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In the spotlight: Dr Mohammed Al-Roken (UAE), prisoner of conscience

Dr Mohammed al-Roken

Dr Mohammed al-Roken is a prominent academic, a former professor of constitutional law, and a human rights lawyer. State Security officials arrested him on 17 July 2012. On 2 July 2013, the highest court of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) sentenced him to a 10-year prison sentence following an unfair, mass trial of 94 activists. It became widely known as the “UAE 94” trial.

Amnesty International considers Mohammed al-Roken a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association, including his work as a human rights lawyer.

Arrest and Trial

Dr Mohammed al-Roken was arrested in the early hours of 17 July 2012 by State Security officers in several vehicles, who forced him to stop his car as he was driving to a Dubai police station to inquire about his son, Rashid Mohammed al-Roken, and his son-in-law, Abdulla al-Hajri, who had been arrested hours earlier. The next day, 17 State Security officers took him to his house, searched it and removed laptops and other computers, as well as books and other publications, family video recordings, and photograph albums. For the next three months, his family had no knowledge of his whereabouts. He was subjected to enforced disappearance and detained in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location. His lawyer repeatedly requested access to him but his requests were denied. The authorities permitted Dr Mohammed al-Roken to see members of his family for the first time more than three months after his arrest; for this first and for subsequent visits, he was taken to the State Security Prosecution office in Abu Dhabi and State Security officers remained present throughout each family visit. Dr Mohammed al-Roken was not permitted to see the documents relating to his case until the second hearing of the UAE 94 trial on 11 March 2013.

The “UAE 94” trial was grossly unfair and marred by a catalogue of human rights violations. The authorities denied defendants access to a lawyer while they were detained incommunicado awaiting trial. All were held in solitary confinement in secret detention facilities, some for up to a year; many told the judge they had been tortured; “confessions” obtained while defendants were in secret detention and under torture or other ill-treatment were used in court as evidence of their guilt (which breaches the obligations of the UAE under international law); some defendants said their signatures had been forged on “confession” papers; detainees were only taken out of secret detention after their trial had begun and after the judge had ordered them to be transferred to “official” prisons; and most of the families of those arrested were not informed of their whereabouts for months and the prisoners had no access to the outside world or lawyers while in secret detention. All the defendants were denied the right to appeal the court’s verdict, in contravention of the UAE’s obligations under international human rights law.

For around two decades before his imprisonment, human rights groups, including Amnesty International, frequently called upon Mohammed al-Roken, who is from Dubai, for analysis and expertise they used to inform their work on the UAE and other Gulf countries.  Dr al-Roken holds a PhD in Constitutional Law from the UK’s University of Warwick, is a member of the International Bar Association and has written several books on human rights, counter-terrorism laws and freedom of expression. He also represented the UAE government in several legal conferences.

Prior to his arrest, Dr Mohammed al-Roken had been a target of government harassment because of his work as a human rights lawyer, his criticism of the UAE’s human rights record and his advocacy of democratic reforms. He had been arrested and detained several times; placed for some time on a travel ban; barred from giving public lectures, writing in newspapers, and giving interviews to local media; and subjected to official surveillance. In 2004, he applied to the Ministry of Social Affairs to licence and register an independent human rights organization but without success; the Ministry neither accepted nor rejected the application, in contravention of the UAE’s own laws.

In April 2011, five individuals, including the prominent human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, one of the petition’s signatories, were arrested and charged in connection with articles posted on al-Hewar (Dialogue), an on-line discussion forum promoting political debate. They were known as “the UAE 5”. Dr Mohammed al-Roken defended the “UAE 5” at their trial and also represented the seven activists who were stripped of their citizenship by the UAE authorities in 2011.


Independent political activity in the UAE is restricted. Following large demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa, in March 2011, 133 UAE citizens petitioned the government for greater democratization in line with constitutional provisions. They called for the UAE’s Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory body that reviews legislation, to be fully elected rather than part elected and part appointed. The signatories included Mohammed al-Roken and other lawyers; jurists working for the government; a large number of academics and students; education professionals and journalists. Following its circulation, the UAE’s intelligence services started harassing human rights and political activists across the country as part of a widespread crackdown on peaceful dissent.

Dr al-Roken was among 69 people, out of the 94 tried, including other lawyers, judges, academics, students and activists, who were unfairly sentenced to between seven and 15 years’ imprisonment by the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in the UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi in July 2013. The case became known as the “UAE 94” case. The convictions were a turning point in the UAE’s massive crackdown on freedom of expression and association. It signalled the UAE’s intent to silence calls for democratic reform: the court convicted the 69 on charges of establishing an organization aimed at bringing about the overthrow of the government. Gross flaws in the court’s procedures made it impossible for independent experts to discern who may have truly represented a threat to public order. Most appeared to have been imprisoned either in connection with whom they had associated, or for the peaceful expression of their views. It was the UAE’s biggest politically motivated trial for decades.

Current Situation - Legal Pretexts For Arbitrary Continued Imprisonment

Dr Mohammed al-Roken should have been released on 17 July 2022, but still remains incarcerated.

The UAE justifies continued imprisonment past completion of the prison sentence under its counterterrorism law, passed as Federal Act No. 7 of 2014. Under Article 40 of this law, Emirati courts, acting at the request of the Federal Office of Public Prosecution, can order a person “adopting extremist or terrorist thought” to be placed in “counselling centers”. In reality, though, all of the prisoners held past the end of their sentences continue be held in the same prison, al-Razeen, in the same conditions as before. According to the Emirati exiles and UAE-94 prisoners’ family members Amnesty International spoke with, six months before the end of their sentences the prison administration gives the prisoners a paper on the letterhead of the Office of Public Prosecution stating that they are now in “counselling”. They then remain in prison after their release dates come up, and their conditions of detention do not otherwise change.

Under Article 40 of the 2014 law, the “counselling center” is supposed to submit a report every three months to the Office of Public Prosecution, which is then supposed to forward the report to the court to consider whether or not the person can be released. But since the prisoners remain in the same regular prison in which they served their sentences, there are not any counselling center reports to be considered in court, as stated in the law. The law gives the prisoner no right to be present or to have legal representation in proceedings for such “counselling” detention, and provides for no right of appeal of a court’s decision to continue detaining them in this way. According to the family members of prisoners Amnesty International spoke with, the prisoners were not informed of any court date, brought to court or given a reasonable opportunity to prepare a legal defence. One family member described how his father had tried to get a lawyer to help him contest his ongoing detention, but no lawyer would accept his case. “Of course he can’t get any legal representation,” the family member said. “It’s not possible for him to get a lawyer to represent him and oppose these ongoing legal violations he’s being subjected to.”


  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Dr Mohammed al-Roken, as he is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and association
  2. Allow Mohammed al-Roken to be able to exercise his right to freedom of expression and association without harassment and intimidation
  3. Restore Mohammed al-Roken’s license to practice law, so that he is able to practice law without fear of harassment, arrest or detention.

Please write to:

His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan
President of the United Arab Emirates
Ministry of Presidential Affairs
P.O. Box 280
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

His Highness Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al-Nahyan
Minister of Interior
P.O. Box 398
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

His Excellency Mr Mansoor Abulhoul
Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in London
1-2, Grosvenor Crescent


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