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(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of ten detained Libyans, at least two of whom authorities appear to have forcibly disappeared, and six Emiratis, Human Rights Watch said today.

The circumstances surrounding the detentions appear consistent with previous cases in which authorities arbitrarily detained Emirati nationals associated with a local Islamist group and foreign nationals with alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Both groups were subjected to unfair trials amid credible allegations of torture.

“Enforced disappearances are grave international crimes that can place victims at serious risk of torture and cause their families anguish,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The new disappearances are evidence of the UAE’s increasingly repressive behavior.”

Family members of two of the Libyans, brothers who have lived in the UAE since the 1990s, told Human Rights Watch that neither man has made any contact with their families since security forces detained them on August 28, 2014. The family members said that the authorities refuse to acknowledge that the men are in custody or divulge their whereabouts.

Police called one brother, Mohamed Elaradi, to come in for questioning at the Al Barsha police station in Dubai at 8 p.m. on August 28. He returned home at 11 p.m., accompanied by 8 to 10 security officials in civilian clothing. One of them said they were from Abu Dhabi. The men searched the house and confiscated a laptop, then left with Elaradi, telling the family he would soon return. They have not heard from him since.

Security forces detained his brother Salim Elaradi at a Dubai hotel on the same evening, and searched his home in Dubai, confiscating a laptop and a mobile phone.

On August 29, officers at Al Barsha police station told family members that they had no record of either man’s arrest, and the authorities have neither confirmed their detention nor disclosed any information about the two men in the intervening weeks.

Two weeks before the brothers were detained, officials at the Department of Immigration had questioned Mohamed Elaradi for two hours about his political affiliations and his relationship with another brother, Abdulrazag Elaradi, who is a member of the Muslim-Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party in Libya. The families of the two detained men say they have no political affiliations.

Human Rights Watch has contacted family members of another 3 of the 10 Libyans reported to have disappeared, all from the business community. Although some feared angering authorities if they discussed the cases on the record, it appears that the families haven’t heard from those men since they were detained in the last week of August. It is not clear whether the authorities have denied holding the men.

Human Rights Watch has seen a copy of a September 7 communiqué from the Libyan ambassador in the UAE, Aref al-Nayed, to the Libyan Foreign Affairs Ministry in Tripoli. In it, the ambassador confirms the detention of Mohamed and Salim Elaradi and of Kamal and Mohamed Kamal Eldarat.

He acknowledged in this document that family members of other detainees with dual citizenship approached the embassy, but said that the Libyan embassy is only responsible for people who entered the UAE on their Libyan passports. On September 11, the Libyan prime minister, Abdullah al-Thani, confirmed the detention of seven Libyans in the UAE, without naming them, and said in a news release after a visit to the UAE that Libyans who had violated UAE laws would receive a fair trial there.

UAE authorities detained the six Emiratis early in the morning of September 22 in Kor Fhakkan, a town in Sharjah Emirate, a source close to one of their families told Human Rights Watch. None have made contact with their families, but it is not clear whether the authorities have denied holding them. One of those detained is Omar Ibrahim Mahmood, 17. The others are Abdulaziz Mubarak al-Suweidi, Saleh Mubarak al-Suweidi, and brothers Suliman Mohamed al-Naqbi, Khalid al-Naqbi, and Rashid al-Naqbi.

The recent detentions are consistent with earlier cases. In April 2012, UAE authorities forcibly disappeared Ahmed Al-Suweidi for five months. His confession was a central part of the prosecution’s case in the June 2013 conviction of another 68 men on charges that they attempted to overthrow the political system. Al-Suweidi denied the allegations in court and at least 22 of the 94 people tried in that case allege that they were tortured in pretrial detention at state security facilities.

In January 2014, 20 Egyptians and 10 Emiratis were sentenced to between 3 months and 5 years in prison on charges that included running a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UAE. They also alleged that UAE authorities tortured them and denied them access to legal assistance for many months.

The hesitancy of family members to divulge information is not surprising in light of the UAE’s ongoing prosecution of people who speak to international rights groups. On September 23, the Federal Supreme Court accused Osama al-Najer of, among other things, “contacting foreign organizations and presenting inaccurate information regarding the trial of the secret [al-Islah] cell and living conditions inside the jail,” the Emirates News Agency reported.

Human Rights Watch had quoted Al-Najer in a June 2013 news release calling on the UAE authorities to investigate credible allegations of torture, based on handwritten notes that 22 of the 94 al-Islah detainees had smuggled out of prison. Prior to his arrest in March 2014, Al-Najer also met with representatives of Amnesty International and the United Nations special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers. Judge Mohamed al-Tenaiji scheduled the next session of al-Najer’s trial for October 14.

The judgment in the case of the 69 Al-Islah members referred to the fact that the human rights lawyers Mohamed al-Mansoori and Mohamed al-Roken “communicated with international organizations including Human Rights Watch.”

An enforced disappearance occurs when someone is deprived of their liberty by agents of the state or those acting with its acquiescence, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person. The nexus between torture and enforced disappearance is well-established in international law.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has found that prolonged isolation and deprivation of communication is in itself a form of cruel and inhuman treatment. The European Court of Human Rights has declared that the uncertainty, doubt, and apprehension suffered by the families of disappeared people over a prolonged and continuing period of time is a violation of the absolute and non-derogable – or absolute – prohibition of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.

If the Libyans and Emiratis who have been forcibly disappeared have been arrested and are in detention, the authorities should immediately acknowledge this, reveal their whereabouts, and allow them immediate access to their families and to a lawyer, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should either release those being held or inform them of the charges against them and bring them before a court.

“The UAE has grown accustomed to its serial violations of human rights passing without comment from an international community that appears cowed by its aggressive diplomacy,” Stork said. “The longer this silence goes on, the more the international community appears to send a message that it does not care.”

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