Ryan Pate, a 30-year-old American contractor in the United Arab Emirates, wasn’t expecting he’d be arrested when returning from a vacation in America.
But shortly after coming back to Abu Dhabi in February, he was called in by the police and jailed for violating a UAE cybercrime law.
The offending crime? While at home in Florida in January, he made an angry Facebook post complaining about “filthy Arabs,” warning his online friends to avoid working for the company where he works as a helicopter mechanic. His employer, Global Aerospace Logistics, construed the remarks as slander.
Pates originally faced four charges: “cyber slander against Islam, cyber slander against the UAE, cyber slander against his employer and cyber slander against management,” according to his hometown paper in Florida, the Tampa Tribune. The charges of insulting Islam and the UAE were later dropped, but Pates’ sentence may still be as big as 5 years in prison and a fine of $50,000.
His home district’s congressman, Republican Rep. David Jolly, has gotten involved with the case. In letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and the UAE attorney general, he wrote that Pate’s online comments were “very offensive,” but that they were made under First Amendment protection on American soil, and therefore completely legal when he made them.
Pate, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, had a history of disputes with Global Aerospace Logistics over back problems resulting from his work. American doctors had told him to quit for his health’s sake, while his employer demanded that he see an Emirati doctor for a second opinion. Pates told the Tribune that he “was having problems with the company for the past four or five months.”
When he was taken into police custody, he says, they forced him to sign papers in Arabic, which he cannot read. It took U.S. embassy staff several days to locate him in jail, because he was given no opportunity to contact his fiancée or friends.
He spent 10 days in jail before he was released on bail, which involved him surrendering his U.S. passport to the authorities. He goes to trial on March 17.
According to the State Department’s most recent human rights report for the UAE, the country has “used libel laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions.” While the sizable American expatriate community in the country is generally left alone, Emiratis face “arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detentions, and lengthy pretrial detentions.”
The report also mentions the significant problem of brutality and overcrowding in prisons.
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