Detainees taking life day by day

Local men being held in United Arab Emirates

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The two Steamboat Springs men being detained in the United Arab of Emirates approach life one day at a time.

Jonathan Coles, 37, and Steve Rakowski, 39, were detained and questioned by UAE auth--orities Dec. 12. Since that moment, they often have heard that the matter would be resolved quickly, by the next day or within the week.

Three and a half months later, they still haven't been allowed to come home.

"We just don't know what to believe anymore," said Coles from his hotel in Abu Dhabi.

Coles and Rakowski were working as surveyors in Abu Dhabi when they were questioned by UAE authorities about their work. UAE officials later took their passports, and they have not been allowed to leave.

The two men are not sure whether they have been or will be charged with anything. Possible charges include taking photographs in sensitive locations, operating equipment for which an import permit is required and sending illegal radio transmissions.

Both men say they did nothing wrong.

In December, Coles and Rakowski were sent to the UAE to work on a surveying project for CompassCom, a Centennial-based mapping company.

The men were using Global Positioning Systems and working on a project for an Internet mapping program similar to MapQuest, CompassCom Pres--ident Brant Howard said. Coles said it would have aided in business development and tourism in the city.

Coles' and Rakowski's actions were called into question when they took pictures of their equipment set up on street corners in Abu Dhabi. Taking photos of GPS equipment to send back to the company to prove they were in certain locations is a common practice and done all over the world, Coles said.

The photographs were only of the equipment and taken in public places. There also were not any signs indicating the area was sensitive or that photos were not allowed. The men were not taking photos of palaces, infrastructure or military installations, Coles said.

The GPS equipment they were using also did not send any radio signals, Coles said. Although some GPS units can, their unit did not and was never intended to send radio signals, he said.

Coles said company officials researched to see whether any special visas or permits were needed in the UAE, and they did not think they needed any.

On Dec. 12, the two men were approached by police officers, who asked what they were doing. The officers were polite, Coles said. The men hid nothing, telling the officers about their work. Since the initial questioning, their case has been passed from one authority to another.

The men have not been told whether formal charges have been filed. The case could go to trial, but Coles and Rakowski do not know when that would be.

If there is a trial, it would be heard in front of a panel of judges, not a jury, and there is not an appeal process.

The men have been told that, under the law, the charges could come with jail time. But if they violated laws unknowingly, which Coles said is the case, the penalty would come with only fines.

The two have an international attorney to represent them and advise them on the country's laws.

Coles said there is no one they can call to ask about the case. All the information they have received has been from the U.S. Embassy or comments between their lawyer and the prosecutor's office.

Since their passports have been taken, Coles and Rakowski have been staying in an Abu Dhabi hotel. Some of their time has been spent preparing documents to show to the court what it was they were trying to do in the country.

But that takes a small portion of their time, Coles said. They also are exercising and reading. They are free to leave the hotel and are in daily contact with family and friends in the United States.

"We seem to spend quite a lot of time wondering what is going to happen," Coles said.

The two men expected to spend only two weeks in the UAE and had planned to be home before Christmas. It was Rakowski's first job with CompassCom. Coles asked whether his friend could go on the trip after another co-worker could not make it.

Rakowski was taking online classes from Denver University in Geographic Information Systems and had the necessary training.

Coles has been working for CompassCom for more than two years and has done work all over the world for the company. Until now, Coles said, the company had not encountered a situation like this.

The UAE borders the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf and is between Oman and Saudi Arabia. The country is slightly smaller than Maine and has an estimated population of 3.44 million. The nation has friendly relations with the United States.

Rakowski has lived in Steam--boat for more than 20 years, and Coles moved here in 1990. Both men were Alpine Taxi drivers. Rakowski also was a painter and surveyor, and Coles had been a river guide.

Their families have been contacting U.S. senators and representatives to enlist their help in getting the men home.

Republican Sen. Wayne Allard will meet with UAE Ambassador Al Asri Saeed Ahmed Al Dhahri on Thursday. At that time, Allard hopes to get clarification about the situation and ask the ambassador to do everything he can to allow the men to come home, Allard's Communication Director Angela de Rocha said.

Until Allard's office contacted the media, the men's plight had been kept relatively quiet. Family members said they had been instructed not to speak about the situation for fear it could jeopardize their release from the UAE.

Howard said the company is working around the clock to have the men come home.

"We feel like they are going to be home soon and everything is going to be fine," he said.

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