The last place any happy-go-lucky holiday maker travelling in a new country wants to visit is its prison. It’s safe to say that getting handcuffed by the police and staying in prison is definitely not on anyone’s to-do list, and neither is a mugshot anyone’s idea of a fun holiday snap.
Yet a string of tourist arrests have happened this year, highlighting the need for travellers to better understand local law and sensitivities of the country they visit. Making international headlines, these tourists were detained due to incidents that are harmless in their home country, but are considered illegal in the country they are visiting.
Here are three of the most notable cases that have grabbed the spotlight this year:
1. British tourist detained in Egypt for carrying painkillers
On October 9, British tourist Laura Plummer was arrested by Egyptian authorities at the beach destination of Hurgada after being found carrying nearly 300 Tramadol pills. The painkillers are legal in the United Kingdom, but are a banned substance in Egypt.
According to the BBC, Plummer said the pills are meant for her husband who suffers from a back injury due to a car crash two years ago. However, the Egyptian authorities have come down hard on her by arresting her for drug smuggling, an offense that carries the death sentence.
Tramadol is the most abused drug in Egypt. Plummer said she had no idea the painkillers she was carrying were banned, and called the move a “silly mistake.” But local police have said that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
As of press time, Plummer has spent over six weeks in prison awaiting the trial that is expected to take place on Christmas Day. Express reports that she is likely to face a jail sentence of up to seven years if found guilty.
2. British tourist faces jail sentence in Dubai after touching a man’s hip in a bar
All he wanted to do was avoid spilling his drink, but British tourist Jamie Harron is now facing a three-year jail sentence for touching the hip of a man who almost knocked into him.
According to The Guardian, the 27-year-old electrician was holding a drink and moving through a crowded bar with his hand held out in front to avoid spilling the drink. He then “touched a man on his hip to avoid impact.”
Harron later noticed the man who had been touched seem upset. Half an hour later, police arrived at the bar and arrested Harron for drinking alcohol and public indecency. Harron was locked up in Al Barsha prison for five days before the authorities confiscated his passport and released him on bail. Since his arrest in July, he has been stuck in the country for three months awaiting trial.
3. Two Chinese tourists arrested in Germany for posing with Hitler salute
Still recovering from the emotional trauma of the holocaust, Germany has strict anti-hate laws prohibiting the expression of pro-Nazi symbol and speech. In Germany and many other countries in the region, holocaust denial is illegal.
When two Chinese tourists posed with the Nazi salute for a photo outside the Reichstag building in Berlin in August, they were swiftly arrested by the authorities. The Economist reports that the pair were released on €500 bail but police said they could face as much as three years in prison. Luckily for these tourists, they were free to leave the country.
The two men’s intentions for the homage to Hitler is unclear, but The Economist said it’s plausible they were merely goofing around for a photo rather than making a political statement.
As these cases highlight, ignorance of the local law and cultural sensititivy is no excuse for breaking it. Even if a tourist doesn’t harbour ill-intentions, locals may deem their insensitivity in bad taste and act according to their own jurisdiction.
In Malaysia, the most notorious case brings to mind the October 2015 incident where four British tourists stripped naked for a photo on the peak of Mount Kinabalu, a site scared to locals. Another incident in October 2016 saw nine Australian men arrested after stripping down to reveal their underwear bearing the Malaysian flag during the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix race in Kuala Lumpur.
These ignorant tourists-turned-criminals serve as a reminder for travellers to be sensitive of the local rules, whether legal or social, and respect them. No two countries have the same exact laws, and tourists should never expect to be treated and subjected to the norms of their own country when they are overseas.