By: Imogen Lambert
Details of torture and inhumane treatment emerge as former UAE detainee tells his story, shedding light on shocking practices and the plight of his detained brother.
In August, 2014, UAE authorities arrested ten resident Libyan businessmen. Among them were two brothers; Salim al-Aradi and Mohammed al-Aradi.
Whereas Mohammed was released four months after imprisonment, a year later Salim al-Aradi remains in detention, and his family is campaigning for his release.
“If you remove these four months, I spent the best time of my life in the UAE,” said Mohammad, who had been living in the country since the early nineties.
“I don’t know why they detained me – I feel they made a big mistake,” said Mohammad, adding that he also has no idea why he was released while his brother continued to be held.
There were no charges brought against the men who were held in what Amnesty international refers to as “secret detention facilities”.
As Mohammad tells of details of his mistreatment at the hands of UAE authorities – describing it as systematic torture – his fears concerning Salim’s well-being increase.
“They isolated me in one room without water, without any connection to the outside world” Mohammad said.
“I was tied up and beaten in every part of my body until it was swollen beyond belief,” he said, spreading his hands to describe the size of his feet after being beaten.
“They wanted to use an electric chair for electric shocks, but I had a metal piece in my knee from an operation so it would have killed me,” he said. “I was just a businessman – the question they just kept asking me was: are you a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?”.
The reasons for their detention remain unclear. Although their brother Abdul Rezaq was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya, Salim and Mohammad were businessmen with no political involvement, or belonging to any political group.
The Emirati authority’s crackdown on suspected Islamist groups has even lead to the banning of established organisations that operate legally in the West, such as Islamic Relief UK, The Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the Muslim Council of Great Britain.
“The interrogations would last for 12-24 hours and lasted for days,” Mohammad said. “They used sleep deprivation. Every time I closed my eyes they beat me – they made me stand in the middle of the room…after nine days – my body broke down.”
Mohammad described the torture inflicted upon him as “systematic and trained”. At one point he was subjected to “waterboarding”, where he was submerged in water, and then exposed to constant ice-cold blasts of air.
“They said we will torture you until you wish you were dead…” he said. “I prayed to die – I was under more than I can handle”.
Mohammad said that, at one point the UAE authorities also used psychological torture, threatening to rape members of his family, who were still residing in the UAE.
A recent fact-finding mission to the UAE found that threats and intimidation to detainee’s families are a common practice by security forces there.
“After I was released they held my family’s passport and I travelled – my family were asking why am I travelling?”
One more month of separation followed, during which his family was barred from travelling before his wife and young daughters were able to join him.
Those who were released had consistent testimonies of their torture, all reflective of each other.
Last month, Mohammad co-signed a statement with three other former Libyan detainees, pleading for the release of the remaining prisoners.
“Despite the brutal torture and oppression, the enforced disappearance in secret prisons in the UAE, and despite the consequence of health and psychological problems and considerable material losses; we remain without any resentment towards the UAE constitution and the laws of the state”. read the statement.
“If they tortured me – someone who was not politically involved – what would they do to someone who was?” Mohammad said.
Amnesty international has documented many cases of torture in the UAE which are carried out in secret detention facilities.
Mansoureh Mills, a researcher from Amnesty International, said that other cases of torture recorded had been extremely similar.
She said that torture included prolonged detention in solidarity confinement, being slapped and punched, fingernails and body hair pulled out, and electric shocks administered through an electric chair, beatings with sticks on the back or soles of feet, being forced to hold stress positions and sleep deprivation through fluorescent lighting.
Mansoureh said that these interrogations are carried out by UAE secret service investigators.
During one case that she relayed, a detainee told the interrogator that he was thirsty. “The interrogator put water in his shoe and told the detainee to drink it ‘like a dog’”, said Mansoureh.
“These are not one-off cases that are a fluke or that there’s a ‘bad apple’ in the security service,” she said, adding that charges related to foreign nationals or those case concerning national security “torture is rampant and happens with absolute impunity”.
Mansoureh said interrogators in the UAE have threatened detainees with HIV infection, rape, death unless they “cooperate”.
Exact figures of people in secret detention facilities are near-impossible to obtain, and the UAE does not disclose information about prisoners, and many finding it very difficult to speak out about their ordeals.
“The UAE denies ever torturing anyone, and denies the existence of these secret detention facilities” Mansoura said.
“The UAE presents itself as an open country and – although in many ways it is – it is closed to independent human rights reporting,” she said, adding that, by way of contrast, it was much easier obtaining information from Iran, which has a reputation tarnished by human rights.
“These violations are also affecting their families are who being emotionally and psychologically affected by the detention,” said Mansourah, citing the case of Salim.
Freeing Salim al-Aradi
17-year old Marwa has been active campaigning for her father Salim al Aradi’s release from her home in Canada.
“It has been a long year, especially during Ramadan and Eid as my father wasn’t with us. It has been difficult for all of us,” said Marwa.
Salim had moved from Vancouver to the UAE in 2007 for business. While the rest of the family was on vacation, on August 28, a security figure called him to “answer a few questions”, after which he disappeared.
“No one notified us, no one told us anything, not the place, nothing,” Marwa said. “For two months and eleven days, we didn’t know if he is alive or dead”.
