1,000 days in prison: how Mohammed al-Roken is sacrificing his freedom for human rights in the UAE
Sunday 12 April 2015 marks 1,000 days since Dr Mohammed al-Roken was locked up in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), following a massive crackdown on political and human rights activists. Across the world, Amnesty campaigners are doing all they can to fight for his release.
“You taught me the importance of trying to change things that look unjust,” Christian, Canada.
For the past two weeks, I’ve read and counted around 4,000 beautiful cards and letters for human rights lawyer and law professor Dr Mohammed al-Roken. He was sentenced to 10 years’ prison in the UAE after a deeply unfair mass trial of 94 government critics and activists, and has spent much of the last 1,000 days in a high security prison in the Abu Dhabi desert.
The cards represent just a small fraction of the incredible 100,000 people who pressed for Dr al-Roken’s release as part of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign last December. I wish he and his family could read all the messages for him, and gain strength and courage knowing that they’re not alone. Sadly, it’s not safe to send them anything due to possible risks and because families of prisoners of conscience in the UAE are under incredible pressure from the authorities to stay silent.
Arrest, jail and solitary confinement
Many UAE nationals were shocked when Dr al-Roken, from Dubai, was sent to jail. But they are afraid to speak up because nobody wants the same fate. No one wants to be arrested, locked up alone for months, and jailed for 10 years. People are even scared to speak to Amnesty. I am writing this blog very carefully to avoid placing anyone at risk of arrest or harassment.
That’s why I’m so grateful to everyone who has taken action for Dr al-Roken. It’s very difficult to campaign on the UAE, as it often gets drowned out by bigger countries in the region, such as Saudi Arabia. But it’s certainly no less repressive towards dissent.
I’m writing to you today because I can’t stay indifferent towards injustice and lack of freedom.
Equally, it’s easy to be blinded by the impressive skyscrapers, shopping and beaches of the UAE. But behind the facade are a large number of activists and their families who have been silenced in the last few years after calling for democratic reform and greater rights and freedoms.
Travel bans, harassment and surveillance
I know many people who have met Dr al-Roken and they all have nothing but respect and praise for him. All the messages I’ve read express shock and sadness, but also admiration for the strength he has shown in doing something that few people have the courage to do. He was passionate about defending human rights in the UAE, even though he could have avoided years of harassment, travel bans, surveillance and imprisonment had he chosen to follow an easier path.
We have not had any response from the UAE government but I know they are aware of our campaign and will be reading this blog. I do hope the situation there improves. It’s a great country and its leaders have achieved much since it was founded in 1971. But part of being a progressive nation is the ability to respect and protect human rights, rather than cage the people who call for them.
Release Dr al-Roken today
My hope for Dr al-Roken and other activists imprisoned alongside him is that they will be immediately and unconditionally released. I hope that Dr al-Roken’s licence to practice law is reinstated so that he can continue his noble work as a lawyer and that he will once again be allowed to give lectures as a law professor.
My message to Dr al-Roken and his family on his 1,000th day in prison is that your plight is known around the world. We will keep fighting for you until you are free.
In the words of Donne from the Netherlands: “The world is blessed to have people like you. I hope to achieve your level of courage someday. You inspire me every day.”
Mansoureh Mills campaigns for Amnesty on the UAE, Iran and Kuwait