American contractor faces cyber slander charges in UAE over Facebook post

Reuters / Caren Firouz
An American helicopter mechanic, who criticized his employer in the United Arab Emirates and made disparaging comments about “filthy Arabs” in a Facebook post, was arrested in the UAE, and now faces charges for cyber slander against his employer.

Floridian Ryan Pate, 30, wrote the Facebook comments while in the US, according to the Tampa Tribune. He was frustrated with his employer in the UAE, contractor Global Aerospace Logistics, where Pate works on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the company.

Last month, when he returned to the UAE, he said he was contacted by authorities in Abu Dhabi who requested he come to a police station for reasons they didn’t divulge.

Pate was subsequently accused of breaking UAE cybercrime laws that prohibit slander against an employer. He spent 10 days in jail before he was freed on bail. He is set to stand trial on March 17, as he faces as many as five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

“I didn’t think that a Facebook post made in the U.S. under the First Amendment rights would get me thrown in jail in the Middle East,” Pate told the Tribune.

He said charges over his remarks about Arabs were dropped.

“I was told that what I said was a generalization and did not directly insult this country,” he said. “I did directly insult the company and management. Those are the charges.”

Pate said his intention was to “warn people against working for” Global Aerospace Logistics, but that he “wasn’t as tactful” as he could have been.

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He said he was “having problems with the company for the past four or five months.” He had had some health issues while on the job, and he said he heard rumors that the company was going to drop him, which pushed him to react online.

“I just want to apologize to everybody I dragged into this,” he said. “It is embarrassing, and I never meant for this to happen. I let my emotions get the better of me.”

US Rep. David Jolly, who represents part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area where Pate grew up, told the Tribune he has sent letters to US Secretary of State John Kerry and UAE Attorney General Ali Mohammed Abdullah Al Bloushi requesting Pate’s release.

Jolly said Pate’s remarks about Arabs were “very offensive” and that the UAE’s national sovereignty should be respected. But he added that the Facebook comments were made in the US where Pate has free speech rights.

“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 said.

Jolly added the State Department has helped Pate receive legal counsel and health care.

Pate’s fiancee, Jillian Cardoza, said she has started a GoFundMe account to help pay Pate’s legal fees. The account has raised nearly $16,000 of the $45,000 aimed for.

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“Our goal is to bring him home and not have him serve prison time,” Cardoza said. “My secondary goal is for people to understand the laws over there. I never heard of anything like this before. Even the U.S. Embassy was confused.”

Cardoza said Jolly’s office has helped her efforts immensely.

“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.”