London A Houston woman is stuck in the United Arab Emirates after being briefly detained for “yelling” in public during an argument with a Dubai car rental company, a London-based organization trying to help her get out of the country told CBS News.
Social media influencer Tierra Young Allen, 29, known to fans online as Sassy Trucker, was arrested in May after a confrontation with an employee of a Dubai car rental company who was trying to intimidate her into paying thousands of dollars she didn’t owe, according to Radha Stirling, CEO and founder of Detained in Dubai, the international nonprofit working to free her.
Stirling said Allen was arrested on May 16 and released on bail later that day, but authorities are holding her passport, preventing her from leaving the United Arab Emirates.
“She was told at the (Bur Dubai) police station that she had been charged with ‘shouting,’ which under UAE law is illegal under ‘offensive behaviour,’ which is an unclear and subjective regulation, but warrants up to two years in prison, a fine and deportation,” Stirling told CBS News on Thursday.
CBS News requested comment for this story on Thursday from the Dubai Police and the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but had not received responses at the time of publication.
Help from the United States?
Stirling said the US embassy in Dubai had not provided assistance to Allen as of Thursday, adding that the embassy had undergone a staff change last week. The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Detained in Dubai, he contacted the office of US Senator Ted Cruz from Texas directly, and Cruz’s office confirmed to CBS News that representatives had spoken with Allen’s family and “contacted the State Department about the case.”
“Senator Cruz will continue to gather details and participate in this case until Ms. Allen returns home to her family,” his office said.
Stirling said Allen’s mother, Tina Baxton, also contacted Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas’ 18th congressional district, who was also investigating the matter.
“We have briefed her offices on how government representatives can best assist in these situations and hope she will return home soon,” Stirling, who is also an attorney specializing in Middle East legal matters, told CBS News. Jackson Lee’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“A Common Rental Car Extortion Scheme”
Allen was not allowed to retrieve his belongings from the rental vehicle and later noticed that several fraudulent charges were attempted on his credit cards, which were in the back of the vehicle he returned, Stirling said.
The man who worked at the car rental agency and initially accused Allen left the country for Pakistan after filing his police report, Stirling said.
Reports in the Arab media said the rental agency had offered to drop the case against Allen if he paid approximately $5,700. Stirling said that was evidence of a common scam used by rental agencies in the Arab emirate.
“Tierra is the most recent American tourist to get caught up in what is a common rental car extortion scheme,” he said. “Car rental agencies are notorious for opening criminal cases against visitors with the promise to drop the case if paid. The prevalence of blackmail is hurting the UAE’s investment and tourism sectors and the Dubai government must crack down on this abuse of process.”
“In another recent case, three Americans paid more than $20,000 to a car rental agency that they did not owe, just to get out of the country,” said the activist and lawyer.
Stirling became active in the Middle East when her friend Cat Le-Huy was detained in Dubai. She led a campaign for her release in 2008, founding Arrested in Dubai.
She said Allen and his mother were becoming increasingly anxious and “have been going through hell and have no idea what the outcome will be and when they might get together.”
Allen has not posted to his Sassy Trucker social media accounts since his arrest.