Steve Long was arrested in the UAE because he was afraid.
On January 28th, the 39-year-old from Stockport, Manchester told airport staff in Abu Dhabi, before he was to board a flight home, that he feared there would be a bomb on the plane. He wasn’t making a bad joke; he was in the grips of residual trauma resulting from years of work as a paramedic involved with bomb disposal units in the military and civilian sector; which caused an apparent episode of heightened fear and paranoia, especially because of the drone attacks that were targeting airports in Abu Dhabi.
“Airport staff could have taken Steve aside and simply talked to him to allay his fears,” Radha Stirling, CEO and founder of Detained in Dubai said, “Instead, after Etihad made a criminal complaint, he was arrested and faces a prison sentence. Airline security makes no distinction between threats and passenger concerns about threats; they are treating Steve as though he intended to cause a disruption, when in reality, he was just scared.”
Long, who had travelled to Abu Dhabi on holiday to meet a friend, had been showing signs of deteriorating mental health in the days prior to the incident, which was, in fact, why he was going home that day. “We’re afraid that my brother is suffering from undiagnosed PTSD,” Long’s sister Clare explained, “His behaviour while on holiday was becoming erratic, and we wanted to get him back to the UK. The plan was to meet him at the airport on arrival, and take him immediately to hospital. Now we don’t know if or when we will see him again. The UAE wants him to pay £100,000 or else he will go to prison. We are terrified of what might happen to him if he’s incarcerated.”
Long’s family flew to Abu Dhabi the day after the incident, and urged authorities to send him to hospital, where he was found to be suffering from rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition caused by dehydration and many hours in police restraints. After a week of hospitalisation, he was transferred to the psychiatric ward due to his clearly fragile mental state. “Steve was put on anti-psychotic medication, and despite knowing he was psychologically unwell, he was made to face court proceedings remotely, without legal representation, and was summarily sentenced to an exorbitant fine and jail time,” Stirling said, “Shortly thereafter, his sentence was upheld on appeal. Now, because he cannot pay the fine, Steve will go to prison, even though the authorities know full well that his actions were not criminal in nature, but the result of a mental condition. Airport and flight security are tremendously serious issues, but there is a massive difference between someone trying to cause fear and someone who is afraid. Steve conveyed his fears to staff precisely because he was concerned about safety. Even a brief discussion with him at the time would have revealed his mental state, and the issue could have been resolved on the spot.
“We don’t blame airport staff for reacting with alarm, or for even contacting the police, but the situation snowballed very rapidly when it should not have. Steve was literally attending his court hearings from a psychiatric ward, the judge did not take into consideration that he is unwell, and he had no advocate to explain the circumstances. Steve does not deserve to be punished; he needs treatment. He has an extensive background dealing with bomb disposal units, and no one can imagine the toll that kind of stress can have on a person. Steve does not even recall the incident, which just shows the intensity of the episode he was suffering. We are asking the UAE to show some compassion and let Steve come home where he can get the care he needs.”
Police only allowed a brief moment for Long’s family to see him when they came to the UAE. Authorities have said that once his physical and mental condition are deemed stable by medical staff, he will be transferred to prison where medication and treatment will almost surely be unavailable. “My brother is not a criminal,” Clare said, “He has spent his life caring for others in the most drastic situations possible. He didn’t harm anyone; he was just scared and needed help. If he goes to prison, I’m horrified at what this will do to him.”
Stirling further cautioned that UAE prison officials have a poor track record in how they deal with people suffering mental illness, “Andy Neal was unjustly imprisoned in the Emirates on false drug charges for well over a year. He was a veteran and war hero also suffering from PTSD. The prison arranged for him to meet an alleged psychologist, but these supposed therapy sessions were used only to try to coerce a confession from Andy. Unfortunately, what we have seen from UAE law enforcement is that they treat mental illness as a vulnerability they can exploit. If we cannot get Steve home, his condition will undoubtedly deteriorate further, and it will be even harder to recover once he eventually serves his sentence. In other words, if the UAE does not let him come home now, Steve will be paying for this the rest of his life.”
Steves family has set up a GoFundMe to help with the £103,000 fine:
Detained in Dubai: http://www.detainedindubai.org
Detained in Doha: https://www.detainedindoha.org
Radha Stirling: http:///www.radhastirling.com
Due Process International: http://www.dueprocess.international