US expat jailed for Facebook ‘slander’ against Abu Dhabi employer
Comments posted while on leave in US lead to 10-day imprisonment, possible further jail time
A US expat working in the UAE has fallen foul of the country's strict laws on defamation in cyber space, following a Facebook tirade against his Abu Dhabi-based employer, which he posted while on leave in the US, the BBC reported.
Ryan Pate, a helicopter mechanic, posted the angry comments, which were occasionally racially charged, on December 2014, after his company, Global Aerospace Logistics (Gal), refused to extend his leave. Pate asked for the extension so he could seek medical care for a long-standing back injury while in Florida.
On returning to the UAE in February with the intention of resigning, he was contacted by police who told him to report to the nearest station. Once there, he was presented with screenshots of his post, in which he referred to Gal as "backstabbers" and tried to dissuade other contractors from working for the firm. He was also critical of life in the UAE and used a racial slur.
Pate was informed that Gal had filed a case against him and was imprisoned on 16 February for 10 days, after which he was released on bail. His trial is scheduled for 17 March and he could face up to five years in jail and a hefty fine.
Pate's case is the latest in a series where UAE residents have broken laws covering conduct online.
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"The main issue in respect of defamation for a claimant to overcome is that a particular statement (or act) caused harm to the claimant," wrote Rebecca Kelly, partner at legal firm Clyde & Co in an emailed statement to ITP.net in May last year.
"If found guilty [of defamation] individuals can face up to two years in prison or a fine of up to AED20,000, or up to AED600,000 if the offender used the Internet to publish a defamatory statement," Kelly wrote in a separate document shared with ITP.net at the time.
Pate's Congressman, David Jolly, has sought a meeting with the US ambassador to the UAE to get assistance with the case. Pate's fiancée has also begun an online campaign to raise money for legal fees.
"I just want to apologise to everybody I dragged into this," Pate said in an interview with a US newspaper. "It is embarrassing, and I never meant for this to happen. I let my emotions get the better of me."