Texas family desperate for father's release from Abu Dhabi prison

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Family members of an Austin man are apologizing to authorities in the United Arab Emirates and pleading for his safe release, after he was arrested at an Abu Dhabi airport one-week ago.

Joseph Lee and his son Jonathan Lee were returning to the United States on Monday, November 20, after a trip to Thailand; celebrating Joseph’s new status as an American citizen.

The pair had an extended layover in Abu Dhabi, so they decided to tour the city before the final leg of their trip. When they returned to the airport, Joseph was randomly selected for extra security screening. Jonathan tells FOX 4 he wasn't allowed to wait for his father and was forced to exit the security area.

A few minutes later, Lee received a call from his father, who said security was detaining him for filming guards as they went through his things, a crime in the UAE.

“We had been traveling for about 20 hours or so. Of course, my dad would be agitated like anyone else would be.” Said Jonathan Lee.

Jonathan says Joseph sounded confident he would be released soon.
“We both had, I guess, the notion that he was going to be able to make at least the next flight, not actually be arrested.” Said Lee.

He landed in North Texas, but his father had not made contact.

Lee and his sister, Elaine Strathern, spent the next several days calling the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the jail where their father was reportedly being held, desperate for any information.

"It was just supposed to be a quick eleven, twelve-day trip. Come back home for Thanksgiving and then me go back to work tomorrow, but of course my dad didn't make it back.” Said Lee.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving night that U.S. Embassy workers told Lee and Strathern their father had been moved to a prison.

“They don’t know what he’s being charged with, they don’t know anything. They just know he’s being held at Al Wathba prison.”

Joseph’s children say their father has health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and severe scoliosis. They say he also may have a fractured rib due to a mountain biking accident in Thailand.

The brother and sister have begun a petition, asking Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, along with international officials to intervene in the UAE.

We have a link to that petition HERE.

"We'd just like the government to know it was an honest mistake. He meant no harm, no ill intent." Said Strathern.