The Tampa Tribune brings us the amazing and outrageous story of local helicopter mechanic Ryan Pate, who worked as a contractor for a company called Global Aerospace Logistics, headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. Pat was arrested in the UAE for an offending Facebook post.
According to Pate, he began suffering back problems and, with a recommendation from his doctors in the United States, wanted to leave the company’s employ. This turned into an ugly dispute in which he was summoned to the UAE for further medical testing, and his pay was frozen. Angered by these developments, Pate vented on his Facebook page – something that has become a remarkably common end to jobs around the world. Pate was arrested and thrown in jail by Abu Dhabi police when he arrived in the United Arab Emirates, charged with violating their speech codes by making “cyber slander against Islam, cyber slander against the UAE, cyber slander against his employer and cyber slander against management.”
He spent ten days in the Emirates slammer – following a booking procedure that involved making him sign Arabic paperwork he couldn’t read, and some rather suspicious “confusion about his nationality” on the part of the police – before the U.S. Embassy tracked him down and got him out on bail. He is scheduled to stand trial on March 17, facing up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine, even though the “slander against Islam” and “slander against the UAE” charges were dropped. He has already incurred hefty legal fees, leading his fiancee Jillian Cardoza to set up a GoFundMe account to ask for help. The couple’s savings have already been wiped out.
A bit of reading between the lines is necessary to glean exactly what Pate said on Facebook that raised the ire of his UAE employers and their government, but evidently he said some “disparaging racial remarks” about “filthy Arabs” and was highly critical of Global Aerospace Logistics, warning readers of his Facebook page not to work for them. Pate says he got a break on the charges of insulting the United Arab Emirates because they decided his insulting remarks were a “generalization” against Arabs and not a direct slam on the UAE.
“I fully understand the laws of the UAE regarding social media and respect the sovereignty of your kingdom to defend and uphold its laws,” Jolly wrote in a letter to the Attorney General in Abu Dhabi. “However, the Facebook messages that were posted by Mr. Pate were written while he was residing in the United States. Under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Mr. Pate is protected under U.S. law to freely express his opinion regardless of the content. 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 asked for clemency and permission for Pate to return to the United States. He has also written to Secretary of State John Kerry to ask for the State Department’s assistance.
Pate is still in the Emirates at the time of this writing.
This story is about an American citizen typing up something offensive in the United States, and getting sandbagged by foreign speech enforcers. As Cardoza pointed out, he was not even aware of the Orwellian speech codes he was violating – he was lured into the clutches of the enforcers by traveling to their considerably less free home turf. Cardoza said that her first priority was to keep her fiancee out of jail, but added her secondary goal was “for people to understand the laws over there. I never heard of anything like this before. Even the U.S. Embassy was confused.”
Nobody should be confused about freedom of speech and America’s unwavering commitment to it – not here, and not in any benighted corner of the unfree world. Employers are certainly entitled to sever their relationships with employees who insult them or damage their operations; legal redress is available for libelous statements and breaches of contract. What Ryan Pate is dealing with is absurd. Speech control is a contagious virus, and if we keep offering such laws respect they do not deserve, we’re likely to catch it.