U.S. Rep. David Jolly made the case once again Friday morning for Ryan Pate, a Pinellas County constituent in a big legal mess overseas right now.
Pate is the helicopter mechanic from Belleair Bluffs recently thrown in jail in the United Arab Emirates after he severely criticized his UAE-based employer on Facebook while in the states. He’s scheduled to go on trial in the UAE in 11 days for his critical remarks, where he could face up to face up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
“Ryan engaged in this behavior on U.S. soil, when he was home in Florida,” Jolly stressed to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson on Fox and Friends. “It was only when he returned to the U.A.E. that he was detained and imprisoned. I think that has a chilling effect on our constitutionally protected speech.”
The Pate story has blown up internationally in the past week, after The Tampa Tribune originally reported on his plight Monday. Pate is a contractor who has been working for Global Aerospace Logistics. While home in Pinellas County in January, he took to Facebook to “warn people against working for my company.” But as he himself admits, “I wasn’t as tactful as I could have been.”
That’s an understatement. In fact, Pate used the term “filthy Arabs,” in describing his employers. He said he was angry upon learning of “rumors” that Global Aerospace Logistics would not be inviting him back to work and that the company had frozen his pay.
Although such comments could get him in trouble here in the states, they wouldn’t get him arrested, since there is the freedom of speech that all Americans are entitled to under the First Amendment.
But the UAE introduced strict cyber-slander laws in late 2012 that make it an offense to use the Internet to mock or deride organizations and individuals. So when he returned to the Emirates on Feb. 16 he was arrested and detained for 10 days before being released on bail. He was forced to hand over his passport to police.
“Listen, the comments he made were disrespectful,” Jolly said Friday.”He’s owned up to that. They were not threatening in anyway.”
The Pinellas-based congressman has reached out to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to have the State Department intervene in Pate’s case. He’s also asked the UAE Attorney General to grant him clemency and allow him to return to the U.S. He calls the situation that Pate faces a “terrifying prospect.”
“Imagine that the United States were to detain an Emirati for lawful behavior in their own country, but we decide to detain him here. It’s wrong. And it does have a chilling effect, and it’s scary.”
Pate can only hope that the intervention of a U.S. congressman can change his fate.
In late 2012, American citizen Shezanne Cassim was convicted of defamation and sentenced to a year in jail, for uploading a satirical video to YouTube (He did not spend a full year in jail, however).
Jolly has been making the case for Pate all week, but there’s been nothing yet coming out from the State Department on the matter.