Warren Ellis' friend busted in Dubai for melatonin

From Warren Ellis' blog:
"The partner of designer and COILHOUSE co-creator Mildred Von has been arrested in Dubai for carrying melatonin. This, apparently, gave them the excuse to declare without testing that a few fragments of dirt in the bottom of his bag were hashish. Everyone's hoping that they'll be forced to release him in another seven days but the Dubai authorities, as you might expect, are behaving like monsters.

Details are here. Please read them before asking questions. Mil's contact details are in that post too. We might get lucky and they might bounce him out when it turns out there's nothing to hold him on, but, really, that doesn't sound like Dubai. If you think you can help, please do get in touch with Mil. Thanks."

Link (Thanks, Alias!)


  1. Time to force those employment outfits that are constantly advertising for people to come work in Dubai to carry warnings about Dubai government criminality.

  2. Sounds a pretty awful situation – rather like some of the horror stories from people entering the USA. But can anyone explain why I “might expect” the Dubai authorities to behave “like monsters”?

  3. Why link to the coilhouse myspace (gah) when they actually have a great and constantly updated blog at coilhouse.net?

  4. BBcomments, i wanted to know the same thing about why we should be expected to believe the dubai’s officials’ behaviors.

  5. Well, the UAE doesn’t have a very good track record with respect to human rights in criminal proceedings, including death sentences for being found homosexual and even minor drug convictions, with questionable trials. Plus it’s a quote from Warren Ellis, who as far as I know isn’t exactly trusting of authority structures.

    [Preemptive strike: No, no country is perfect. I know that.]

  6. Has Ellis had some unpleasant personal dealing with Dubai authorities in the past? Or do you think he’s just going on what he’s heard about them in the past? I understand coming to the defense of a friend, but Ellis’ anger seems rather specific and intense.

  7. Dubai is not a mystery. They use slave labor to build those glittering towers. They believe that their country is going to be THE tourist paradise of the 21st century, but they need to do some more research on 21st-century tourists’ attitudes towards soft drugs and sex — not to mention human rights — before that’s ever going to happen.

  8. I think I’ll clarify a bit: Warren was offering his feelings based on what I’ve posted in my journal, so you might be missing the full context of why he’s reacted this way. If you follow the link to my journal and read the entire post you might get a better understanding of what happened, and why we’re trying to get the message out there.

    Perhaps I would not go so far as to use the term monstrous… but Dubai is aggressively marketing itself as a happy, open-minded tourist destination and they need to answer for the mistreatment of these tourists whom they go to such pains to lure in. We’re not talking about detention and deportation, we’re talking about a person being arrested and thrown in jail for carrying an over-the-counter sleeping aid which, funnily enough, is available over the counter in Dubai. This is unacceptable and he is certainly not alone… this is why we want to make people aware that they face a very real risk of this happening to them and maybe they should consider safer shores when planning their holiday. I would urge anyone reading this to do their own research and make up their own minds.

    I would also like to add that Diz says he is being treated well (although he could only speak to me once, for about 60 seconds). The authorities handling him have not caused him any injury and he is in good spirits.

    Thanks Mark!

  9. It could have been worse …

    The sentence for carrying illegal drugs is 4 years, with a minimum of 6 months in Dubai? You call that bad? Just you come over here to Malaysia or Singapore … :-)

    And consider the Japanese criminal system that have a conviction rate of 99%. If the police there arrests you, you’re as good as convicted. (I heard this on one of the BBC’s podcasted documentaries).

    Or the Americans could have accused him of being a terrorist, and shipped him off to Gitmo.

    Well, just my lame effort in cheering him up. Hope they let him out soon.

  10. I worked in Dubai for a little while. The architect of the boat we were working on, a Brit expat who’d been jailed in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Iran, said that the jails in Abu Dhabi were the best he’d been in, very nice and very clean. Surprisingly, the Dubai jails were rather nasty. And yes, that is surprising because Dubai is trying to outdo Abu Dhabi, and the rest of the world, in glamor and bigness and grandness. Just look at the various engineering projects they have going on. So you’d expect a really nice jail.

    And yes, I’d except the Dubai authorities to behave like “monsters.” There’s a lot of odd, to me anyway, cultural dynamics going on over there.

