ABU DHABI // Friends, family and supporters of a 70-year-old American who was arrested last month for allegedly taking photos of a restricted area, have raised almost Dh45,000 for his legal fees. On Wednesday, a crowd-funding campaign was launched for Dr Robert Black with the money going to his legal representatives.
“Alan’s family, friends and creativity organisations raised and wired Dh44,000 for cash available for legal representation,” said his friend, Rosemary Rein.
“We have just signed a contract for legal representation to represent him and will provide more information once the attorney has the opportunity to speak with him.”
Dr Black’s daughter, Jessica, had borrowed against her house to help to pay the legal retainer, which she was told would be between Dh36,700 and Dh147,000.
Ms Rein said the family was told by the US embassy that the case had been referred to State Security Services. “We will soon launch a more expanded and accessible site where community members can contribute to any continued legal expenses if needed,” she said.
“We continue to offer our apology to the UAE for any infraction caused by Alan’s enthusiasm for capturing his daily walks with his camera.”
Ms Rein said Dr Black was able to speak to his son, Scott, and was glad to hear of the global support from the Creative Thinkers, the annual conference in Abu Dhabi in which he took part before his October 21 arrest. “Alan now has a phone card to call his family,” she said. “We have no details or confirmation on what he may have photographed, which has resulted in his detainment.
“We only know of his interest in buildings, architecture and documenting his daily walks.”
Jessica asked the embassy to deliver notes to her father and drawings from his grandchildren.
“We are hoping this provides Alan with much-needed comfort and emotional support,” Ms Rein said.
“Scott reports that his dad appeared in good spirits at finally being able to talk to his son and learn of the overwhelming love by so many around the world.”
Theresa Daum, a teacher at the American Community School in Abu Dhabi, said she planned to visit Dr Black at Al Wathba prison. “I’m waiting for approval,” Ms Daum said. “But I’ve submitted my name, a short questionnaire and heard back that they’re going to approve it. “So as soon as they do, I’m going to go down there and if I’m not allowed then my husband will.” Mrs Daum, from the US, said she felt a connection to Dr Black. “I have a mutual friend with his daughter,” she said.
“I know he is a legitimate, innocent man who just wasn’t aware of the rules and I feel like maybe he’s fallen through the cracks because he’s here alone and has no attorney.” Mrs Daum said Dr Black’s age and his diabetes were of concern. "His family is very worried,” she said. “He must have felt very lonely and although he seems like a strong, well-travelled individual, I doubt [he’s visited] jail where it can be depressing, especially in a foreign country.
“I’m pretty upset that this has happened because there were no posted signs as far as I knew. I’m worried he’s going to be here for a while and his health could be undermined.”
Radha Stirling, founder of British group Detained in Dubai, also expressed concern. “We call on the UAE Government to take into account Dr Black’s age and cultural background regarding his photography,” she said.
"Sometimes you can remain in prison for over a year without even being charged," said Radha Stirling, with the organization "DetainedInDubai.org."
The organization documents and monitors and intervenes in cases in the UAE of Westerners such as Alan Black being imprisoned indefinitely for inadvertently breaking the UAE's strict laws against activities that are accepted and common-place in Western cultures.
"People, for example, holding hands -- but if you hold hands with your boyfriends or your husbands, you could be the person who's arrested and detained, and go through a lengthy prison sentence."