I just couldn't register it in my head because as an American growing up in the United States, the First Amendment right is just ingrained in my brain. I never even entertained the fact that I would wind up in prison out here for something I put on Facebook in the United States. —Ryan Pate
A hallmark of American life — griping about work — has landed a Florida man in a Middle Eastern jail.
Ryan Pate, a helicopter mechanic from Belleair Bluffs, Florida, took to Facebook after a dispute over sick leave with the company he was working for in the United Arab Emirates. He was home in Florida at the time, but when he returned to Abu Dhabi last month, he was told to report to the police station, where he was arrested for breaking an Emirates law on slandering his employer.
He spent about 10 days in jail, he said, and is now free on bail awaiting a March 17 trial. His supporters say he faces up to five years in prison and a steep fine if convicted.
"I just couldn't register it in my head because as an American growing up in the United States, the First Amendment right is just ingrained in my brain," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I never even entertained the fact that I would wind up in prison out here for something I put on Facebook in the United States."
Pate, 30, said the incident stemmed from a trip to Florida in December. During his return he spent the holidays with family and proposed to his girlfriend, Jillian Cardoza, but also was trying to get treatment for a back injury. There was disagreement with his bosses about extending his leave to see a doctor, he said, and after a particularly unsatisfactory phone call with them, he took to a Facebook.
He says he can't remember precisely what he wrote, but knows he called his bosses "backstabbers" and warned other contractors not to work for them. He didn't give the rant much thought until he was back in the Persian Gulf, where he planned to handle paperwork to end his employment as well as empty his apartment and sell his car. Soon after, he says he received a call from police telling him to come to the station, where officers showed him screen shots of his comments.
"I'm being arrested. I'm so sorry. I love you," Cardoza said he texted her from the station.
Pate's congressman, Rep. David Jolly, intervened on his constituent's behalf, lobbying the State Department and Emirates officials for help. In a letter to the Emirati attorney general, Jolly emphasized respect for the sovereignty of the country, but argued because the posts occurred while Pate was on American soil, those laws shouldn't apply.
"It is deeply troubling that Mr. Pate now faces judicial proceedings over an action that was done legally in his home country," the Republican said.
The Emirati Embassy in Washington said it did not have much information about the case and couldn't comment. An after-hours email to the company, Global Aerospace Logistics, did not get an immediate reply.
Pate said he's trying not to think too much about the sentence he could face. He says he's remorseful for letting his emotions get the best of him.