    Only something like 5% of the population are actually citizens. The rest are imported workers of one type or another, and it does not matter how long you live there or what, basically you can’t ever become a citizen. Maybe Europeans and Americans and rich folk can, but for the vast majority of the workforce there is no way they or their kids will ever become citizens.

    To open a business, any business, the business must be owned at least 51% by a citizen. And that citizen can take all the business’s assets at any time (which is why the boat’s architect went to jail, his citizen partner cleaned out the bank accounts and left him holding the bag). So most citizens “own” many businesses. And fill the top spaces of any company’s organizational charts. And the top spaces of the governmental organization charts. But all the real “work” is done by the imported workforce, which is largely Indian or Pakistani (at least on the government side).

    Now, why is it that Americans are annoyed when we can tech support and get India? Because of their cultural mores that make them less likely to deviate from a written script. There is less flexibility and initiative, as a general rule. Same over in Dubai, all the lower level, and mid level flunkys will be adhering to the letter of the law. But you also have a huge tradition of not letting the boss be embarrassed or wrong (ever), so there’s that to consider, aswell. And then there is also bribery, which may be technically illegal, but is a cultural norm in the UAE. I also noticed a big problem with the Arabs I worked with with them ignoring problems hoping they’d go away or Someone Else would fix them. I also noticed a huge amount of “shooting the messenger” so lots of problems were not brought to the attention of someone who could fix them, for fear of being umm…shot.

    So, you get in a situation where something is thought to be drugs, that is not. (and btw, there is a rather huge problem with drugs in Dubai) And you get this huge mishmash of cultures and crap and it’s very easy for stuff to get ridiculously complicated and convoluted and nothing will get done about it because it might embarrass someone higher up who may or may not ever even know about it.

    I have probably not explained this very well, but it’s late so screw it.

    I will leave with a short story, though.

    One of the last times I was over there, I was leaving the country on the last day of my visa, to fly back home. Flying out of Abu Dhabi. My visa (already extended once) expired at midnight and my flight was at 1am. No problem, went through outbound customs, got my exit stamp with no difficulties. But then fog rolled in. And the airport was closed due to fog. So they bussed us all from Abu Dhabi to Dubai to fly out. When we get to Dubai, off the airlines bus, with customs officials from Abu Dhabi with us we had to go through the incoming side of customs first, because we’d already “left” the country, and you can’t leave again till you’ve entered. Because you can’t have an exit stamp with out first having an entrance stamp, you know. Just Not Done. But my visa was expired. By three or four hours at that point. And it had Already Been Extended Once. And Can’t Be Extended Again Unless Done Before It Expires (but it had already expired!) I was literally dragged off and was headed to jail. It took a UAE citizen, who worked in customs, coming down to the customs area and saying it was alright to let me in, to let me in and then back out again and get on the flight home. Mainly because this exact situation had never come up before and they had no procedure, and everyone knew that no one gets fired for buying IBM, so to say. So yeah, I can understand them acting like “monsters.”

  11. talk about the so called liberal middle eastern country, wow. guess that’s better than amputating hands. not exactly how you want to encourage the west to travel there.

  12. 1. Limited habeas corpus – check
    2. “Zero tolerance” drug laws – check
    3. Security profiling – check
    4. Abuse of process* – check
    5. Assumption of guilt – check

    * – he was told to sign a document written in Arabic which turned out to be a “confession.”

    Welcome to Freedom® 2.0

    I’m sure the list could go on. Frankly, I was most bothered by how much of this did remind me of recent stories out of “free” countries.

  13. So you want to go to Dubai!

    In the last 45 days, have you smoked marijuana? Have you been in the downdraft of someone who’s smoked marijuana? Have you been in close quarters with someone who recently smoked marijuana?

    Congratulations! You may have detectable amounts of THC in your bloodstream, and thus be eligible for 4 years in prison! Because that counts as possession!

    What’s that? You live in Vancouver? Or The Netherlands? There’s no escaping pot smoke where you live?

    Well, you might get lucky.

    Yeah, so anyhow: Dubai isn’t a safe place for Westerners to travel? No shit, Sherlock. What was your first clue?

