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Human rights groups urge UAE to release jailed rights lawyer

Mohammed al-Roken has been in prison since July 2012 after receiving a 10-year sentence for 'attempting to overthrow the state'
Mohammed al-Roken, the Emirati human rights lawyer thought to be held in solitary confinement (AFP)

Human rights groups on Thursday urged the United Arab Emirates to release a jailed human rights lawyer convicted, they say falsely, on charges of attempting to overthrow the state.

Amnesty International and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBA-HRI) sent a public letter to the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, to express their “grave concern” over the imprisonment of Emirati lawyer Mohammed al-Roken.

Roken, 52, is a well-known university professor and human rights lawyer from Dubai who has previously served as president of the UAE’s Jurists Association. The letter from Amnesty and the IBA-HRI describes him as “one of the most respected human rights lawyers in the Middle East and North Africa region”.

He was arrested on 17 July 2012, and convicted in July 2013 of “establishing an organisation seeking to bring about the government’s overthrow”. Roken was sentenced to serve a 10-year prison sentence, while 68 of his co-defendants were convicted of the same charge and given terms of between 7 and 15 years.

Human Rights Watch criticised the trial as a “mockery of justice” and urged the government to investigate what they described as “credible allegations of torture” against defendants. Emirati authorities have vociferously defended the trial process and dismissed as false allegations of torture.

The UAE is a federation of seven emirates, each ruled by a royal family. The country's president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, comes from Abu Dhabi. It has a nominal parliament - elected by a select number of citizens - that plays a purely advisory role in governance. Roken, and many of his co-defendants, had called for the Federal National Council to become wholly responsible for the legislative process and to be elected by universal suffrage.

On Thursday Amnesty and the IBA-HRI called for his immediate release, directing their plea specifically to Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai.

“We urge Your Highness [Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum] to use your power to ensure that Dr Mohammed al-Roken is immediately and unconditionally released, that his license to practice law is reinstated so that he may resume his work as a lawyer, and that he is also permitted to continue teaching law,” read the letter, signed by Amnesty Secretary-General Salil Shetty and Co-chairpersons of the IBA-HRI Baroness Helena Kennedy and Hans Corell.

Emirati leaders rarely comment on issues raised by human rights groups and Sheikh Mohammed has yet to respond to the Amnesty and IBA-HRI letter.