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UAE 'forcibly disappearing' Pakistani Shia 

Pakistani labourers load a ship in Dubai, UAE on 2 February 2015 [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]
Pakistani labourers load a ship in Dubai, UAE on 2 February 2015 [Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]

The UAE is facing sharp criticism over its inhumane practice of the enforced disappearance of members of a minority religious group in the latest of a series of reports highlighting the Gulf state's abysmal human rights record. According to Human Rights Watch, the UAE authorities have forcibly disappeared at least four Pakistani men since October 2020 and deported at least six others without explanation.

The moves are, apparently, based solely on the religious background of the men, claims HRW in its latest report on the arbitrary targeting of the UAE's Pakistani Shia residents. The numbers of people affected are likely to be much higher, said the rights group.

Enforced disappearance occurs when state agents, or people or groups acting with government authorisation or support, deprive a person of liberty and then refuse to acknowledge this or conceal the person's situation or whereabouts. It is a common feature of authoritarian regimes and has become widespread over recent years, with Arab rulers clamping down on all forms of opposition.

All ten of the men in question are said to be Shia Muslim residents of the UAE who have lived and worked in the country for many years as managers, sales staff and CEOs of small businesses, as well as labourers and drivers. One man had lived and worked in the UAE for over 40 years; another was born and raised in the Emirates. 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 the decision.

READ: HRW slams UAE for violating rights of academics

Indicating that the UAE's targeting of Shia Muslims is more widespread, HRW saw 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.

HRW spoke to family members; all said that they know about other Pakistani Shia Muslims picked up by UAE state security forces since mid-September. This suggests that the number of those arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared may be greater than four.

"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 behaviour of the unaccountable UAE authorities is an open mockery of the rule of law and leaves no one safe from serious abuses."

READ: The UAE's torture in the shadows

The UAE's draconian crackdown on critics includes torture as well as forced disappearance, and has been a constant theme over the past few years. Last year, Amnesty International released a report accusing the government of arbitrary detention campaigns, torture and enforced disappearance against citizens and residents while imposing restrictions on freedom of expression.

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