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Dubai ruler pardons Norwegian woman convicted after she reported rape

By Nicola Goulding. Jennifer Z. Deaton and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
July 23, 2013 -- Updated 0046 GMT (0846 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Marte Dalelv says it is a "fantastic feeling" to have her freedom back
  • Dalelv says she has her passport now and wants to go home as soon as possible
  • Norway: Dialogue, along with international pressure and interest, led to Dalelv's release
  • Lawyer: A royal pardon wipes the slate clean; Dalelv's alleged attacker also is free

Dubai (CNN) -- A Norwegian woman who was sentenced to prison in Dubai after reporting that she was raped has been given a pardon and will be heading home soon, she said Monday.

Speaking to reporters in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv seemed relieved and happy as she confirmed the news -- if still slightly bewildered by the swift turn of events.

"They told me that I would be pardoned and that they were going to give me my passport back, so I got it immediately," she said.

Asked what happens next, Dalelv paused a moment before replying: "I get to go home."

Dalelv: Pardon is 'fantastic'
Woman reports Dubai rape, faces prison

She added, "We want to make it as soon as possible."

Dalelv has her passport in her possession and filed the paperwork for an exit visa Monday afternoon. She hopes to find out Tuesday when she can leave the country.

A spokeswoman for Norway's Foreign Ministry, Ragnhild Imerslund, said Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had said Dalelv was free to travel where she wants and can remain in Dubai if she chooses.

The sheikh, who is vice president of the United Arab Emirates, also said the 24-year-old had not been and would not be deported, Imerslund said. She is expected to travel in a day or two, the spokeswoman said.

Dalelv, a Qatar-based interior designer, was on a work trip to Dubai when she reported to police that she had been raped by a colleague at the hotel where she was staying.

She was herself then detained and charged with having unlawful sex, making a false statement and illegal consumption of alcohol. A court last week sentenced her to 16 months in prison, prompting outrage in Norway.

Dalelv's lawyer, Mahmoud Azab Abu Gareda, said the sheikh's pardon is "effectively a royal decree," which wipes the slate clean, leaving no record of her conviction.

This means the alleged perpetrator, who was charged with public intoxication and having sex outside of marriage, also walks free, he said.

Dalelv has dropped her case against him, so it will not be pursued further, he said.

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'Fantastic feeling'

Dalelv said she had not known what to expect when she went into a meeting Monday with the Dubai attorney general, her lawyers and Norway's ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Ase Elin Bjerke.

"I just went in with an open mind, and they said, 'Well, we are pardoning you.' This is such a good day," Dalelv said.

"Now I get my exit visa, and then I am going home to see my mum!"

Dalelv gave insight into the pressure she has been under, saying that she knew what had happened to her but that she had started to believe she was "guilty emotionally."

She said it was a "fantastic feeling" to have her freedom back and be able to leave Dubai, but at the same time she would miss the friends she has made.

Bjerke, Norway's envoy, said that her country had been working on Dalelv's behalf for several months and that she was very grateful for the decision to issue a pardon.

Bjerke said the case had resonated on social media in Norway and elsewhere.

"I think people can see themselves in Marte," she said. "She has done what a lot of people would do when they come and visit Dubai. You are out with your friends ,and things roll on that you are not in control of. She is happy now, and we are happy with her, and she can return free to Norway."

Norway has a "very good" relationship with the United Arab Emirates, Bjerke said, adding that she credited the openness between the two nations for the outcome of this case.

Islamic laws, traditions

Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister Espen Barth Eide also welcomed news of Dalelv's pardon.

"Marte is released! Thanks to everyone who signed up to help #ReleaseMarte," his Twitter feed said.

Imerslund said "very constructive" dialogue between the foreign ministers of Norway and the UAE, along with international pressure and interest, led to this outcome in Dalelv's case.

On Friday, Eide had called his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to protest Dalelv's conviction as "contrary to fundamental human rights," a weekend statement from the Norwegian ministry said.

While Dubai has a reputation as a cosmopolitan city that boasts Western influences, where visitors can drink at bars and restaurants and unmarried couples can share hotel rooms, the country adheres to Islamic laws and traditions.

Having sex outside of marriage and public consumption of alcohol are both violations of the law in the United Arab Emirates.

Women's rights violations not just a developing nation issue

Fired from her job

Dalelv no longer has a job with the company that sent her on the work assignment to Dubai.

She said that a month after the rape, while forced to stay in Dubai as the case wound through the legal system, she was fired by her employer, Al Mana Interiors.

A representative of Al Mana Interiors, who declined to be publicly identified, said Saturday that Dalelv and the Sudanese man she accused -- who is married with three children -- were both terminated by Al Mana Interiors for "drinking alcohol at a staff conference that resulted in trouble with the police."

A statement released later the same day by Al Mana Interiors spokesman Hani El Korek said that the company was sympathetic toward Dalelv "during this very difficult situation" and that her dismissal was not because of the rape claim.

The statement said that company representatives were by her side through the initial investigation, spending "days at both the police station and the prosecutor's office to help win her release."

"Only when Ms. Dalelv declined to have positive and constructive discussions about her employment status, and ceased communication with her employer, was the company forced to end our relationship with her," the statement said.

"The decision had nothing to do with the rape allegation, and unfortunately neither Ms. Dalelv nor her attorneys have chosen to contact the company to discuss her employment status."

The company is owned by Qatari billionaire Wissam Al Mana, who made headlines this year after it was revealed that he secretly married singer Janet Jackson in 2012.

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Rights record criticized

The United Arab Emirates has been heavily criticized by rights groups that say it condones sexual violence against women. Human Rights Watch has called its record "shameful," saying it must change the way it handles such cases.

In December 2012, a British woman reported being raped by three men in Dubai. She was found guilty of drinking alcohol without a license and fined.

In January 2010, a British woman told authorities she was raped by an employee at a Dubai hotel. She was charged with public intoxication and having sex outside of marriage.

An Australian woman reported in 2008 that she was drugged and gang-raped. She was convicted of having sex outside marriage and drinking alcohol, and she was sentenced to 11 months in prison.

Amanpour: What's next for women's rights in the Middle East?

CNN's Nicola Goulding reported from Dubai and Jennifer Deaton in Atlanta; Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Phil O'Sullivan, Dareen Al Omari and Nima Elbagir contributed to this report.

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