Three days to freedom

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum Ingrid Stange couldn’t stop thinking about Marte Dalelv, 24, a young Norwegian awaiting an appeal hearing in Dubai.

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum
Ingrid Stange couldn’t stop thinking about Marte Dalelv, 24, a young Norwegian awaiting an appeal hearing in Dubai.

How one person can make a difference

Leslee Lane Hoyum

Rockford, Minn.

“July 18 was a typical Thursday evening and I was looking forward to the weekend,” said Ingrid Stange, Oslo, Norway. “There were so many things I hoped to get done around the house.” But it wasn’t meant to be. Stange couldn’t stop thinking about Marte Dalelv, 24, a young Norwegian awaiting an appeal hearing in Dubai.

Earlier in the year, Dalelv reported to Dubai police that a colleague pulled her into his hotel room and raped her. Reports allege the two attended a company get-together where they drank alcoholic beverages. Dalelv insists that after the gathering she only asked him to help her find her room when the alleged incident occurred.

Dalelv immediately reported the rape to local police. They were unsympathetic to her accusation and, instead, arrested her. She subsequently was found guilty of having sex outside marriage, drinking and making false statements and sentenced to 16 months in jail by the Gulf Arab Emirate.

“I wondered what I would have done had Marte been my daughter,” continued Stange. “I knew I had to do something.” And she did. Stange immediately created a Facebook page called Marte’s Mothers, calling for Marte’s release. “Since I am not too computer savvy, I could get only 50 friends on at a time and that wasn’t going to do much,” said Stange. “I had to do more.

“I called a colleague and he was able to set up another Facebook page, which he called Release Marte, and was able to populate it quickly; so we moved on to Twitter, too. But we still needed more people to know about Marte Dalelv.

“My next move was to turn to a web site at www.Avaaz.org. There I could initiate a petition asking people to sign on and urge government to work harder to free Marte,” continued Stange. Avaaz, which means voice in several European, Middle Eastern and Asian languages, offers a global web movement to bring people-powered politics, the grassroots, to decision-making everywhere.

Social media have become powerful tools against injustice and to mobilize people. They allow Avaaz to carry out its mission: “Organize citizens of all nations to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”

By early Sunday evening, more than 70,000 had signed on, including politicians, movie stars, and everyday people. The pressure worked. On Monday, July 22, Marte was allowed to leave Dubai. It took one woman who started a grassroots campaign just three days to free a young woman, something governments had been unable to do because of the protocol of government-to-government negotiations.

At the moment Dalelv was released, Stange received a text message from her assistant. It simply said: “Marte is free.” Stange’s tears flowed. “I couldn’t have been happier,” said Stange. “I sat back and looked at my husband and said, ‘Well, I guess I didn’t get much accomplished this weekend, since I spent the whole time at my computer’.” He just looked at her and smiled.

You may wonder what became of the alleged rapist. He was pardoned after being sentenced to 13 months in prison for alcohol consumption and sex outside marriage. Why not rape? According to Al Jazeera, in the United Arab Emirates, as in some other countries using Islamic law, a rape conviction may require either a confession or the testimony of four adult male witnesses.

Ingrid Stange is founder and CEO of Partnership for Change, a non-profit based in Oslo, Norway with a mission to improve society by activating cross sector collaboration and social innovation, http://www.pfchange.org. 

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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