A 21-year-old New York student was said to have gotten a prison sentence after an airport search.
Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos said she was accused of assault after nudging an airport official.
An advocacy group says Americans are falling victim to a "backwards" UAE justice system.
A legal advocacy group says a 21-year-old New York college student was sentenced to a year in prison over claims of "assaulting and insulting" the airport staff in Dubai after she gently touched a security officer's arm.
Detained in Dubai, an organization that provides legal assistance to foreigners in the United Arab Emirates, said in a press release that Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was transiting through Dubai International Airport from Istanbul to New York with a friend in July when she faced "degrading, painful, and humiliating searches."
The pair had chosen a 10-hour layover in Dubai over Paris.
"Elizabeth only intended to transit through Dubai for six hours, but she's been there for months on end and has lost $50,000 in expenses and lawyers costs," Detained in Dubai's founder, Radha Stirling, said in a statement.
"She's now been told she has a one-year prison sentence but that if all 'goes well,' she will only be detained until she can book a flight out of the UAE," Stirling added.
The UAE's Ministry of Justice didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.
An earlier statement from Detained in Dubai said that after Polanco De Los Santos removed a medical waist-training brace upon request from female security officers at the airport, the officers refused to help her put it back on — a process that usually takes two people — and blocked her exit.
At this point, she "gently touched" the arm of one of the security guards so they could get her friend to help, she said in the press release.
Officials then told her she'd be detained for "touching the female customs officer," the report said.
Detained in Dubai previously described a miserable few months of moving hotels and waiting for court hearings for Polanco De Los Santos, a student at Lehman College.
And while Polanco De Los Santos may not serve the full year, Stirling said she would still be detained until she's allowed to leave the country.
"Even if she is allowed to be deported tomorrow, she will remain in prison until then, not knowing whether there will be further delays or whether, in fact, she will end up forced to serve the whole sentence," Stirling said.
"This is an extreme situation for a 21-year-old to go through," she added.
Stirling said Polanco De Los Santos was not the only American citizen to have fallen victim to what she called the United Arab Emirates' "backwards justice system."
Filing a criminal or civil case against someone in Dubai triggers a complicated legal process where the accused party is prohibited from leaving the country.
Stirling said local scammers were frequently relying on unsubstantiated claims to get significant settlement payments, citing the cases of Tierra Allen and Peter Clark.
Allen had to pay about $1,300 to have a travel ban lifted by local Dubai authorities, who arrested and detained her for months for "screaming in public" after a car crash, Detained in Dubai said.
The organization also highlighted the case of Clark, a Californian who paid $50,000 after being arrested and detained in Dubai for two months on charges of violating the country's drug laws after legally smoking cannabis before flying to Dubai.
"American citizens need to be aware that Dubai is a dangerous place to visit," Stirling said, adding: "Any country where a mere unevidenced allegation can result in lengthy imprisonment is an unacceptable choice for tourists, and Dubai needs to work hard to stop this kind of legal abuse."
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