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Rights group accuses UAE of detaining, deporting Pakistani Shias

Beirut, June 22, 2021 – United Arab Emirates authorities have forcibly disappeared at least four Pakistani men since October 2020 and deported six others without explanation, apparently based solely on their religious background, Human Rights Watch said today.

UAE authorities released and immediately deported the six in October and November 2020 after also subjecting them to enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention for between three weeks and five months.

All 10 men are Shia Muslim residents of the UAE and most have lived and worked in the country for many years as managers, sales staff, CEOs of small businesses, as well as laborers and drivers. One man had lived and worked there for over 40 years; another had been born and raised in the UAE. The authorities did not bring charges against any of the six men released from detention, yet summarily deported them without giving them any opportunity to challenge their deportations.

“UAE state security forces have a long record of enforced disappearances with total impunity, leaving detainees and their family members frightened, confused, and hopeless.” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The behavior of unaccountable UAE authorities is an open mockery of the rule of law and leaves no one safe from serious abuses.”

This is not the first time UAE authorities have apparently arbitrarily targeted Shia residents, including through arbitrary detention without charge and groundless deportations. Reports of UAE authorities’ arbitrarily targeting Shia residents, whether Lebanese, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani or otherwise, often emerge at times of increased regional tensions.

An enforced disappearance occurs when state agents, or people or groups acting with government authorization or support, deprive a person of liberty and then refuse to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or conceal the person’s situation or whereabouts.

Human Rights Watch spoke to family members of all 10 men, whom UAE authorities arrested between September and November 2020, as well as one of the men released in late 2020. Each of the family members said that they know about other Pakistani Shia Muslims picked up by UAE state security forces since mid-September, which suggests that the number of those arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared may be greater than four.

The authorities have allowed only one of the four men who remain in detention to call his family, and only after six months of keeping them “in complete darkness,” said his son, who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity. The man’s family still does not know where the authorities are holding him nor why he was detained.

Human Rights Watch also viewed a document compiled by family members of detainees listing 27 Pakistani citizens from the town of Parachinar, in northern Pakistan, who were arrested in the UAE in September or October. A member of the Pakistani parliament said that he believes the list is accurate and that he personally met with each of the families.

The family members said that they learned about the forcible disappearance of their loved ones in various ways. Armed state security agents dressed in black military attire arrested two of the men at their homes in midnight raids with their family members present. One man was arrested at his office, and co-workers who were present later told his family members that Emirati men came and took him away without explanation.

Family members of another man said his friends in the apartment building where he lived informed them that while they were sitting together in their residential car park, as they do most evenings, four men arrived and arrested him without explanation. Three of the men received phone calls to report to various police stations across the UAE, after which family members said they lost all contact with them. And three of the men simply were missing, two of whom remain missing but are presumed to be in detention.

“My question is simple,” a relative of one of the men who remains forcibly disappeared said soon after the man became unreachable in October. “If they have been arrested, I just want to know what the crime is. If there is a case against them, then we can think about how to fight the case. But if we don’t know what the charges are, how can we prove that our sons are innocent?”

In several cases, relatives said that the men detained did not have their passports with them, and that security forces later raided their homes in search of them. In some cases, the authorities took other immigration-related and work documents. Most of the men’s relatives said that they tried to inquire about them at various police stations, prisons, and deportation centers, but that officials would not even acknowledge the relative’s arrest, let alone tell them where and why they had been detained.

Two relatives said they tried to lodge complaints at police stations near their homes but that the police refused, telling them to simply wait for a call. “Who is supposed to call us?” one relative said. “We don’t know.” Several relatives said that they approached the Pakistani embassy in the UAE, whose representatives said they had no information about their missing relatives.

Human Rights Watch spoke to one young former detainee following his deportation. He had been missing since late November after being summoned to a police station in Dubai just after midnight. The authorities released him more than three weeks later, and immediately deported him. UAE security forces denied him contact with family members and access to legal counsel and consular representation for the duration of his detention.

He said they ill-treated him, including handcuffing and blindfolding him while transporting him from one location to another, conducting 5- and 10-hour interrogation sessions, and denying him sleep and warm clothes for 2 days as he remained alone in a cold room with the lights on at all times.

Family members of other Pakistani Shia residents who have since been released also reported that their relatives were never charged, did not receive legal counsel or consular representation, and were deported straight out of detention without the opportunity to settle their affairs after living in the UAE for many years. While family members say they still do not know the basis of their relatives’ detention and deportation, they believe it is because of sectarian discrimination.

Pakistani authorities should investigate the arbitrary targeting of Pakistani Shia Muslim citizens in the UAE, demand the disclosure of their missing citizens’ whereabouts and basis of arrests, and demand immediate access to consular representation, Human Rights Watch said. The UAE authorities should reveal the names, whereabouts, and basis of arrest of everyone they have forcibly disappeared or are holding in incommunicado detention.

“The UAE claims that it respects religious freedom and diversity,” Page said.” But arbitrarily disappearing and deporting long-time Shia residents indicates that this tolerance and respect does not extend to all religious sects.”

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