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Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2021
International

Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2021

15th to 19th November 2021

Every year on 15 November PEN launches its Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign, highlighting the cases of writers who are imprisoned or facing prosecution and calling for urgent international action to release and protect them. The five cases we present are emblematic of the type of threats and attacks writers and journalists around the world are often subjected to, for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

This year, on the 40th anniversary of the campaign, PEN is featuring the cases of Mohammed Al-Roken (UAE), Rahile Dawut (China - Xinjiang), Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkey), Maykel Osorbo (Cuba), and the collective case of 12 writers imprisoned since 2001 (Eritrea). Please take action with us on the following days:

  • Maykel Osorbo - Monday 15th November
  • Selahattin Demirtaş - Tuesday 16th November
  • Rahile Dawut - Wednesday 17th November
  • Collective case of 12 Eritrean writers – Thursday 18th November
  • Mohammed Al-Roken - Friday 19th November متوفر بالعربية

How does the Day of the Imprisoned Writer work?

Established in 1981 by PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, the Day of the Imprisoned Writer is an opportunity for the PEN’s movement to take action on behalf of selected writers and ensure that they and their families feel supported and not forgotten.

PEN Centres and members worldwide advocate for these cases, with activities ranging from letter-writing and panel discussions, to press conferences and publishing the work of imprisoned writers. PEN’s supporters engage in activities such as raising awareness of their situation and taking action on social media, or in the form of donations. Writers send solidarity letters to their colleagues in prison or under threat.

Read this year's solidarity letters in support of our imprisoned writers:

Read about Mohammed Al-Roken (UAE), Rahile Dawut (China - Xinjiang), Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkey), Maykel Osorbo (Cuba), and the collective case of 12 writers imprisoned since 2001 (Eritrea).

Watch our video on the 40th anniversary of the campaign and see how you can take action today.


Maykel Osorbo (Cuba) Down arrow

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Background


Maykel Castillo Pérez, widely known by the name Maykel Osorbo, is a musician, rapper and author of independent music in Cuba. Osorbo is co-author, alongside other Cuban musicians, of “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”), a song that since its release in February 2021 has served as a rallying cry of hope and an anthem during anti-government demonstrations across the island. The song was nominated for the Best Urban Song and Song of the Year at the Latin Grammy Awards. Osorbo is also one of the founders of the Movimiento San Isidro (MSI), a group of Cuban artists and intellectuals founded in 2018 to protest state censorship of artistic, literary or journalistic works and defend freedom of expression in Cuba.

Osorbo was detained on 18 May 2021 while at home and was subjected to enforced disappearance for 14 days. News outlets later reported that he had been held in custody and transferred to 5 y Medio prison, in Pinar del Río, on 31 May, accused of alleged crimes such as “resistance” and “contempt” in relation to his refusal to be arrested as he was trying to reach the headquarters of the MSI on 4 April 2021. His provisional detention does not comply with international legal requirements or the Cuban criminal code.

Osorbo has suffered no less than 121 acts of police harassment, including multiple arrests. On 24 September 2018, he was arrested after performing at a concert where he and other rappers publicly opposed Decree 349, a law that regulates all artistic expression in Cuba and silences those that speaks against the government. On 20 March 2019, he was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for allegedly assaulting a police officer. The rapper was released on 24 October 2019 after the defence demonstrated that his legal proceedings had been violated, and that there had been contradictory testimonies and insufficient evidence against him. He was again detained for three days in April 2020 for allegedly promoting “illegal images”, whilst streaming a Facebook Live video where he discussed local politics, COVID-19 in Cuba, and criticised the Cuban authorities.

On 11 February 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)  granted precautionary measures in favour of 20 members of the MSI, including Osorbo, after considering that, as human rights defenders, they are in a serious and urgent risk of irreparable harm to their rights.  Osorbo has not had access to a fair trial and, according to the testimony of his relatives, he is receiving threats from the authorities inside the prison.

The case of Osorbo is emblematic of the Cuban government’s policy of repression of freedom of expression and persecution of critical voices. State-sponsored acts of violence and cases of arbitrary arrest have severely increased over the past year, hitting a peak in July with attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Since 11 July 2021, more than one thousand arrests and disappearances, including instances of people forced to go into hiding, have been recorded. At least 55 artists and writers are currently either under house arrest, imprisoned, or under investigation.

Take Action



The Cuban authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Maykel Osorbo, and end all ongoing criminal proceedings against him.

This is what you can do:

Advocacy

  • Write to the Cuban authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Maykel Osorbo, and for an end to all ongoing criminal proceedings against him
  • Spread the word about his case. Encourage others in your network to take action on his behalf

Here is a sample letter you can adapt. Please send letters, social media messages and emails to:

President Sr. Miguel Díaz-Canel:

Minister of Justice Oscar Silvera Martínez:

Minister of Culture Alpidio Alonso Grau:

Minister of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla:

Please send emails to the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in your own country.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

Social media

Raise awareness of Maykel Osorbo’s case on social media, using the sample messages below and the hashtags #MaykelOsorbo #FreeMaykel #ImprisonedWriter.

