(Amman) – A Jordanian journalist working in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been held incommunicado since the UAE Criminal Investigations Department in Abu Dhabi summoned him on December 13, 2015. UAE authorities should immediately disclose where they are holding the journalist, Tayseer al-Najjar, 42, and immediately allow him to contact a lawyer and his family.

“Al-Najjar’s case bears all the marks of the UAE’s shameful practice of forced disappearances and incommunicado detentions,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “We don’t know why Al-Najjar is missing but we know that he was last seen in police headquarters of a country with zero tolerance for free speech.”

Al-Najjar’s case bears all the marks of the UAE’s shameful practice of forced disappearances and incommunicado detentions. We don’t know why Al-Najjar is missing but we know that he was last seen in police headquarters of a country with zero tolerance for free speech.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East Director

UAE authorities have curtailed the access of international rights groups, journalists, and academics to the country, deported bloggers and proponents of media freedom, and imprisoned people who have provided information to nongovernmental organizations.

On December 3, UAE authorities blocked al-Najjar at Abu Dhabi International Airport, where he intended to board a flight to Jordan to visit his wife and children, al-Najjar’s wife told Human Rights Watch. She said al-Najjar, a journalist for more than 15 years, had been working in the UAE since April 2015, when he became a culture reporter for the UAE-based newspaper Dar.

Al-Najjar’s wife said she has not received any information from Jordanian or UAE authorities on al-Najjar’s whereabouts or well-being and does not know why UAE authorities blocked him from traveling or summoned him to the Criminal Investigations Department. On February 10, 2016, Jordanian media outlets reported that the Jordanian Foreign Affairs Ministry had confirmed with UAE officials that al-Najjar is in detention and had not been harmed. Jordanian officials pledged to push a request for family members to visit him.

On January 26, 51 members of Jordan’s lower house of parliament called on the Jordanian government to follow up with UAE authorities to find out what happened to al-Najjar. On January 28, the Jordan Press Association announced that it had received no word on al-Najjar’s status despite requests for information to the Jordanian Foreign Affairs Ministry and UAE Journalists’ Association.

Human Rights Watch has documented nine cases of enforced disappearances by UAE authorities in recent years, including three Libyans whom authorities forcibly disappeared for three months after their arrest in August 2014. The Libyans were held in incommunicado detention for four months at a state security facility where previous detainees – including four other men detained during the same period – have alleged that interrogators tortured them into confessing to links with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The whereabouts of an Emirati academic, Nasser bin Ghaith, whom authorities forcibly disappeared on August 18, 2015, also remain unknown, as do the whereabouts of four members of the Alabdouli family, sisters Amina and Moza, and their brothers Mosab and Walid. Local sources told Human Rights Watch that men believed to be state security officers arrested Amina, Moza, and Mosab at their home in the emirate of Fujeirah on November 19. Officials detained Walid Alabdouli on November 29. Human Rights Watch has been unable to speak to any family members of bin Ghaith or the Alabdoulis.

International law defines enforced disappearances as:

[T]he arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

“If authorities are holding al-Najjar at the notorious Abu Dhabi state security facility, then we are extremely concerned about his physical and mental well-being,” Stork said.