NYC College Student Arrested in Dubai Has Been Freed After Receiving 1-Year Jail Sentence

A woman, Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos, who was arrested in Dubai after an airport altercation is said to have been freed, but folks are worried.

Tatayana Yomary - Author

Oct. 4 2023, Published 1:52 p.m. ET

The Gist:

  • After spending nearly three months in Dubai on charges of assaulting and insulting an airport employee, NYC native and Lehman College student Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos has been freed.
  • Elizabeth was sentenced to serve one year in prison, which was later commuted.
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Traveling comes with its share of pros and cons these days. Although most folks make it a point to travel to destinations that are deemed safe, there's always the chance of foolishness taking place. Over the years, people have made headlines for issues when traveling in other countries ranging from possession of CBD to shouting at someone. Unfortunately, it appears that things have only worsened.

Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos is a name that has been trending on social media. The New York City Lehman College student lived what many call their worst nightmare. While heading to New York from Istanbul, Elizabeth had a 10-hour layover in Dubai. However, the stop that was meant to satisfy her tourism desires turned into a brush with the law that caused her to not leave the country for nearly three months. Here’s the rundown.

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Elizabeth Polanco De Los Santos was arrested in Dubai and has now been freed.

According to the Daily Mail, Elizabeth was arrested on July 14, 2023, in Dubai after she was accused of “assaulting and insulting” a female airport employee. The outlet shares that airport authorities were alerted to strip search the student. She was wearing a medical brace under her clothing with an underwire, which set off suspicion.

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Elizabeth informed authorities that she had a recent surgery and was required to wear the brace 24/7. An airport security official proceeded to strip search Elizabeth and was “rough, hurting her swollen wounds as they removed the compressor,” her mother told Detained in Dubai.

After Elizabeth asked for assistance, she shared with the outlet that she was laughed at by the airport officials. As a result, she leaned over to ask her friend to help her get the garment back on and made the grave mistake of making contact with an airport official.

“I gently touched her arm to guide her out of the way then desperately started crying to my friend for help,” Elizabeth told the agency.

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From there, the female officer complained about Elizabeth and accused her of assaulting and insulting her, which Elizabeth denied. Since then, she was barred from traveling back to the U.S. and spent $50,000 to stay at various hotels and pay for fees during the legal battle.

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Radha Stirling, the CEO of Detained in Dubai, called out Dubai’s knack for seeking compensation from tourists as a form of extortion.

“Tourists have long been exploited by locals who seek to punish and extort them as a secondary form of income,” Radha said via Detained in Dubai. “Compensating complainants only exacerbates the situation.”

Per the New York Post, Elizabeth was ordered to pay a $2,700 fine to go home. However, the outlet later reported on Oct. 2, 2023, that prosecutors appealed the ruling and the student was sentenced to serve one year in a Dubai prison.

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Thankfully, Radha shared that Elizabeth’s sentence was commuted a day later and she's on her way back to New York City.

“Elizabeth boarded her flight home to New York late Tuesday night,” Radha said via the site.

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“The news that her sentence would be commuted was a welcome end to Elizabeth’s hellish five months in Dubai that left her humiliated, traumatized, and out of $50,000.”

Radha also shared the good news on Twitter while thanking supporters and fellow organizations for their help.

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Radha Stirling has urged the U.S. to put a Dubai travel advisory in place.

In light of Elizabeth’s triggering experience in Dubai, Radha is calling on the U.S. government to implement a travel advisory on Dubai.

“Dubai’s justice system is routinely misused to extort victims and it’s about time the U.S. State Department updates its travel warnings to reflect this common practice,” Radha said via Detained in Dubai.

Radha said that while she's thankful Elizabeth is on her way home, the situation shouldn't have occurred in the first place.

“We are of course thankful that Elizabeth is on her way home but is that really a happy ending? She should have been home in May,” Rahda said. “Instead, she has been left with the scars of an incomprehensibly traumatic experience for a young student, she has lost $50,000 that she will never be compensated for. Furthermore, she has been convicted on the basis of mere allegations, sentenced to a year’s prison, fined, and deported. That in itself is a disgrace.”

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