Facebook

  • Cuban rapper Maykel Osorbo has been held in pre-trial detention since 18 May 2021, in relation to his music and activism against state censorship of artistic works. Today I join PEN International in calling for his immediate and unconditional release. Please take action with us, we are stronger together #MaykelOsorbo #FreeMaykel #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • I support PEN International’s Day of the #ImprisonedWriter campaign, and stand in solidarity with Cuban musician and activist Maykel Osorbo. Will you join us and call for his release? Your support matters #MaykelOsorbo #FreeMaykel [insert link]

Twitter

  • Cuban rapper #MaykelOsorbo has been held in detention since May in relation to his music and activism against state censorship of artistic works. With @pen_int, I say #FreeMaykel. Please take action with us, we are stronger together. RT #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • I support @pen_int’s Day of the #ImprisonedWriter campaign, and stand in solidarity with Cuban musician and activist #MaykelOsorbo. Will you join us and call for his release? Your support matters #FreeMaykel. RT [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media to highlight Maykel Osorbo’s case.

Solidarity

  • Please send solidarity messages to Maykel Osorbo using the following email address: anamelyramosg@gmail.com
  • Please consider electing Maykel Osorbo as an honorary member of your Centre

Outreach


We further encourage you to highlight the case of Maykel Osorbo and the state of freedom of expression in Cuba by:


Please keep us informed of your activities. Messages can be sent to Alicia Quiñones, Americas Programme Coordinator, at PEN International, email: alicia.quinones@pen-international.org.

Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkey) Down arrow

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Background


Selahattin Demirtaş is a writer and former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Demirtaş was arrested on 4 November 2016, alongside several HDP MPs, on charges of being a leading member of a terrorist organisation, spreading terrorist propaganda, praising crimes and criminals and inciting public hatred and hostility. The evidence used against him consists largely of his political speeches and press statements and lacks any compelling evidence of criminal activity. To date, the Turkish authorities have failed to implement a December 2020 ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which ordered Demirtaş’ immediate release. The Grand Chamber was ruling on an appeal of a landmark judgement issued by one of the Court’s regular chambers in November 2018, which found that his arrest and pre-trial detention pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to stifle pluralism and limit freedom of political debate.

In a separate case, on 7 September 2018, Demirtaş was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison for allegedly carrying out terrorist propaganda during a speech he gave in 2013. Shortly before the Grand Chamber hearing, Demirtaş’ release from pre-trial detention was ordered, but he remained in prison due to this separate case. His sentence was upheld by the Court of Cassation on 26 April 2021 and became final that day.

New terrorism charges were brought against him on 20 September 2019, as part of a probe into deadly protests that took place across Turkey from 6 to 9 October 2014, which began over accusations that the Turkish army stood by as Islamic State militants besieged the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane. Demirtaş stands accused of having organised those protests through his political statements and social media posts, and is being held responsible for all offences allegedly committed during the clashes. Charges against him include undermining the unity and territorial integrity of the state, homicide, robbery and damage to property. On 7 January 2021, a Turkish penal court approved the indictment against him and on 25 May 2021 this case, known as the Kobane trial, was merged with his main trial which was the basis of his initial pre-trial detention. He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Demirtaş is being held in Edirne prison, western Turkey, over 1600km away from his loved ones in Diyarbakır.

While in prison, he wrote a collection of short stories entitled Seher (Dawn), which instantly became a best-seller and was translated into scores of languages, notably being awarded a PEN Translates award by English PEN. His latest book Devran was published in 2019. Demirtaş is an honorary member of German PEN and PEN Català.

Take Action



The Turkish authorities must immediately release Selahattin Demirtaş and quash his conviction, in accordance with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and end all ongoing criminal proceedings against him. This is what you can do:

Online campaigning

  • Sign our online petition, calling for Selahattin Demirtaş’ immediate release and for his conviction to be quashed
  • Spread the word about his case and encourage others to sign the online petition and share it with their own networks

Advocacy

Send appeals to:

Minister of Justice Abdulhamit Gül:

Send copies to the Embassy of Turkey in your own country, as well as to your country’s representatives in Turkey. Embassy addresses may be found here.

Social media

Raise awareness of Selahattin Demirtaş’ case on social media, using the sample messages below and the following hashtags #SelahattinDemirtaş; #freedemirtaş #ImprisonedWriter:

Facebook

  • Kurdish politician and writer from Turkey #SelahattinDemirtaş remains behind bars despite the European Court of Human Rights twice ruling for his immediate release. Today I join PEN International in calling to #freedemirtaş and to quash his conviction. Please support this case by signing this petition #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As the world commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter, I stand in solidarity with Kurdish writer and opposition politician from Turkey #SelahattinDemirtaş. Will you join me and PEN International in signing and sharing this petition to #freedemirtaş? Your signature matters [insert link]

Twitter

  • Kurdish writer and politician #SelahattinDemirtaş is behind bars despite @ECHR_CEDH twice ruling for his release. Today I join @pen_int and urge Turkey to #freedemirtaş and quash his conviction. Support his case, sign the petition. RT #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As the world commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter, I stand in solidarity with Kurdish writer and politician #SelahattinDemirtaş. Will you join me and @pen_int in signing and sharing this petition to #freedemirtaş? Your signature matters [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media to highlight Demirtaş’ case.

