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DUBAI: No jail for couple convicted of sex on the beach

November 25, 2008 |  6:12 am

Having endured public shame and courtroom prying, a British pair convicted of having sex outside marriage on a Dubai beach had their three-month jail sentence suspended today.

An appeals court in the United Arab Emirates upheld the guilty verdict but spared Vince Acors, 34, and Michelle Palmer, 36, imprisonment. The defendants paid $272 each for charges involving alcohol consumption in the incident that unfolded July 5 when they left a Champagne brunch and were arrested hours later on Jumeirah Beach.

The couple, who admitted kissing but denied having sex, were expected to be deported to their native Britain. After the court’s ruling, Palmer was quoted by reporters as saying: “It just proves our innocence after all the bad stuff that was written. That's it.”

Acors and Palmer were convicted in October and quickly became the grist of international headlines and a cautionary tale about Western permissiveness colliding with Islamic values. Dubai is the most liberal of the emirates, but recent pressure from Muslim conservatives has made police more vigilant in combating moral offenses.

The Persian Gulf’s center of glitz and hype, Dubai is speckled with man-made islands stroked by waves from passing yachts. Luxury is so prevalent, it's almost passe. The atmosphere is a bane to clerics. Alcohol is sold, and prostitution is rampant, if discreet.

Acors and Palmer, who was fired from her job with a book-publishing company following her arrest, were center stage in a drama perhaps larger and darker than their tryst. They fueled the blogosphere. They were vilified by some, sympathized with by others and criticized by many for slipping into an unflattering position in an Arab country. 

Hassan Mattar, the couple’s lawyer, told reporters it all ended well: “This is a good result. This means the law in Dubai is just and shows the judge has a good mind and a good heart.”

-- Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Vince Acors. Credit: Reuters