Wall Street Journal:Human Rights Lawyer Arrested in U.A.E.
DUBAI—A leading Emirati human rights lawyer has been detained this week amid a fresh crackdown on anti-government critics in this oil-rich Arab Gulf state, sparking condemnation from international rights organizations.
Mohamed Al-Roken, a member of Amnesty International and a former head of the Emirati lawyer’s association, represented a small group of Emirati citizens who called for governmental reform in the largely authoritarian nation near the start of the region’s Arab Spring protests. Some of his clients were subsequently arrested and convicted earlier this year with national security offenses.
His arrest early Tuesday brings to at least 15 the number political activists and human rights lawyers detained since the spring, underscoring the sensitivity that the rulers in Abu Dhabi, the capital, have to criticism at a time of regional political upheaval.
On Sunday, Attorney General Salem Saeed Kubaish said in a statement that he had ordered the arrest and investigation of a cell of people that threatened state security.
Mr. Kubaish accused the group of having links to “foreign organizations and outside agendas” and “opposing the U.A.E. constitution and ruling system.”
It is unclear whether Mr. Roken, 50 years old, is considered part of this group under investigation or has been charged with a crime. Security forces detained Mr. Roken as he drove to a local Dubai police station seeking information about his son and son-in-law, who had also been arrested, according to Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
A member of Mr. Roken’s family said Wednesday they didn’t know the lawyer’s whereabouts, and declined to further comment on the situation.
U.A.E. security sources, as is typical in security cases, declined to discuss details of his detention. They said that Mr. Roken’s arrest was ordered by the national security department from the capital Abu Dhabi. Officials in Abu Dhabi didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
Amnesty called Mr. Roken and fellow lawyer Mohamed Al-Mansoori, who was detained on Monday, prisoners of conscience and urged authorities to release them.
“We believe [they are being] held solely on account of their defense work as lawyers and other peaceful human rights activities,” Ann Harrison, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement.
The U.A.E., which is a staunch U.S. ally, has increased its domestic surveillance in recent years against groups it considers as major threats to the country’s stability and security, including people alleged to have ties with the Iranian regime or the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that leaders here believe have a plan to overthrow the Arab monarchs.
Since late March, the U.A.E.’s state security has arrested at least 25 members of a local Sunni Islamic organization Islah, according to Human Rights Watch. Local human rights activists believe that these people are the targets of the national security investigation.
It is unclear whether Mr. Roken has direct links to Islah. However, he has defended several of the group’s members in state security cases.
Both Mr. Roken and Mr. Mansoori are well known in the region for their civil rights and prodemocracy work. They have been slapped with travel bans in the past and have been told by security officials to desist from speaking to foreign journalists. They were both arrested in 2006, but not charged with any crimes.
Last year, Mr. Roken defended a well-publicized case in which five other activists convicted of defaming top U.A.E. government officials.
On Sunday, he posted a public plea to government officials to release the current group of detained men ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts this weekend. The video, posted on YouTube, has since been removed.