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Florida Man's Facebook Post Against Employer In Emirates Leads To Jail

Ryan Pate's anger stemmed from Abu Dhabi-based Global Aerospace Logistics' refusal to extend his leave so he could recover from a back injury. He took to Facebook in January to express his displeasure, calling his employers "backstabbers" and Arabs "filthy." When he returned to the United Arab Emirates, he received a call from the police asking him to come in.

"I didn't know why and they wouldn't tell me," Pate, a helicopter mechanic, told the Tampa Tribune, which first reported his story. Here's more:

"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."

His fiancee, Jillian Cordoza, set up an online campaign on GoFundMe.com to raise money for Pate's legal fees.

Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., who represents Pate's district, has written to Secretary of State John Kerry and Emerati officials calling for the 30-year-old's release, reported the Tribune, which obtained copies of the letter.

"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.

Pate told The Associated Press that he couldn't comprehend the charges 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."

At the U.S. State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi was in contact with Pate and providing him with consular assistance. She added that "U.S. citizens are subject to local laws when traveling or residing abroad."

Pate was contrite about the Facebook post.

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

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.