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(Beirut) – United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have forcibly disappeared or detained incommunicado six people since mid-2014, Human Rights Watch said today. With the latest cases, Human Rights Watch has now documented at least eight instances in which individuals were forcibly disappeared after being in custody of state authorities and identified 12 further cases of incommunicado detention.

The authorities should reveal the names and whereabouts of all individuals whom they have forcibly disappeared or are holding in incommunicado detention.

Those whose whereabouts are unknown after they were detained include the son of an adviser to the former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsy, two Qatari nationals, and three Emirati sisters whose families have not had contact with them since February 15, 2015, when they obeyed an official summons to report to an Abu Dhabi police station after they posted comments critical of the government on social media. Both enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention put detainees at serious risk of torture.

“We are starting to see a troubling pattern of enforced disappearance in the UAE,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The methods used by the UAE’s state security apparatus pose a far greater threat to the country’s international reputation than critical voices inside the country.”

Since 2011, UAE authorities have arbitrarily detained scores of people who have either criticized the authorities or who have links to domestic or foreign Islamist groups. The UAE government should reveal the names and whereabouts of everyone forcibly disappeared or held in incommunicado detention, Human Rights Watch said.

Asma, Mariam, and Al Yazzyah al-Suweidi were last seen on February 15, 2015, after authorities called them to a police station in Abu Dhabi. A reliable third party told Human Rights Watch that their mother subsequently received a telephone call from an Emirati official indicating they were in detention, which indicates they may have been subject to enforced disappearance. The three had posted comments criticizing the UAE authorities’ unlawful imprisonment of Emirati dissidents, including their brother, Dr. Issa al-Suweidi.

The day before her detention, Asma al-Suweidi posted a picture on her Twitter account of some of the 69 Emiratis convicted in June 2013 of attempting to overthrow the government after an unfair trial dogged by credible allegations that some of the defendants were tortured while held incommunicado in pretrial detention. Dr. Suweidi was among those convicted and is serving a 10-year sentence in Al Razan jail in Abu Dhabi. On February 5, 2015, Asma al-Suweidi tweeted (in Arabic): “I searched and I did not read in my brother’s case any reasonable argument leading to his isolation and imprisonment that is depriving him of life for 10 years.”

Al Yazzyah al-Suweidi also regularly expressed her support for the detainees and her brother on her Twitter account. On January 30 she wrote (in Arabic): “They dismantled our brother … return him to us #Issa_Al_Suweidi #UAE_detainees #innocent_people_behind_bars.” Mariam al-Suweidi appears to have been less active on social media than her sisters, but also used the hashtag #UAE_detainees in tweets referring to her brother’s detention.

On January 7, Ahmed Abd el Aziz, an Egyptian, posted a video to YouTube in which he called on the UAE authorities to release his 26-year-old son Mosaab who, he alleges, was “kidnapped by United Arab Emirates’ security forces” on October 21, 2014, after being called to a police station in Sharjah. In the video he attributes his son’s arrest and incommunicado detention by UAE authorities to his own erstwhile position as a member of Morsy’s staff before he was ousted as Egyptian president in July 2013. Human Rights Watch has been unable to corroborate Aziz’s account.

In August 2014, UAE authorities detained 10 Libyan nationals. At least two of them were forcibly disappeared: Mohamed and Salim Elaradi, both brothers of Abdulrazaq Elaradi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party in Libya. Authorities released Mohamed Elaradi and three others in late December but they have yet to disclose where Salim Elaradi and the others are being held or allow them access to lawyers or their families.

On February 13, 2015, UAE authorities released Dr. Amer al-Shawa, a Turkish citizen and acquaintance of the Elaradi brothers who was detained on October 2, 2014, at Dubai International Airport. He was only allowed to contact his family for the first time 12 days later with a brief phone call. The Interior Ministry, the Abu Dhabi police, and the Criminal Investigations Department in Abu Dhabi initially denied knowledge of his whereabouts and obstructed his wife’s efforts to file a complaint. His wife only learned of his release when he called her from Istanbul using a taxi driver’s mobile phone following his release and departure from the UAE.

On June 27, UAE immigration officials arrested two Qatari nationals, Yousif al-Mullah and Hamad al-Hamadi, when they entered the country by road from Saudi Arabia. More than eight months later, their families have been unable to find out why UAE authorities arrested them, where they are detained, and in what conditions. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, the families said the Emirati authorities have not responded to the families’ requests for information on the men’s whereabouts.

UAE authorities have curtailed international rights groups’ ability to do research in the country and taken action against individuals who have spoken out about abuses, making it difficult to determine the full extent of enforced disappearances and incommunicado detentions. In January 2014, the UAE authorities denied a Human Rights Watch staff member entry into the country and placed two other Human Rights Watch staff on a blacklist as they left the country in the immediate aftermath of the release of the Human Rights Watch World Report 2014, which included information about UAE abuses.

On November 25, the Federal Supreme Court sentenced Osama al-Najer, an Emirati, to three years in jail on charges that included “damaging the reputation of UAE institutions” and “communicating with external organizations to provide misleading information.” On September 14, 2012, Al-Najer was quoted in a Human Rights Watch news release that contained credible allegations that detainees had been tortured during interrogations.

Article 47 of the UAE’s criminal law of procedure states that detainees should be brought before the public prosecutor within two days. The UAE’s 2003 State Security Apparatus Law, however, gives state security officers wide powers to hold detainees for lengthy periods without any judicial scrutiny. Article 28 of the state security apparatus law, read in conjunction with article 14, allows the head of the state security apparatus to detain a person for 106 days “if he has sufficient reasonable causes to make him believe” that the person is involved in, among other things, “activities that undermine the state … or jeopardize national unity,” “activities deemed harmful to the economy,” or anything that “could undermine, weaken the position of, stir animosity against or undermine trust in the State.”

The state security apparatus law inherently violates article 14(6) of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which states that “anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release.”

The law also places individuals at risk of enforced disappearance. 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.

Article 5 of the 2006 International Convention on the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances states that: “The widespread or systematic practice of enforced disappearance constitutes a crime against humanity as defined in applicable international law and shall attract the consequences provided for under such applicable international law.” The UAE has yet to sign or ratify the convention.

“UAE authorities should stop using enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention to harass and cow their critics,” Stork said. “The UAE authorities should immediately reveal the whereabouts of anyone they are holding.”

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