Families are stronger than cages

By Lucy Barnett, Country Coordinator – Bahrain and United Arab Emirates

Friday marks the International Day of Families. The theme this year is ‘men in charge? Gender equality and children’s rights in contemporary families’ and it got me thinking about how it might feel to have a father, husband or grandfather in prison.

Unfortunately, there are many examples to choose from. 

Son, father, husband, prisoner: The case of Dr Mohammed al-Roken

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is from the emirate of Dubai. He’s married with five children and four grandchildren. He is a human rights lawyer and a professor of constitutional law, and studied for his PhD at Warwick University. 

He is serving a 10 year sentence in the UAE following a crackdown of lawyers, judges, academics, human rights activists, and students. He was arrested on 17 July 2012, hours after his son and son-in-law were arrested, too.

He was convicted in a mass trial alongside 93 others, now known as the ‘UAE 94’.  69 of them were sentenced to between seven and 15 years in prison. He has been in prison for over 1000 days,

Demand the release of Dr al-Roken

Families bearing the brunt

Of the eight men imprisoned under the UAE 94 trial that we are campaigning on, I was really moved to read about how many children they have between them – eight wives, and more than 33 children, plus seven grandchildren.

That’s such a huge number of people who are growing up without their fathers simply because they exercised their right to freedom of expression. 

How must it feel to have a father or husband convicted for exercising their right to fight peacefully for human rights, rather than committing a murder or robbery?

That’s something that’s really difficult to answer. But I think I would feel a sense of pride knowing that someone I love has stood up for something they believe in, knowing that they may be imprisoned but standing steadfast knowing it was the right thing to do.

The families of those convicted under the UAE 94 trial have been subject to harassment and shaming, as punishment for seeking justice for their loved ones. 

Many are also struggling financially because of the judicial measures put into place since the investigation began.

Women and children punished

The European Parliament has published an interesting study compiled in 2014, looking at the rights of women in the Gulf states. 

In the Gulf, your male guardian has control over your economic participation in society. This doesn’t change when he goes to prison, so your financial situation becomes increasingly strained as the income stops. 

The harassment of families doesn’t end with causing difficulties for the wives of those convicted, children’s rights are also violated – they have the right to be protected against attacks towards their families.

On the International Day of Families, let’s spare a thought for the families of Dr Mohammed al-Roken and others imprisoned under the UAE 94 trial – if you can do one thing for their families this week, it is to call for Mohammed al-Roken’s immediate and unconditional freedom now.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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