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Tue 15 October 2019
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While the UAE’s mistreatment of migrant labourers is well documented, CJ Werleman shines a spotlight on the abuse being perpetrated against other visitors to the Emirate.


A report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) painted an alarming picture into the violations of human rights in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year. In particular, it raised concerns regarding the torture of prisoners and injustice against foreign workers in the Gulf state.

The 13-page report provided a glimpse into the repressive and excessive influence Emirate security services have in enforcing the law beyond moral and legal constraints, with the UK-based Emirate Centre for Human Rights observing: “UAE authorities regularly subject those that violate their restrictions to torture, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and unfair trial procedures.”

While the UAE’s mistreatment of migrant labourers – including the confiscation of passports, denial of salaries and false imprisonment – is well documented, what is less known is the manner in which Emirate security forces threaten, detain, torture and deport foreign business executives who run out of favour or afoul of their Emirate employer.

Muhammad Saad, a 27-year-old Pakistani national, was employed as a consultant by the global financial consultancy firm PWC in Pakistan before joining Indian firm Tech Mahindra as a senior Oracle technology consultant to help deliver a project for Abu Dhabi Ports in Abu Dhabi.

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Saad joined the project in October 2018, but his problems began almost immediately after he was accepted onto an MBA programme with American University in Dubai, telling me that it had always been his ambition to add “diversification” to his growing professional profile.

“When it became apparent that I would certainly resign from the project [in Abu Dhabi] to take up the academic opportunity [in Dubai], I received punishing workplace harassment from colleagues and superiors, and then death threats at my residence from Emirate intelligence officers,” Saad said. “The officers would appear at my residence at night and threaten to kill me if I relocated to Dubai to take up the academic offer and leave the project in Abu Dhabi.”

Despite the UAE Government’s efforts to intimidate him into declining his academic offer and remaining with the Abu Dhabi Ports project, Saad tendered his resignation in compliance with his employment contract and then organised a trip to Saudi Arabia to unwind before the start of his post-graduate studies.

It was here that Saad’s 23-day nightmare would begin.

When the bus carrying Saad and dozens of others reached the UAE-Saudi border checkpoint on 13 March, UAE officials inspected the passengers’ travel documents. At that moment, two plain-clothed Emirate security officers handcuffed Saad and took him to a nearby police station for further questioning, despite the fact he had a legitimate Saudi visit visa, UAE temporary resident visa and residence ID.

“My hands and legs were cuffed and shackled” he said. “I was neither shown any arrest warrant nor was I informed about my charge regarding arbitrary arrest. I was detained overnight in a nearby police station prison on border area, stripped off all the communication modes and denied any consular or counsel access and any friends and family to establish contact with.”

Saad was then transferred to the Abu Dhabi Madinat Zayed prisoner facility the next day, where he was held for the next seven. There he would learn that his employer, a client of the UAE Government, had put a no travel ban on his UAE visa as a form of retribution for him having accepted admission to the American University.

“During this period a travel ban was fabricated against me since I was travelling on a legitimate visa with all my travel and identification documents in active status,” he said. “I was psychologically and sexually harassed in the facility by the police officers, who forced me to perform sexual acts before attempting to rape me.”

On 20 March, Saad was transferred to Abu Dhabi al Shahama Prisoner Facility, where he was held for the next 13 days. It was there that he would suffer the most egregious abuses of his mind and body.

“I was ferociously and brutally tortured by the police officers,” he said. “I was sexually abused by the police officers in the male toiletries. I was chained and shackled. My clothes were torn by the police officers and I was molested and abused multiple times.”

Saad then explained how he was forced to masturbate in front of the same guards who were holding a perverse and depraved “competition” among them to see who could punch him in the face the hardest.

On 3 April, Saad was deported to Pakistan, where a detailed medical examination revealed he had suffered nerve damage, other related neurological disorders and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Saad would also lose his placement at the American University and has been unable to commence studies elsewhere due to his ongoing psychological trauma.

He has now taken his case to the Pakistani Foreign Office, but he holds little hope he will receive compensation for his loss of earnings and ongoing medical costs due to his Government’s ever closer ties to the UAE.

Saad’s case is important because foreign nationals like him make up almost 90% of Dubai’s 3.1 million population and thus a significant portion of the Emirate’s total population.

While the abuse of impoverished, low-skilled foreign workers in the UAE is well known, that Saad, a highly educated and professional contractor, can also be subjected to abuse and torture means no expatriate is safe from having their human rights violated by the Emirates.

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