Prisoner Profile: Dr. Mohammed al-Roken

Dr. Mohammed al-Roken, a human rights defender and lawyer from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence as a result of a mass trial of 94 human rights defenders and political activists in the UAE. Before his conviction, Dr. al-Roken served as one of the defense lawyers at the trial of the UAE 5, a group of five individuals who were sentenced to between two and three years’ imprisonment for petitioning the government for legislative reforms in 2011. He also represented the UAE 7, a group of seven individuals stripped of their citizenship by the government in 2011. In 2014, Front Line Defenders nominated Dr. al-Roken as a finalist for the 2014 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. He is also a member of Amnesty International and the Emirati Jurists’ Association.

Security forces arrested Dr. al-Roken in July 2012 as part of a wave of mass arrests that began in March 2012. The government initiated the campaign of arrests after a group of prominent activists, including al-Roken, sent a petition to the president calling for legislative reforms. Security forces detained him while he was on his way to a police station to report the disappearance of his son and son-in-law amidst the government’s crackdown. The day after his arrest, the UN called on the UAE to guarantee the protection of human rights defenders, citing al-Roken’s arrest and noting, “national security is increasingly being used as a pretext to clamp down on peaceful activism.”

While in detention, security forces subjected Dr. al-Roken to torture and degrading treatment. They kept him in solitary confinement without furniture or personal items, and denied him access to his lawyer. In March 2013, the UAE opened proceedings against the 94 people arrested in the government’s mass arrest campaign. The government convicted 69 of the defendants in July 2013, including Dr. al-Roken, who received a ten-year sentence. The mass trial, known as the 94 trial, sparked condemnation from human rights organizations and the international media alike.

The arrest and imprisonment of Dr. al-Roken violates his internationally-recognized rights to free expression, fair and impartial legal proceedings, and freedom from arbitrary detention. The UAE must stop detaining critics and human rights defenders, like Dr. al-Roken, on charges related to their free expression. The UAE must drop the charges against al-Roken and release him along with the scores of other activists who have been imprisoned solely for their free and peaceful expression in the UAE.

Hanan Yazid is an advocacy intern at Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain.