Dr Mohammed al-Roken – It takes an extraordinary person …

Lawyer Mohammed al-Roken was jailed for 10 years in July 2013, following a huge crackdown on political and human rights activists in the United Arab Emirates. We talked to three people who have worked alongside him and know him as a courageous, extraordinary defender of human rights. 

Jennie Pasquarella 

US lawyer who worked with Mohammed al-Roken in 2011 during a trial of human rights activists (known as the ‘UAE 5’).

You hear about the glitz and glamour of Dubai, but when you scratch beneath the surface it’s pretty ugly. The UAE is an insane surveillance state, where everyone is watched, especially those deemed dangerous to the country in some way.

It’s a place that does not respect the rule of law – they lock people up for political gain.

During the trial we met with Dr al-Roken every day – he was our total guide to the human rights situation there, and talked us through all the court shenanigans. He was extraordinarily generous with his time – he really believed in the cause of human rights, democracy, and creating a more open society. We’d meet him in public places, and there were almost always people watching him.

He’d sometimes say: ‘we have to move cos those guys are listening’. But he never stopped working on the case – even when lawyers like him were getting death threats. It takes an extraordinary person to work in an environment like that. I feel very disheartened and sad about his arrest. He’s the one person in the world who least deserves it. I hope there’s a huge army fighting for him as he has defended so many people.

Ahmed Mansoor

High-profile human rights activist Mohammed al-Roken defended during the UAE 5 trial in 2011.

When we drew up a petition calling for a parliament to be elected on the basis of universal suffrage, we particularly valued Dr al-Roken’s input. He’s so prominent in the field of human rights, and knows the ups and downs of what’s happening in the region.

He’s a very trusted person. He has defended human rights in the UAE for many years. In some cases, people are being harassed simply because of their intellectual background, and they end up being transferred or forced to retire. He’s the one person taking on these cases, not for money but because he believes in human rights.

Arresting him is an awful thing to do. A person like him should be an advisor to the highest authority in the country. He shouldn’t spend a day in jail. Just a few weeks before his arrest, a high member of the royal family in Abu Dhabi consulted him on a domestic issue. So how can they flip-flop like that? It’s a big loss to the UAE to not have this guy available for us. With him in jail, we have nobody to defend these cases. I want him released today – no, yesterday.

Lamri Chriouf

Worked with Mohammed over many years in his role as Amnesty International.

researcher for Saudi Arabia.At Amnesty, you couldn’t go to Dubai and not visit Dr al-Roken. He was one of the pioneers of our work in the Gulf. Whenever we asked for his opinion on some aspect of the law, he would always give it to us free of charge. Without people like him Amnesty wouldn’t be known in the Gulf.He was such a helpful person – whenever we organised any activities in the region,

he was always there. We had a big project on women’s rights in the Gulf, and he was instrumental in getting support. You can’t fault him. He is just so active, always writing, attending seminars, taking action. He’s a very dynamic man. And he has a great sense of humour, too. I hope he still has that humour now even though he has been in prison for a long time already.

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is one of 12 cases in Amnesty International’s Write for Rights campaign. Take action here.