faced degrading, painful and humiliating searches when she transited through the international hub from Istanbul to New York but the nightmare has not ended,’ Stirling said.
‘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,’ she said.
‘She’s now been told she has a one year prison sentence but that if all ‘goes well’, she will only be detained until she can book a flight out of the UAE.
‘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 went on: ‘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.’
Sterling said a ‘mere allegation’ is enough to secure a conviction whether there is evidence of wrongdoing or not.
She also referenced the case of TikTok influencer Tierra Young Allen who was held in the same country for three months earlier this year for ‘shouting’ at a car park employee.
A doctor shows a hallway at the medical center of Dubai’s Al-Awir central prison in the United Arab Emirates
De Los Santos pictured with her 44-year-old father who passed away, in this undated photo
‘One thing these Americans have in common is that they regret the day they ever decided to visit Dubai and they all continue to intensely warn other citizens to avoid the region,’ Stirling said.
At the time of her detention, De Los Santos said: ‘We thought it would be a more modern and futuristic city, but we were completely wrong.’
She also claimed her mother has been left in ‘shock and suffering. She is really worried and keeps crying.’
US Representative Ritchie Torres’s office told DailyMail.com on Monday, ‘we’re doing everything we possibly can to work with American officials in the UAE to make sure Elizabeth can return safely home.’
A spokesperson at Lehman College, a liberal arts college in the Bronx, told DailyMail.com that Santos is a transfer student.
De Los Santos next court date is October 24.