DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Casting anguished looks at a defendant, a 15-year-old French-Swiss boy told a Dubai court Wednesday that he was kidnapped by three Emirati men and raped on the back seat of a car at the edge of the desert. The case has raised questions over treatment of sex crime victims here.
The boy's mother, Veronique Robert, said her son "cried a little" but was "very strong" as he testified for 90 minutes in a session closed to the public at the defense's request.
"He looked the defendants in the eyes and gave a chance for justice to be served," Robert told The Associated Press on the phone afterward. "Now they (the judges) have a full picture. They heard the defendants' stories, they heard my son and the witnesses. Now they can judge."
The teenager has told police investigators that the three men abducted him and a 16-year-old friend in July while they were on their way home from a mall and took them near Dubai's desert. The men allegedly took turns sexually assaulting the younger boy in the back seat. The 16-year-old, who was not assaulted, also testified Wednesday.
The case reflects the complicated attitudes toward sex crimes in the booming city-state where critics say the laws are an outmoded mix of Islamic-rooted legal, religious and tribal values.
Robert has said that her son accused a police forensic doctor of calling the boy a homosexual while examining him after the assaults, implying the incident was consensual. She also said her son had left the country in early October because French diplomats told her that he might be prosecuted for homosexual acts, a crime here.
But after authorities said he would not be charged, the boy returned to testify, and Robert on Wednesday expressed faith in the Emirates' legal system. "We are here, we trust you. Now please do your job," she said.
Before Wednesday's session was closed to the public, reporters inside the court saw the 15-year-old glance twice in apparent anguish at the older of the defendants, who is HIV positive.
Two Emirati men, ages 35 and 18, are on trial on charges of "kidnapping with deceit" and "forced homosexual relations," a charge that can be punished with life imprisonment or death. The third defendant, who is under age 18, is being tried in a juvenile court on the same charges and could face up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted.
The defendants are not charged with rape, because under Dubai law that charge is applicable only to women victims. Even convictions for rape of women victims are rare in the Emirates, and there have been cases where the victim herself was charged with prostitution.
Although rape against men is not a specific charge, prosecutors have other charges they can bring in such cases, such as forced homosexual relations. Consensual homosexual acts are also illegal, punishable by a year in prison.
Robert said she is pushing for reforms in Emirates law to ensure just treatment for rape victims — girls and boys alike.
"Victims of rape, boys and girls, need to be treated as victims, not as homosexuals and prostitutes," she said. "My son was never a homosexual, but even if he was, rape is still rape."
When the case came to light, Robert also accused Emirati authorities of lying about the HIV status of the 35-year-old defendant to cover up the fact that AIDS exists in Dubai.
Dubai officials have defended their handling of the case but have not commented on the mother's accusations. The defendants' lawyers refuse to speak to the media about this case.
Robert, a journalist, has set up a Web site calling for pressure on Dubai to take basic steps to protect underage rape victims, such as ensuring they are tested for infectious diseases and get psychological help, immediately after an attack.
After the boys' testimonies, the judge adjourned the hearings until Sunday, when the last witness in the case — a policeman — is to testify. Prosecutors have asked for the death penalty in the case, but Robert said she asked the court not to sentence them to death.
The AP is using Robert's name with her agreement, but is not identifying her son. The Emirates' legal system prohibits the media from naming the defendants until a verdict is reached.