University of Florida professor John Schueller, Ph.D., has been detained in the United Arab Emirates for about two weeks since he was arrested in Abu Dhabi for taking photos in a restricted area.
In an email to WUFT News, David Duerden, a spokesman for the United States Embassy in Abu Dhabi, wrote the embassy is not able to discuss the private lives of U.S. citizens without their permission in the form of a privacy waiver, which Schueller has not signed.
The privacy waiver Duerden referred to was a familiar obstacle to Robert Alan Black, Ph.D., an American architect from Georgia.
While visiting the U.A.E. to speak at a conference last year, Black also took photographs of buildings deemed off-limits. He was arrested on the morning of Oct. 21 and taken to a jail early the next day. One week later, without being allowed to notify his family or the embassy, Black was taken to Al-Wathba prison in Abu Dhabi where he would spend the next three weeks.
“I was in the wrong area at the wrong time with a guy from security who was going to get me,” he said.
On the day he was arrested, Black was expected in Dubai to meet with a group of friends for breakfast. When he didn’t show up, they began a fruitless search.
Black was in prison for nine days before he was able to make contact with his daughter and ten days before he met with a pair of lawyers from the embassy
The circumstances of Black’s case are not being repeated in Schueller’s situation — he has been in contact with the embassy and was released from jail the morning after his arrest.
“I was not allowed any way out,” Black said. “If he (Schueller) has had a way out, he’s far ahead.”
Despite the advantages Schueller may have that Black did not, there is no guarantee of how the case will proceed and when Schueller will be allowed to return home.
“I got out a lot sooner, one, because of all the activity of people,” Black said of the support he received, “and maybe some other behind-the-scenes (efforts) that I will never know. So, I hope he has lots of friends writing letters and doing things (to get him home).”
The issue of foreign visitors misunderstanding U.A.E. laws, though, is not likely to end with Schueller’s case.
“This (photographing off-limits buildings) is an issue that the U.A.E., especially in Abu Dhabi, is very strong on,” he said.
Radha Stirling, founder of U.A.E. legal consultant firm Detained in Dubai, said foreign visitors to the U.A.E. don’t always understand the rules, and this is a big problem.
“Some of this advice is available on the embassy’s website, but most people don’t check before they fly,” she said.
In a country like the U.S. or the United Kingdom, she explained, visitors taking photos in a restricted or secure area might be told not to do so and sent on their way. However, in a country like the U.A.E., these offenses are almost always met with immediate arrest and detention without charge for up to 90 days.
Stirling said Schueller’s legal team has likely recommended against communicating with the press.
“I strongly disagree with that in most matters, especially when it comes to something so trivial as taking photos,” Stirling said. “I think for the most part it’s very old-school over there, and they think that they’ll be able to facilitate a faster release without the press attention.”
In her experience, though, the cases that have received attention from the media have been resolved more quickly.
Black’s case, for example, received widespread attention, and he was released after about four weeks.
Schueller has refused to comment on his case in emails to WUFT.
Rochelle Alleyne contributed to this report.