Travel Warning - Khas Khas (Poppy Seed) Imprisonment in UAE
Outline Message warns that people travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and other Gulf countries who are found with Khas Khas (poppy seed) may face long terms of imprisonment due to very strict anti-drug laws.
The warning is valid. Even when intended as a food product, the possession of poppy seed in the UAE may result in long jail terms. A number of people have been imprisoned in the UAE because they inadvertently brought in poppy seed or other substances considered innocent elsewhere.
Subject: URGENT: A very very serious warning ..travelling to UAE & Other Gulf Countries...regarding Khas Khas, also known as poppy seeds
Yesterday only I came to know of a case from a friend of mine which is very scary. One of his friends was traveling to UK via Dubai. Unfortunately he was carrying a packet of Khas Khas which is a commonly used spice in some Indian curries and sweets. Khas Khas is also known as poppy seed which can be sprouted to grow narcotics (afeem etc.).
This innocent person did not know that recently the laws in UAE and other Gulf countries have been revised and carrying Khas Khas is punishable with minimum 20 years of imprisonment or even worse with death penalty. Currently, the person is in a jail in Dubai for the last two weeks. His friends are frantically trying hard for his release but are finding that this has become a very very serious case. Lawyers are asking huge fees amounting to AED 100,000 even to appear in the court to plead for his innocence.
Please forward this email to all you know specially in India. They should know the seriousness of this matter and should never ever carry even minutest quantities of the following items when traveling to Gulf countries:
1. Khas Khas whether raw, roasted or cooked.
3. Betel nut (supari and its products, e.g. Paan Parag etc.)
The penalties are very severe and it could destroy the life of an innocent person.
This travellers warning circulates via email, blogs and online forums. The message claims that those travelling to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or other Gulf nations should be aware that carrying poppy seed, even as a food product, could result in a minimum 20 years of imprisonment or even the death penalty. It relates the case of a person who was caught with a packet of poppy seed in the form of khas khas (sometimes khus khus) which he intended to use as a food additive. According to the message the man is now in prison in Dubai.
This warning is valid and should certainly be taken seriously. The UAE does have extremely strict anti-drug laws and a number of people have been jailed there for possession of substances, including poppy seed, that would be considered entirely innocent in other jurisdictions. Information for air travellers on the Government of Dubai website notes:
It is prohibited to bring certain items into Dubai and passengers should be sure not to bring any of these items with them, either intentionally or accidentally. It goes without saying that all kinds of narcotic drugs, including cocaine, heroin, cannabis, opiates and any derivatives are prohibited, and should any visitor be caught with such substances, they face stiff punishment that will almost always involve lengthy jail time. The following substances are also banned: poppy seeds (even in bakery products), qat leaf, betel leaf or nuts, niswar and gutkha.
It is certainly true that people have been put in prison in the UAE for having even tiny amounts of prohibited substances. A February 2008 BBC article reports that "a Swiss national is serving a four-year jail term after three poppy seeds from a bread roll he ate at Heathrow airport were found on his clothes". And an earlier news article reports the case of an Indian man who received a ten year sentence for carrying poppy seed in the form of khas khas (khus khus):
Khus-khus is a spice that forms an important part of many curries, biryanis and kormas in India. It is available at your friendly neighbourhood grocery.
But khus-khus seeds have landed Mohammed Abdul Kaleem Bahadur, an Indian commercial artist, in jail for 10 years, and cost him a fine of Dirhams 50,000 (INR 600,000 approx) and deportation.
Bahadur was arrested on August 8, 1996, and was convicted by the Sharia Criminal Court on September 30, 1997. His appeal was rejected in October 1998.
Recently, the Federal High Court, the UAE's highest judicial body, rejected his final appeal and confirmed his sentence.
Carrying products containing betel or qat leaf can also land travellers in serious legal trouble that may result in long prison terms. In fact, even being found with certain over-the-counter or prescription medications in the UAE could have very series legal ramifications. The Government of Dubai website states:
Certain over-the-counter and prescription medications that are available in your home country may fall on to the prohibited items list in Dubai. Check the list of prohibited medicines carefully, and avoid bringing these medicines with you. If medical necessity requires you to take such medications, please ensure that you have a medical certificate from a UAE-licensed practitioner, or a medical prescription and a detailed doctor’s report from your doctor in your home country. Even with such documents, you are not permitted to carry more than a three-month supply at any time.
This warning message may be a little inaccurate in that it suggests that the minimum sentence for carrying poppy seed in the UAE is twenty years imprisonment. In fact, people caught with poppy seed have generally received lesser sentences than twenty years, so the suggested minimum sentence is not accurate in all cases. Penalties for the possession of illegal drugs in the UAE can include the death sentence, but I am unaware of any cases in which the death sentence was applied for possession of poppy seed in the form of khas khas. And, since the warning does not provide a name for the person carrying the khas khas or a date when the man was detained, it is difficult to ascertain if the message describes a real case.
That said, this warning is certainly worth heeding. Travellers to the UAE should certainly ensure that they are not carrying any items or substances that are prohibited in that country. In fact, an understanding of local laws should be an essential part of trip planning for those looking to visit not only the UAE and other Gulf regions, but any foreign country. However draconian or unfair a law may seem to the visitor, ignorance of the law is no excuse.