Breaking: Systematic targeting of Pakistani Shias start in UAE days after the Israel-UAE deal
“We just feel like Muharram is still continuing in our household; it’s that upsetting. It’s that frustrating,” says Faizah*, a recent electrical engineering graduate from Habib University, Karachi.
It’s been three weeks since her dad, Hussain*, a resident of the UAE for the past forty years, was arrested in his Deira workplace without any explanations or warrants provided.
“My dad generally tells us his Google passwords, for you know, security purposes. … Thursday morning, I tried to locate his phone through his Google ID, and that’s how I got to know that on Wednesday around 1 pm, when he was taken (into custody) from his workplace, he was actually taken to Al-Aweer (Jail), which is in the outskirts of Dubai, and it’s primarily an immigration center … that is the last update that we have about his whereabouts.”
Faizah woke up on the morning of Wednesday, October 21st, to continue with her day’s agenda, unaware of the fact that this day would be bringing in a lot of frustration and anger for the whole family, which would stay for more than just a few days. Like everyone else in her family, she was informed about eight to ten hours after the incident took place, and that too because of her aunt’s condolence call.
“She called us for the purpose of condolence, and we are like, oh, we don’t know anything about it. So that was the first time we actually got to know. … Then we called his employer as well and said hey, what’s up, there’s something we’ve been hearing, and he’s like, yeah, it happened in front of us.”
Hussain’s employer was able to provide Faizah the details of what exactly happened. At around noon, four men came to his office in Deira. One of them went to the security room to turn off all the cameras. Then, the men – dressed in plain clothes – took him and his phones in custody, and his coworkers never heard from them again.
“Later, at night, his phone was taken to his residence in Deira at 4 am (sic) on Thursday, October 22nd. His entire floor (mates) in the building were all taken out from their apartments and (they were) asked about their relationship with my father and my father’s apartment was raided,” she would later describe in a viral tweet with the hashtag #MissingShiasUAE, which prompted more people to come forward with stories of their brothers, cousins, friends, and relatives in the UAE being similarly abducted by security agencies – never to hear of them again.
Hussain’s peculiar arrest would have been way more surprising for Faizah than it was, had she not known that a crackdown targeting Pakistani immigrants, a majority of them belonging to the Shi’a denomination, is currently going on in the UAE. Ever since the UAE secured the normalization deal with Israel back in September, news of a crackdown on the members of the diaspora community has been rife.
“Yeah, there’s this one person who was again, taken away (into custody in the UAE) in a very similar fashion, and he came back like a few weeks ago. So we were talking to him.
“… He was, again, deported, and then he came to Rawalpindi – he lives in Rawalpindi. We talked to him, and he told us that (when he was in custody), a policeman over there agreed that Israel has asked them to deport all Pakistanis.”
Now it’s not very unclear why this might be the case. The Pakistani government has held a very strict stance against the acceptance of the settler state over the rights of Palestinians for as long as it has existed. Just a few days after UAE officials announced the normalization of ties with Israel back in August, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, announced that Pakistan would not recognize Israel’s existence. “When you talk of Israel and Palestine, we need to think, will we be able to answer (God) if we abandon those people who have faced every kind of injustice and whose rights were taken away? My own conscience will never allow me to do this; I can never accept it,” added Khan.
“He accepted that Israel has asked us to do this, and that’s why we’re doing this,” said Faizah, audibly distressed over the phone interview as the absence of her father has stretched to almost a month. Faizah has reasons to believe the deportee acquaintance, as there is nothing else her father could have done that stimulated this arrest, and that too – in such a mysterious way. Hussain has been living and working in the Persian Gulf state for the past forty years and no prior criminal charges.
“That’s mainly because of the job prospects,” said Faizah, explaining the reason for Hussain’s being in the UAE.
The family hadn’t been sitting all this time idly. Faizah’s aunts in the UAE have been on the lookout for their brother in different jails and detention centers, while also complaining to the Pakistani embassy in the UAE. When she was asked whether someone was following up on the matter in the UAE, she replied, “Yeah, so my aunts have been doing that for, like, ever since it happened.”
“So for a good 17 – 18 days, but then, like two-three days ago, they finally filed the FIR. So, initially, when my aunt would go there, they would say that no, we don’t have him. And they would literally say to her face to wait for the call.”
But there was never a call. And when she went back to follow up, a brigadier turned up to misbehave with her.
“There are so many immigrant families there … they don’t even treat them properly. … And the last time when my aunt went to the police station, that was the day after they filed the FIR. One of the brigadiers came in, and they told my aunt, “don’t ask us about these detainees anymore. You are a woman and a (UAE) national, which is why we’re letting you go. Had you been someone else, we would have had arrested you too.
“And someone else reached out to me through Twitter again, that oh, this happened to my uncle. Obviously, we’ve been helping each other out when they finally filed the FIR for my father, so I told those people that I knew (who had been going through a similar situation) that they are finally filing the FIR, so maybe you should now pursue that. So this one person, whose uncle had been arrested, he told me that, he asked someone he knew to go to the police stations and ask for his uncle and, even he, the person who went (to follow up on his uncle,) was taken away (and detained) as well. So I mean, it’s just, it’s happening on a crazy, crazy, crazy level right now.”
When Faizah tried to reach out to the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan and the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis to ask for help, it seemed she was talking to a wall.
“We were trying to reach out different officials over here, the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, and at that time, all they said all honestly, all they said it’s not in our hands, it’s an international crackdown, so it’s not in our hands.”
“And then one of these days, my aunt went over there (to the Pakistani embassy in the UAE), and she was told that they have around 700 complaints … they asked her to write down her complaint as well.”
With no other options left in front of her, she finally opened up about this on Twitter a week after the incident, inducing prayers, sympathies, retweets, and different people reaching out to her with a relatable story.
“So, again, we did not know where to go, who to talk to. … And at that time, no one had talked about it on social media. So no one actually knew on how massive a level this was happening. So it’s only after I did that so many people are now reaching out to me (with personal stories.) We tried to do it to create, you know, media pressure. But then I had to stop because of my workplace regulations. … Before my dad was taken away, someone else in his circle was also taken away. And we knew about that. So we knew it was happening to so many people, too. So we wanted to gather more stories as well because we knew for a fact that it’s happening on a massive scale.”
Faizah might have been strong enough to follow up on her dad’s case here and there, but the rest of her family members – including her 27-year-old sister who’s been married off in another country – weren’t able to muster up much strength.
“(My sister is) very light-hearted, and she takes things on her nerves a lot. So believe me when I say this, that she has been calling us after every 30 minutes since and it’s the third week, and she just calls and she cries every time … so this is honestly what my house is like right now.”
When she was asked if she could think of a reason this tragedy had befallen their family, she was quite sure of the answer.
“We think it’s happening because of the UAE’s very recent acceptance of Israel as a state. And again, when you do that, you have to serve back to that state as well.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.