American jailed in United Arab Emirates for Facebook posts made in the USA
Frustrated with his employer in the United Arab Emirates, Ryan Pate, a civilian helicopter mechanic from Belleair Bluffs, criticized the company and made a rash, derogatory comment toward Arabs on Facebook while back home in January.
Last month, when he returned to the UAE to work out his employment issues, Pate received a call from the Abu Dhabi police directing him to come in.
“I didn’t know why and they wouldn’t tell me,” said Pate, 30, a 2005 graduate of Largo High School.
After arriving at the police station, Pate said he was accused of violating an Emerati cybercrimes law for slandering his employer, which brought the charges against him. Pate said he was arrested and taken to jail. Now free on bail, he is scheduled to stand trial March 17 and could face up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Back home in Tampa, his fiancee, Jillian Cardoza, created a GoFundMe.com account to help pay his legal fees, raising more than $15,000 of her $60,000 goal in just a few days.
After learning about Pate’s arrest, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, who represents the district where Pate grew up, sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and Ali Mohammed Abdullah Al Bloushi, the Emerati attorney general, calling for Pate’s release on the charge of cyber slander against the UAE and his employers.
Jolly, who read the messages and describes them as “very offensive,” said he respects the sovereignty of the UAE but added that Pate posted them from the United States while he was under the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“As such it is deeply troubling that Mr. Pate now faces judicial proceedings over an action that was done legally in his home country,” Jolly wrote.
Cardoza said Jolly’s assistance has been “extremely helpful.”
“He or his office has been in touch with us every day,” she said. “Honestly, I could hot have handled this situation without his help.”