Authorities in the UAE have arrested a fourth political activist, as the government response to a petition calling for greater democratic representation continues.

Abdullah al-Shehhi was arrested on Friday by security forces, the Gulf Discussion Forum, a grouping of intellectuals from the Gulf region, said in a statement on Saturday.

Al-Shehhi, who stems from the northern emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, and is a former member of the armed forces, was one of the 133 signatories of a petition submitted to the UAE leadership on 9 March.  

The petition called for a representative parliament with legislative power. Political parties are illegal in the UAE and democratic participation is limited to the election of a 40-strong advisory body, the Federal National Council, by a small group of citizens.

Al-Shehhi’s family have not been informed of his whereabouts and have not heard from him since his arrest, the Gulf Discussion Forum said.

He is the fourth political activist arrested since the petition was submitted to UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

The forum on 11 April revealed the arrests of the outspoken academic Nasser bin Gaith and of the activist Mansur al-Shehhi.

Bin Ghaith, who has been critical of the government in the past, recently criticised GCC governments for spending their way out of the political unrest that had engulfed the region and had led to regime change in Tunisia and Egypt.

On 10 April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the arrest of political blogger Ahmed Mansoor.

“While other governments in the region are discussing democratic reforms, the UAE government is digging in its heels and sticking to outmoded repressive ploys,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW. Mansoor is held in Abu Dhabi’s Al-Wathba prison on charges of possessing alcohol.

The oil-rich UAE has been unaffected by the political turmoil that has swept rulers from power in Egpyt and Tunisia, ignited a civil war in Liyba and caused protests and violent repression in the Levant, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.

The Gulf Discussion Forum has criticised the UAE arrests as “a ‘protests phobia’ regimes in the region are suffering from”.