  14. Huh. I thought that maybe I was being alarmist. Apparently, having codeine in your bloodstream is enough to get you sentenced to four years in jail. I can buy codeine off the shelf without a prescription. I have generic acetominaphine-codeine tablets in my bathroom, purchased at Shoppers Drug Mart. I took one yesterday for a headache.

    I don’t want to be on a plane that’s going to be travelling anywhere near Dubai.

  15. The guy’s friend in Dubai is posting updates here:

    For example:

    “He is to my knowledge being held in the Airport Detention Centre, where he will be treated well and the conditions are good, I am told somewhat like a 3 Star Hotel. If he is in central, he will be fine, although sharing a cell, unlikely to experience any violence, or sodomy. I have had several friends in Central, none of which are troubled by the time spent there.”

    While the laws are crazy, the conditions sound much non-citizens.

  16. I’m always into the news and stories like gandalf23’s are very interesting to read. Thanks for sharing. So many people I know have been there to visit and come back with nothing bad to say. But apparently they were lucky. So of these people are big pot smokers too. I just assumed they went there to party with other wealthy party hounds.

  17. Just wanted to say thank you guys for spreading the word. Your support is much appreciated.

    Zoetica / Coilhouse

  18. For a few months I was entranced with the idea of working in Dubai. Income on average 3x more than what you can get in the U.S. for an equivalent job WITHOUT having to pay taxes. Funnily enough, it took a story on boingboing about how boingboing is not available there due to a block put on it on the government firewall. I started doing a little research and all of the bad stuff started pouring out. All kinds of censorship, slave conditions for laborers, harsh attitudes towards westerners, secret police that will lock you up if you’re heard criticizing the king, etc etc. And then you see these little sheiks flaunting their wealth. F them and their little desert craphole.

  19. People could Google “Dubai Tourist Board” or suchlike, find someone to email (the place I found has a form) and tell them that the chances of you vacationing or accepting employment in Dubai have just dropped to zero. A few thousand emails telling them they are embarrassing themselves by acting like nazis and treating visitors like criminals might piss them off enough to lighten up. Or maybe not.

    Mind you, US immigration is pretty bloody scary at the best of times.

    Oh for a world with no borders. But then of course, most governments would be out of a job, so that ain’t gonna happen.

  20. Dubai does not have a “government ” to appeal to or even speak to. Rather, if you want clemency, get on your knees and grovel, plead and beg to a supreme monarch. Helps if you time it with religious holidays. It’s all about ass-kissing, not justice.

  21. one good thing;
    Dubai is always in need of the kind of skilled workers that reads BoingBoing. The several million that read BoingBoing CAN make a difference in hurting their recruitment.

  22. Takuan, do you think there are several million readers of Boing Boing? And so few write posts? That’s a lot of lurking. And who could resist responding to you? :)

  23. “BoingBoing
    * 77% male
    * 76% 18-39
    * 39% HHI above $75k
    * 40% IT professionals, developers or engineers
    * 30% managers or above
    * 42% publish their own blog

    Plan a campaign with sites like this

    7,360,000 page views per month
    Plan a campaign with sites like this

    Boing Boing attracts more than 2 million unique visitors to its site each month, and has over 3.3 million RSS subscribers. And it now offers Boing Boing TV, which was recently highlighted by CNN, and Boing Boing Gadgets. By Comscore’s measure, Boing Boing is among the five most-visited blogs on the web. Technorati’s list of most influential blogs — based on how many other sites link to that blog — puts Boing Boing at #2. According to Google, more than 600,000 other sites link to Boing Boing. Forbes voted Boing Boing “best of the web” among tech blogs, as did BusinessWeek. AdRants, ad exec veteran Steve Hall’s blog, posted an article to the effect that if Boing Boing covers your ad campaign, it’s gone viral. 2006 Bloggies winner: Best Group Blog and Lifetime Achievement. 2006 Webby Awards nominee. Named ‘Best of the Web 2006’ by BusinessWeek. In a 2006 article, The New Yorker described Boing Boing as “a technology blog that is read by geeks the world over.”

    It must be true, I read it on the web.

  24. Interesting stats. So, what’s your theory as to why so many people look but have nothing to say? Just a lot of shy folks out there?

  25. Jeff,

    Go to Huffington Post, where there are hundreds of comments for each article, then give thanks to whatever deity you perv on that people here mostly lurk. Most commenters on really busy blogs are unintelligible, raving fountains of bile. Better yet, go to I Can Has Cheezburger where every LOL has three to four hundred posts written in Kitteh.

