Jailed for switching identities for access to an event – What PR practitioners need to be aware of

Seven people working in or for PR agencies were jailed for three years for switching security cards during WFES.

Seven people working in or for PR agencies were jailed for three years for switching security cards during WFES.

Having been in the region for a fair period of time (my family’s history in the Gulf goes back over half a century), I’ve seen and experienced many a situation. These recollections have helped me to grow, metaphorically speaking, a fairly thick skin. But every now and then, a story emerges that still has the power to shock.

A friend shared the below story with me which is from the local rag 7Days. As a PR professional and a former journalist, I know that the below is common practice. But I’ve never heard of such a punishment.

Seven people have been sentenced to three years in jail for swapping security access to attend an energy summit in Abu Dhabi.

The criminal court handed down the sentences to the men and women from Philippines, India, China and Canada after they were found guilty of misusing official documents and access badges and allowing unauthorised people into the World Future Energy Summit on January 18 of this year.

Official documents stated that the defendants, who included expat employees and visitors, exchanged security access badges to allow others who had not registered to enter the conference.

The court heard this not acceptable as the summit was attended by top local government officials and international dignitaries.

Prosecutors said that in one of the cases, a Public Relations official from a local firm gave her access badge to a male photographer who had been sent by their client to take some pictures of the event.

Security officials spotted the Filipina with a woman’s access badge and he was arrested along with the PR official who offered him the access badge. In court the PR woman admitted to giving him the access badge issued in her name.

“I gave it to him so he could access the area and take photos for one of our clients participating in the exhibition at the summit,” said the PR official.

“I just wanted to facilitate the work of our client.”

She told the judge that she had no idea giving her access badge to another person was illegal or that it could jeopardise security at the summit.

The key speakers at the conference included United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

The defendants can appeal their sentences within 14 days after the ruling was issued


With the number of events that are held in the UAE and the cost of entry, it’s not uncommon for photographers and even junior PR professionals from the agency side to resort to borrowing someone else’s badge. While it’s not the best or most ethical route to take, when you’re on a deadline and when you don’t have an hour or two to wait to get a new entry badge, it’s understandable that someone may take another’s badge to get access to do their job as quickly as possible. I’ve seen this countless times with big events. And I’ve seen people getting caught, which usually involves a ticking off from security for having (and using) someone else’s badge.

However, being jailed for three years in prison (which will presumably be followed by deportation for those expats who are involved) is something else entirely; I’ve never seen the like before. In future, just be careful when faced with a similar situation. Seven people from our industry being bars is hard to countenance. I’d hate to see anyone I know going to prison for the same reason.

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