ECHR | Emirates Center for Human Rights

ECHR | Emirates Center for Human Rights
HomeNewsU.S Citizen Detained for Using Cell Phone in Security at Abu Dhabi AirportU.S Citizen Detained for Using Cell Phone in Security at Abu Dhabi Airport

U.S Citizen Detained for Using Cell Phone in Security at Abu Dhabi Airport

An American citizen is currently being detained by UAE authorities for using his cell phone whilst going through security at Abu Dhabi airport as he was on his way back home for Christmas with his son.

Joseph Lees and his son Jonathan were on an 11-hour stopover in Abu Dhabi where they were waiting for a flight to take them back to the U.S. According to Jonathan, as they returned to the airport after a quick tour of Abu Dhabi, Joseph was selected by Emirati authorities for a second security screening. They were separated minutes later. Shortly afterwards Jonathan received a call from his father informing him that he’d been arrested.

Expecting that it was just a routine check and that his father would be released swiftly by authorities, Jonathan boarded the flight and returned home. However, to this day, the Emirati authorities are yet to release Joseph, who remains detained in Abu Dhabi.  

Jonathan believes that his father was arrested for using his phone whilst passing through security in Abu Dhabi. He said that after Emirati security officials began treating his father “unfairly” and in a “rude manner”, Joseph began recording the exchange.  

“I believe that’s why he was detained”, he said, adding “In Abu Dhabi [recording police is a] pretty big criminal offence”.

Neither Jonathan or his family have had contact with their father since.

“It’s awful, absolutely awful. We just want my Dad back,” Jonathan said.

Calling on the Emirati authorities to release his father, Jonathan added:

“We just want to let the UAE government know that there is no ill intent of my father and that we just want him back home. We want him back home and safe and sound”

It is unclear whether the family have maintained correspondence with the UAE authorities regarding Joseph’s detention.

If the Emirati authorities fail to charge Joseph Lees with a crime, it is imperative that they release him immediately. Dozens of foreign nationals are arbitrarily detained in the UAE every year. The lack of transparency and accountability that lays at the heart of the Emirati legal system means that their families are given no indication as to the conditions and status of their loved ones, who often remain detained without charge for months, or even years at a time.  In light of this case and others, it is crucial that the Emirati authorities take the appropriate steps to institute an independent legal system that is line with international legal standards.


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