A Stoney Creek woman is in a notoriously overcrowded prison in Abu Dhabi, after airport screeners found traces of marijuana in her bag. Heather Augustyn’s family is very worried, but they don’t want to talk about her case publicly. They think any attention that casts the United Arab Emirates in a negative light might affect her chances of getting out of jail. But the story is important, especially for anyone thinking of travel to the United Arab Emirates.
Photos and quotes on 27-year-old Heather Augustyn’s social media pages show her love of travel and messages from her students show how much she is appreciated as a teacher. In June 2015, Augustyn’s Facebook shows she graduated from Western’s Faculty of Education.
She recently headed back for her second term teaching English to grade three students at Abu Dhabi international school. When, according to her family, she was chosen for random airport screening. Traces of marijuana were found in her bag, a bag she shared with friends while camping. Her family says it was no more than a few loose flakes. Augustyn was forced to sign a confession written in Arabic which she didn’t understand. Then she was sent to Al Wathba prison, notorious for overcrowding and human rights abuses.
Augustyn gets just five minutes to call her family once a week. She tells them she’s sleeping on the floor and getting little to eat. The Canadian consulate is providing guidance. Her friends launched a GoFundMe page and raised more than $5 000 for her legal defence, but they say the page was taken down because her case involves a crime.
Global Affairs Canada has some advice on its website for traveling to the UAE. It says Canadians have been arrested and jailed for a minimum of four years with just traces of illegal drugs found in their blood or urine, even when the drugs were consumed elsewhere. That includes some drugs that are legal here and not there, like codeine. A few marijuana cigarettes could be considered drug trafficking and that carries a death penalty.
People have also been arrested for taking pictures of certain government buildings, for criticizing the government or even for being in a common law relationship. It’s illegal to share a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex when you’re not married. The government says it’s important to know the laws of the country you’re visiting.