The case of the Pinellas County contractor arrested in the United Arab Emirates for making online comments disparaging Arabs may soon be resolved, according to U.S. Rep. David Jolly.
“I’ve spoken with UAE Ambassador Al Otaiba and other U.S. officials in recent days and remain optimistic the situation with Ryan Pate can be resolved to allow for his swift return to Florida,” Jolly said in an email to The Tampa Tribune, which first reported the story. “However, there is still much work to be done.”
Pate, a civilian helicopter mechanic working as a contractor for Global Aerospace Logistics, a UAE firm, had returned to the U.S. late last year and was trying to leave the company over health issues when he made a Facebook post complaining about the company, including using disparaging terms for Arabs.
When he returned to the UAE, Pate, 30, was told to come to the Abu Dhabi police department, where he was arrested and charged with cyber slander against Islam, cyber slander against the UAE, cyber slander against his employer who brought the charges and cyber slander against management.
The first two charges were dropped but Pate, a 2005 Largo High School graduate from Belleair Bluffs who has since been released from jail and has a March 17 court date, still faces up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
“Ryan, his fiancé, and his family need our continued support and prayers,” said Jolly, who has been working behind the scenes to secure Pate’s release.
After learning about Pate’s arrest, Jolly, who represents the district where Pate grew up, sent letters to Secretary of State John Kerry and Ali Mohammed Abdullah Al Bloushi, the Emerati attorney general, calling for Pate’s release on the charge of cyber slander against the UAE and his employers.
Jolly, who read the messages and describes them as “very offensive,” told the Tribune on March 2 that he respects the sovereignty of the UAE but added that Pate posted them from the United States while he was under the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“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.
“Congressman Jolly’s efforts to bring Ryan home have been tireless,” said Pate’s fiancé, Jillian Cardoza, a Navy chief petty officer who set up a gofundme site to raise funds for Pate’s legal expenses. “We are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel but know that things can change quickly. We will not rest until Ryan is home where he belongs.”
Cardoza added that neither she nor Pate condone the comments.
Speaking via phone from his apartment in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Pate was remorseful.
“I just want to apologize to everybody I dragged into this,” he said. “It is embarrassing, and I never meant for this to happen. I let my emotions get the better of me.”
Pate said that when he went on Facebook to “warn people against working for my company,” Global Aerospace Logistics. “I wasn’t as tactful as I could have been.”
In addition to slamming the company, he made disparaging racial remarks, referring to “filthy Arabs,” according to Cardoza.
He said he was surprised by his arrest.
“I didn’t think that a Facebook post made in the U.S. under the First Amendment rights would get me thrown in jail in the Middle East.”