An American grandfather who came to the United Arab Emirates to speak at a conference on creative thinking was arrested last month for taking a photograph of a subject deemed off-limits by authorities.
Robert Alan Black, 70, Athens, Georgia came to the United Arab Emirates to speak at a conference on creative thinking conference. While on an event break and walking the neighborhood, he came across a sign that banned photography.
Robert Alan Black is the latest foreigner to be arrested for breaching rules limiting what can be photographed in the oil-rich Gulf federation. The country is an important American ally that boasts cutting-edge architecture, including a vertical disc-shaped office building and the world’s tallest tower.
“I believe he wanted to post this picture (of the sign) on Facebook because there is nothing like this in the U.S.,” his colleague, Mahmoud Arafa, who was with him at the conference, said.
Black, 70, was then arrested and detained for a week before he was allowed to talk to family.
His daughter, Jessica Beasley, said she has spoken to her father twice since his Oct. 21 arrest. She told The Associated Press she is worried because her dad suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
A number of foreign visitors to the country have reportedly been prosecuted in recent years for violating strict laws against photographing palaces and embassies.
Jen Psaki, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, said she was aware of Black’s situation but offered no details about her department’s efforts to secure his release.
“We take our obligation to assist U.S. citizens overseas seriously,” she told CNN. “The U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi is providing all possible consular assistance.”
But Black is reportedly having a difficult time finding an attorney in the country, something he will desperately need to fight the potential five-year sentence.
Black is a formally trained architect but promotes himself as an architect, cartoonist, graphic designer, professor and creativity consultant. He has written one book, “Broken Crayons: Break Your Crayons and Draw Outside the Lines,” and numerous magazine articles on creativity.
Family and friends say photography is one of his many passions and that he likely meant no disrespect in snapping the forbidden photograph.
“He took a photo where he was not supposed to,” Beasley said. “He’s very remorseful.”
Family members said they have not been notified of charges or when Black might stand trial.