    It is a bit alarming to think that one’s comment might be read by hundreds of thousands of lurkers, though.

  26. Takuan, it’s as accurate as we can make it. No method for counting site traffic is entirely satisfactory.

    Jeff, Antinous, the rule of thumb I’m about to tell you has been a constant on the internet for as long as I’ve been around:

    Of every hundred people who read a discussion site, ten will post and ninety will lurk.

    Somewhat less reliable, but still a good rule of thumb:

    Of those ten readers who post comments, one will do more posting than the other nine put together.

    All three of you are one-percenters.

  27. It’s alarming but necessary to realize that large numbers of silent strangers are reading one’s comments.

  28. …yes,….yes… it is. Legions of them,brooding in their cellars and garrets, silently stropping their straight razors… loading the gun…unloading the gu… reading

  29. It’s alarming but necessary to realize that large numbers of silent strangers are reading one’s comments.

    The thing is, it makes some people want to be more polite and intelligible and other people not so much. I guess that having an audience, like having an illness, just tends to make you more who you are.

  30. Shoulda busted him for ‘schroom’ extract. Melatonin is very similar to psilocybin or the rather famous but rare SCHEDULE ONE “narcotic” drug DMT. It’s a TRYPTAMINE!!! Alex Shulgin wrote a whole book, ‘TIHKAL’ (Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved). They all show up fluorescently easy to detect. So how many lashings?

    Time was, the amino acid Tryptophan, was a better alternative (like warm milk, but concentrated into a pill) was OUTLAWED and never LEGALIZED again, because in the early days of bacteria–culture-genetic-engineering, ONE small company in Japan, allowed, accidently, a TOXIC byproduct to be included in their amino acid supplement pills. This was easily fixable, but since it actually caused harm (in a few cases it was very seriously so), the US government, about they time they were also trying to outlaw VITAMIN C (!!!), outlawed Tryptophan, which could be easily be converted to DMT (except that the method was never published in either public nor underground literature), and it’s still not at your local vitamin store.

    Prohibition laws are easily made, but never unmade.

    “Prohibition goes beyond the bonds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes.” – Abraham Lincoln

    What we need is a civil society based method to uproot injustice. We already have it in Instapundit. But it has not yet taken full effect. There must be a log, for *worldwide* public opinion now has a force unknown in history, except for in local politics, in which a printing press was king of opinion, via “pamphlets.”

  31. I have made a Protest Song About Dubai to help spread the word about this story – the guy in question sits opposite me at work. Here it is:

  32. It’s sad to read this kind of story, but I have to say that I’ve been in and through Dubai two dozen times (yes, 24 times and I’ll be doing it again very soon). I’m Asian-Canadian, and thus, according to these stories, should be watched more carefully. I don’t believe I’ve ever been looked at more carefully because I’m “oriental”. Never had a single problem (my bags were X-rayed but never once opened, my electronics never handled). I do follow the rules of the country (read the “Visitors” section of the UAE website!), never tried to stand out and just behaved nicely/friendly. I’m not rich (work pays for my travel), but I hear dressing “well off” does help, so I do that.

    I’m from Vancouver (and go to clubs), so the joke about “not getting away from the pot smoke” is cute, but obviously not accurate.

    Yes, it’s a Muslim country so yes, the rules are different. Welcome to the Real World where things aren’t always like it is in Canada or the States.

  33. Wow. I’m still in shock and completely freaked out by international travel. Thankfully I’m living abroad…

    gandalf23, excellent post. Thank you.

    After reading about this, there isn’t a snow balls chance in hell I’m going to Dubai. However, if I end up going will the fact that I’ve written about this in my blog, and now commented about it on a “banned” website, incriminate me (and all of you above)?

  34. Wow if I wasn’t already worried about my friend Janice & her son going to live in Dubai with her new hubby I worry even more about her after the Stories I read and Janice sure likes to party and U see where I’m going here…
    I don’t care how great the Shopping is over there,I have ZERO interest in going to Dubai,and I take pain Rx’s and I don’t wanna waste time in there country.Don’t say No,just Don’t GO to Dubai….
    And Janice I hope to hear from you soon…

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