The painful wait ended when the family received a call from Salim.
“He said that he’s ok and there’s nothing wrong,” Marwa said, although he did not give any details about his whereabouts or detention. “He just kept asking about all the individual members of the family – my mum tried to ask him questions, but he just kept asking about us,” she said.
The campaign to free Salim and the others began, yet the family have come up against numerous obstacles.
“The Canadian foreign affairs tried to find us a lawyer in the UAE but all of them said they couldn’t take the case because he has no charges, or because they said it’s a matter of national security.”
Rights groups report that this is a common difficulty in the UAE, as some lawyers are threatened not to take cases, and can themselves come under oppression for becoming involved in cases that are matters of national security.
“At first the embassy contacted in the UAE, and the UAE were not cooperative, they were able to visit my father three times and weren’t able to contact him properly
“The other two times they managed to talk to him – he had lost weight and had serious concerns for his heath, as he has had open heart sugary and suffers from asthma”
At a UN Human Rights Council hearing in June, Salim’s family told of his mistreatment, fearing complications affecting his ill health. The special rapporteur called for the release of all political prisoners in the UAE.
Neither human rights organizations nor Salim’s family knew he was arrested or released, but it is suspected that the arrests maybe politically motivated – despite Salim and Mohammad’s lack of involvement in politics.
“My uncle Abdul Razzak was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my father was never a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or politically involved…until now there have been no changes,” Marwa said. “Human Rights organizations say they are trying to arrest Libyans to put pressure on the government.”
Following the Libyan revolution Abdul Razzak Alaradi, was politically active in the revolution and was appointed to the National Transitional Council, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the chaotic years that followed, Libya came under two de-facto governments; one based in the Eastern city of Tobruk- the House of Representatives, headed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni. This is recognized by much of the international community and is supported by the UAE.
The other government is based in Tripoli and is Islamist dominated, and is thought to have more influence on the ground.
In August last year, around the time of the Libyan’s detention the UAE participated in airstrikes against Libya Dawn, an Islamist opposition group.
Abdelsalem al-Aradi, Salim and Mohammad’s nephew, said that most of the Libyans taken were from Tripoli and Misrata – from the West of Libya.
He said that there are suspicisions that the Libyans may have been taken to be used as a “tool” to pressure the oppossition government, “which is useless as they have no influence” he said, adding that the Libyan ambassador to the UAE, Aref Ali Nayed, had been extremely unhelpful.
In a statement on Facebook, Abdul Razzak accused Nayed, of being “solely responsible” for their detention.
All al-Aradi family members repeatedly asked why the men were detained, and why Mohammad was released months earlier than Salim.
One of the possibly explanations are that the UAE is attempting to cover up the torture of Salim, a Canadian citizen.
“After five months and eleven days, my mother visited my father”, Marwa said. “My mum noticed a burn mark on his hand. She asked him where did you get this from? He said the laundry, because there was a man standing there. But we think he has been tortured.”
Mohammad also fears for his brother, saying that he heard screams of torture from the next room, and that interrogators told him that this is his brother.
Abdelsalem fears that the only reason for Salim’s continuing detention is that he is undergoing torture, saying that this also explains why visits are so restricted and why security services with him at all times
Considering the testimony of Mohammad and numerous other documented cases, Mohammad and the al-Aradi family now fear that Salim could be undergoing the same treatment.
Mansourah recounts that Salim was moved to al-Wathbah prison where poor conditions were likely, but torture was not, however there was a “high likelihood” that he had been tortured earlier in his detention.
“It seems like from what we have been told is that interrogator’s torture is carried out in the initial stages of detention,” Mansoura said. “A year on, by the time a trial arrives, they don’t want any external marks to show”.
“Nobody is released until the marks of torture are gone…my brother’s marks are still not gone…” said Mohammad.
Shazia Arshad from the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, said that there appears to be a link between detainees being held far past their due release date, and being subjected to torture.
Arshad gives the example of Omani and Jordian foreign nationals who remain in UAE prisons after serving their initial sentance, and says that it is likely they have experienced torture.
Meanwhile, the al-Aradi are putting their hopes on Canada being able to put pressure on the UAE.
“I believe the Canadian government can negotiate with the UAE authorities,” Marwa said.
“His legal rights were violated – no lawyer – no due process – they can do whatever they want. He underwent physical and psychological torture, had limited access to family and consular services. My uncle’s human rights were violated multiple times, despite the UAE promoting human rights,” Abdelsalem said.
“They are saying they are doing all they can but the problem is he is not out yet – the main question is why was he detained and why has he not been released,” said Abdelsalem.
“The situation is very difficult, he [Salim] is a very important component of our family – he brought everyone together” he said. “I feel sorry for Marwa and her siblings – all of a sudden she found herself without a dad – he was very close to his children
“Hope is always there – we know for sure my uncle didn’t do anything wrong – he was respected in the business community”, Abdelsalem said, adding that the licence of Salim’s business in the UAE was renewed while he was in detention.
“He’s absolutely being held in an unfair process – he is completely innocent and will be released sooner or later.”
After his ordeal, Mohammad is now concentrating on getting his brother released.
“We went to university together, grew up together, studied the same subject, our wives are sisters, worked in our business together – we were always together until they took us” he said.