DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A court in the United Arab Emirates has dropped charges against three British plane aviation enthusiasts who were detained after arousing suspicion while observing aircraft in the Gulf nation, their lawyer said Monday.
Attorney Nasser Hashem told The Associated Press that the men would be free to go after the court accepted a defense argument that they were pursuing their passion for plane spotting and had no ill intent.
“We explained this is a hobby. This doesn’t mean anything against the law,” Hashem said.
Conrad Clitheroe and Gary Cooper, who were on a short visit to the Emirates, and expatriate resident Neil Munro were arrested in February while examining aircraft in the eastern emirate of Fujairah.
Plane spotting enthusiasts enjoy observing and sometimes photographing planes while making notes of their registration numbers and other features.
Detained in Dubai, a non-profit group that has been following the men’s case, said last month the trio was detained after an off-duty police officer became suspicious when he saw them slow down to record planes’ registration numbers.
A search of their belongings turned up no photos, and they were told they could go once they signed a document in Arabic — which they did not understand — saying they would not pursue their hobby there again, according to the group. They nonetheless were held behind bars and their case was transferred to the federal capital in Abu Dhabi.
Foreigners previously have gotten into legal trouble in the seven-state Emirates federation for taking photographs of sites such as palaces or embassies that are deemed as no-camera zones by authorities.
The airport in mountain-lined Fujairah gets far less business than larger hubs in Abu Dhabi or the Gulf commercial center of Dubai, which is home to the world’s busiest airport in terms of international traffic.
Hashem said the three men would face no further penalties now that their case has been dropped, and would be allowed to stay in the country if they desired.