The holy month of Ramadan has been a sacred occasion for fasting Muslims since AD622, but for one Windsor family, this year’s holiday is tarnished with despair.
For the first time, 17-year-old Marwa Alaradi and her four younger siblings are passing Ramadan without their father Salim, who has been detained in the United Arab Emiratessince his arbitrary arrest last August during a family vacation in Dubai.
“This month is very important to us,” said Marwa, whose campaign for Salim’s freedom has reached Canadian government officials and now United Nations representatives. “It’s so hard. We spend this time together as a family every year, but now it’s just not the same without our father.”
The Libyan-born Canadian citizen has been severely tortured and denied access to legal representation and communication with his family for more than 10 months. No charges have been laid.
The family moved from Vancouver to Dubai years ago so Salim and his brother Mohamad could run a home appliances business. Neither of the men have any political involvement in Libya or the UAE, but they were separately detained on the same day and jailed with eight other Libyans.
After four months, Emirati authorities released Mohamad and three others without explanation. Mohamad told Salim’s wife Zaghuwan about the extensive physical and psychological torture he endured while detained in a solitary concrete cell.
Zaghuwan and her children left Dubai out of fear for their safety and moved to Windsor where they have relatives.
From across the globe, Marwa is fighting tirelessly for her father’s freedom.
She flew to Ottawa in June with her cousin Abdussalam and sister Nur to seek help from several elected officials, including MPs Kristy Duncan, Linda Duncan, Joe Comartin and Brian Masse.
They also met with the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, the executive director of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group and staff of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
“Everyone told us they’re concerned about my father’s case and they’re working hard,” said Marwa. “They said they’re doing their best to get him released.”
Masse and his staff took action by writing a letter to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE.
“We wrote the Sheikh about the case, with regard to the holy month of Ramadan basically asking for some movement on the case and hoping there can be some type of empathy to resolving this situation favourably for the family,” said Masse, the Windsor West MP.
He says he has yet to receive a response, but will keep the family updated.
The following week, Salim’s other brother Abdelrazag travelled from Libya to Geneva to speak at a United Nations Human Rights Council side event, where a panel of rights organizations discussed the ongoing repression in the UAE.
“Our family appreciates any effort made to date on behalf of Salim,” Abdelrazag told the panel. “But his medical condition is worsening, his health is in jeopardy, and he is still not home with his children. This ordeal needs to be resolved urgently.”
His speech followed a presentation by Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges. Knaul spoke to the assembled delegates about herreport on the UAE, highlighting her serious concerns about the hundreds of recent reports of torture and violations of free trials.
Marwa was unable to attend due to school exams, but she appeared on a large screen in a Windsor Star video that was filmed for an earlier story.
“When the video played, people’s eyes were transfixed on the screen. It just gave such a human element to the discussion,” said Drewery Dyke, a Middle East researcher with Amnesty International who also spoke during the panel.
“This case fits a much, much wider overall pattern of human rights violations in the UAE.”
Abdelrazag also thought the video was very impactful, and is impressed with Marwa’s efforts.
“She is shy, but she is being brave for her father. I’m very proud of her,” he told The Star. “The children have spent hundreds of days without their father. The whole family is left in limbo.”
The Windsor Star sent numerous emails to Libyan and Emirati officials that went unanswered or bounced back. Calls during office hours went unanswered.
The Department of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to The Windsor Star in June that acknowledged a Canadian citizen is detained in the UAE, and said consular services are being provided.
The Alaradi family approached several UN human rights bodies including the Working Group of Arbitrary Detention to have an opinion issued on the case.
“It will be interesting to see what the UAE does once it is issued,” said Dyke, who is doubtful that the passing of Ramadan will have any influence on Salim’s potential release.
“I hate to say this — I really do — but I would be frankly surprised to see any substantive movement from the Emirati authorities on this case anytime soon, based on their history. I’m hoping somehow this one will be different.”