ABU DHABI // A 70-year-old American who spoke at a conference in the capital last month was thrown in jail for allegedly taking photographs of a restricted area, according to his family and friends.
“We thought that perhaps that he was sick in the hospital unable to call us, so we were very surprised to learn that he had been detained. He’s never been in any trouble with the law,” said his daughter Jessica Beasley.
The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi confirmed that Dr Robert Black, an architect and author who speaks at conferences around the world, is being held at Al Wathba prison. An embassy official recently visited Dr Black, who is diabetic, and has been in jail since October 21. The official told the family Dr Black is receiving medical care and has been assured “that he would be allowed to access his belongings either [Sunday] or [Monday] to purchase phone cards and other items from the prison commissary”.
Dr Black had been in Abu Dhabi for the second annual Creative Thinkers Conference. The night before he was arrested, the avid photographer told a colleague he wanted to shoot photos of local mosques.
No charges have yet been filed.
He was able to briefly call his daughter October 29 when another inmate’s relative lent him a cellphone.
“I was very relieved to hear his voice,” said Mrs Beasley. “I asked him what happened. He said he took a picture that he shouldn’t have and that it was stupid. I know he’s remorseful. We’re just so sorry if he made any offense, we’re very sorry about that.”
Meanwhile, a petition addressed to the US Department of State calling for Dr Black’s release has been signed by more than 1,600 supporters.
“Our hope is that our congressional leaders use all their diplomatic means possible for a speedy resolution and clarification to return Dr Black home,” said Rosemary Rein, a colleague of Dr Black’s based in Washington, DC. “This must be a tragic mistake and we’re hoping that we can turn to our friends in the courts in the Emirates for his speedy notification of what the charges might be and then obviously leniency for any transgression that might have occurred as a result of Dr Black’s appreciation of architecture, photography, we don’t know at this point.”
The National is still awaiting comment from Abu Dhabi Police.