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Drug sentence for BBC DJ highlights UAE's strict laws

  • Story Highlights
  • Grooverider sentence highlights UAE's strict drug rules
  • The DJ was jailed for four years in Dubai on Tuesday for possession of cannabis
  • He was arrested November 23 after being caught with 2.16 grams of the drug
  • The Emirates have an unusually strict approach to enforcing their drug laws
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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (CNN) -- The recent arrest and sentencing of a British disc jockey in Dubai highlights the need for foreign travelers to pay close attention to the United Arab Emirates' strict rules on prohibited substances, a legal charity said Wednesday.

Western tourists oblivious to the severe drugs laws in the UAE often end up in jail after arriving in the conservative Muslim country with tiny amounts of narcotics.

DJ Grooverider, whose real name is Raymond Bingham, was jailed Tuesday for four years in Dubai for possession of cannabis, said a spokesman for BBC Radio 1, where the he presented a weekly drum 'n bass show.

He was arrested November 23 after being caught with 2.16 grams of the drug at the airport, the BBC spokesman said.

"It's another incident of exactly the sort of case we've seen occurring with increased frequency," said Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International.

The charity issued a warning to travelers earlier this month, urging them to read up on Dubai's restrictions and make sure they are free of any substances. The warning followed a series of cases in which Dubai authorities arrested travelers with trace amounts of banned substances or seemingly innocuous items.

Fair Trials highlighted the case of a Swiss man jailed for having three poppy seeds on his shirt which apparently came from a sandwich he had eaten at the airport before departure.

UAE customs officials said the man was stopped after arriving in Dubai from Zurich on January 18, though it provided no other details on his case.

The U.S. State Department warns that poppy seeds are on the UAE's list of controlled substances. An official at the UAE's police labs who declined to be named said the Emirates only ban raw poppy seeds -- not baked -- because raw seeds could be planted for drug use.

The British and U.S. governments have warnings in place for travelers to the UAE, alerting them to the severe penalties for being found with drugs, and the types of drugs which are illegal in the country.

"The possession and/or import of even the smallest amount of drugs can result in a minimum prison sentence of four years," states the advice from Britain's Foreign Office. "The presence of drugs in the system is counted as possession."

Some prescribed medications -- such as Valium or those used for hormone replacement therapy -- are forbidden even with a prescription, Fair Trials said. Codeine, which is available over the counter in Britain, is allowed only with a doctor's prescription, the Foreign Office states.

Fair Trials mentioned the case of an unnamed 20-year-old who was traveling back to England from Pakistan. The charity said he was arrested after customs officers allegedly found 0.02 grams of cannabis in his pocket.

UAE customs officials told CNN the 20-year-old was arrested January 16 and actually was found with 0.67 grams of cannabis.

"Travelers must be aware about and understand the laws of any country they visit," said a customs official, who also declined to be named.

The BBC spokesman said Grooverider, who went to Dubai to work at a club, claimed he forgot the drugs were in the pocket of a pair of trousers.

"Grooverider is paying a very high price for a serious mistake," the Radio 1 spokesman said.

Fair Trials' Wolthuizen said one thing is clear: Travelers to the UAE must be careful.

"The Emirates are quite happy to be known as having an unusually strict approach to enforcing their drug laws," Wolthuizen said. "They are going to extraordinary lengths to enforce them." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About DubaiDubai International AirportUnited Arab EmiratesIllegal Drugs

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