Windsor teen fighting for father’s freedom

Windsor Star
Jesselyn Cook
Jun 07, 2015

Marwa Alaradi has not seen or spoken to her father in 285 days.

The heartbroken teen clings to the last memory she has of her family together, just hours before her father Salim was arbitrarily arrested in the United Arab Emirates last August. He has been detained and severely tortured without charge ever since.

Marwa fondly remembers sitting in a cafe with her parents and four younger siblings during their visit to a resort in Dubai, where they were living at the time. They were sipping hot chocolates and eating desserts, she recalls, but the details have already started to slip away. It was her 17th birthday.

That evening, Marwa headed upstairs to her hotel room and went to sleep, unaware that her life would change overnight. She awoke hours later to her mother Zaghuwan Aliya calling her name, and knew that something was wrong.

Her father had been taken.

The hotel reception had called Salim down to the lobby at midnight, and said UAE Security Services needed to speak with him for a few minutes. He never returned.

“They just took him,” said Marwa. “He did nothing wrong. He is a good man and everyone respects him.”

Marwa and Aliya contacted the Canadian Embassy immediately, but UAE officials initially denied having Salim, who is a Libyan-born Canadian citizen.

The family remained in Dubai for months to assist with investigations conducted by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Aliya told her youngest children, now three, seven, and 12, that their father had gone away on an urgent business trip, because she feared the truth would devastate them.

“It was hard, because whenever we wanted to discuss it, we either waited until they were asleep, or went to a room and closed the door,” said Marwa.

After two months and 11 days without answers, Aliya got a call from Salim, but he did not sound like himself.

“I am OK, I am alive,” he told his wife. “I don’t know where I am.”

Salim did not answer any questions; he would only repeat that he was fine and ask about his children. The family believes UAE officials were with him during the call.

Canadian Embassy authorities were allowed to meet with Salim after about three months. They were not allowed to ask questions, just confirm his identity and Canadian nationality. They noticed burn marks on his hands, and significant weight loss.

Marwa and her family left Dubai in March out of fear for their safety, and moved to Windsor where they have friends and relatives. She attends Ste. Cécile high school with her 15-year-old sister Nur.

“Now it’s just me and myself. That’s it,” she said. “I have to show my mom that I’m strong and I can deal with it. I don’t want to put more pressure on her.”

The Grade 11 student has stepped up to become a caregiver for her siblings, a supporter for her mother, and a crusader for her father’s freedom.

She will be travelling to Ottawa on Tuesday to discuss the situation with several MPs, including Windsor West MP Brian Masse. She requested to meet with Windsor-Tecumseh MP Joe Comartin as well, but it has not been confirmed.

“He’s my role model,” Marwa said of her father. “He inspires me, and has always wanted to provide us with the best life he could,” she added, wiping tears from her eyes.

Her favourite memories with her dad are playing tennis and swimming together, just the two of them.

“Sometimes I don’t know what to do,” she said. “Sometimes I just cry.”

Since August 2014, at least 10 Libyans including Salim and his brother Mohamad have been detained in the UAE without charge or access to legal representation, according to reports from Amnesty International and HRW.

“The context is that the UAE is engaged in a very aggressive crackdown on Islamist groups,” explained Nicholas McGeehan, the UAE researcher for HRW.

“There’s a very clear pattern whereby people with actual links or perceived links to political Islamist groups are rounded off the street and just disappear into custody,” he said.

Marwa describes her father as a family man first and a businessman second. Her family moved from Vancouver to Dubai years ago where Salim and Mohamad ran an international home appliances business together. Neither of them have any political involvement in Libya or the UAE.

Their other brother Abdelrazag lives in Libya and was appointed to the National Transitional Council, which was responsible for helping Libya work toward a democratically elected government. He is also a former MP for the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood.

The Middle East Eye reported that in a post on his comment page, Abdelrazag condemned the arrests and asked the UAE government to release all of the arrested Libyans. He also suggested that his brothers were being penalized due to their relationship with him.

“Unfortunately the rule of law is not really adhered to in the UAE,” said McGeehan. “These men effectively disappeared.”

He and others at HRW have seen a leaked copy of a letter sent from the Libyan ambassador in the UAE, Aref al-Nayed, to the Libyan Foreign Affairs Ministry in Tripoli. The message, sent in September 2014, allegedly confirms the detention of Salim and Mohamad, despite previous denial.

Mohamad and three others were unexpectedly released in December and deported to Turkey for reasons unknown.

“You have a state security apparatus which is arresting people on a whim,” said McGeehan. “It’s not clear what the basis for the arrests are, and so it’s not really clear what the basis for the releases are either.”

Mohamad, who currently lives in Qatar, contacted Aliya after he was released. He told her about the alleged physical and psychological torture he endured while detained.

UAE officials blindfolded and interrogated him for hours, and even days at a time. He was beaten if he started to fall asleep, sometimes to the extent that he could no longer walk.

His skin was burned, and he was drenched in freezing water then forced to stand in front of an air conditioning machine. He was lied to and told that his mother was dying, and that his daughter would be raped if he did not comply with their demands.

Mohamad was restricted to solitary confinement in a concrete cell while detained and did not see his brother, but suspects he has been subjected to the same methods of torture, or worse.

“Salim and indeed many others are victims in a wide-ranging, comprehensive scenario in which the overall human rights situation in the UAE has plummeted,” said Drewery Dyke, a Middle East researcher with Amnesty International.

“In the past several years the Emirate authorities have detained large numbers of people (without charges) and held them for extremely prolonged periods,” he noted. “We have treated these cases as enforced disappearances under international law.”

McGeehan and Dyke believe the Canadian government should take immediate action for the release of its detained citizens in the UAE, where more than 40,000 Canadians live and work.

In response to a request for information from The Windsor Star, the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement that acknowledged a Canadian citizen is detained in the UAE, and said consular services are being provided.

Media relations spokesperson François Lasalle said further details could not be released due to privacy concerns.

“The onus is on the Canadians to stand up for their citizens. If enough was being done, Salim would already be free,” said McGeehan.

“Actions like Marwa’s are really useful,” he added, referring to the girl’s activism through the website she created, her online petition, and social media channels.

“The only way something is going to happen is if people domestically and locally create a noise about this.”

If she could somehow get a message to her father, Marwa knows what she would say:

“Be strong.”

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