Solidarity

Please send messages to:

Selahattin Demirtaş, Edirne F Tipi CİK B1-38, EDİRNE (TURKEY)

Please consider electing Selahattin Demirtaş as an honorary member of your Centre.

Outreach


We further encourage you to highlight the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, and the state of freedom of expression in Turkey, by:

  • Publishing articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press
  • Organising readings and promoting Demirtaş’ writings


Please keep us informed of your activities. Messages can be sent to Aurélia Dondo, Europe Programme Coordinator: Aurelia.dondo@pen-international.org.

Rahile Dawut (China: Xinjiang) Down arrow

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Background


Born in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, People’s Republic of China (PRC), Rahile Dawut is a prominent anthropologist and leading expert on the study of Uyghur folklore and cultural traditions. An associate professor at Xinjiang University and founder of the university’s Minorities Folklore Research Center, Dawut is recognised internationally for her unique contribution to the study and cataloguing of Uyghur cultural heritage. Her work was also recognised and supported by the PRC government. In 2016, just a year before she was initially detained, Dawut received a research grant from the Ministry of Culture, reportedly the largest ever given to a Uyghur research project.

Dawut disappeared in late 2017, shortly after making plans to travel from Xinjiang to Beijing to participate in an academic conference. It is presumed that the PRC government is responsible for her disappearance, holding her in secret without confirmation of her detention for over three years, despite international outcry and media attention, and a campaign led by Dawut’s daughter calling for her release.

In July 2021, investigative reporting by Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service confirmed her imprisonment according to sources within Xinjiang University.

Dawut’s imprisonment is emblematic of the Chinese government’s efforts to dislocate the Uyghur population from their cultural identity and heritage through overwhelming levels of censorship and repression. Since the establishment of Xinjiang’s expansive network of re-education camps in 2017, over a million Uyghurs and other minorities have been detained, includinghundreds of writers, poets, translators, scholars and public intellectuals, who together represent the living embodiment of Uyghur culture.

Take Action



PEN International considers Rahile Dawut’s imprisonment to be a clear breach of her right to freedom of expression and calls for her immediate and unconditional release. This is what you can do:

Advocacy

  • Write a letter or e-mail to the PRC authorities, calling for her immediate and unconditional release. Here is a sample letter you can adapt
  • Spread the word and encourage others to support this case

Social media

Raise awareness about Rahile Dawut’s case on social media, using the sample messages below and the hashtags #FreeRahileDawut #FreeRahile #ImprisonedWriter

Facebook

  • The imprisonment of anthropologist and leading expert on the study of Uyghur folklore, Rahile Dawut, is a clear breach of her right to freedom of expression. Today I join PEN International in calling for her immediate and unconditional release. Please take action today to #FreeRahileDawut #FreeRahile #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • I believe in people’s right to freedom of expression. This is why I join PEN International’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer campaign and take action to on behalf of Rahile Dawut. You can join us too. Write a letter to the PRC authorities, call for her immediate and unconditional release #FreeRahileDawut #FreeRahile #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]

Twitter

  • The imprisonment of Rahile Dawut, leading expert on the study of Uyghur folklore, is a breach of her right to free expression. Today I join @pen_int in calling for her release. Please take action today to #FreeRahileDawut #FreeRahile #ImprisonedWriter RT [insert link]
  • I believe in people’s right to free expression. This is why I join @PEN_Int ’s Day of the #ImprisonedWriter campaign and take action to on behalf of Rahile Dawut. Write a letter to the PRC authorities, call for her release. #FreeRahileDawut #FreeRahile RT [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media to highlight Dawut’s case.

Solidarity

Please consider electing Rahile Dawut as an honorary member of your Centre.

Outreach


We also encourage you to highlight the case of Rahile Dawut by:

  • Publishing articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press
  • Asking academic institutions to take action on her behalf
  • Organising public events, press conferences and demonstrations


Please keep us informed of your activities. Messages can be sent to Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator: ross.holder@pen-international.org.

Collective case of 12 Eritrean writers Down arrow

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Names

    Occupation

Dawit Isaak 

    Writer, journalist, and playwright 

Amanuel Asrat

    Journalist, poet, art critic, and song writer 

Said Idris ‘Abu Are’

    Writer, journalist, and translator

Temesegen Ghebreyesuy

    Journalist, comedian, actor

Methanie Haile 

   Journalist and lawyer 

Fessehaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes

   Writer, journalist, and playwright

Yousif Mohammed Ali

   Journalist 

Seyoum Tsehaye

   Journalist 

Dawit Habtemichael 

   Journalist 

Said Abdelkadir 

   Journalist 

Sahle ‘Wedi-ltay’ Tsefezab

   Journalist

Matheos Habteab

   Journalist

Background


Twenty years ago, in September 2001, the Eritrean authorities launched a massive crackdown on regime critics. As part of the crackdown, on 18 and 19 September, the security forces arrested and detained 11 out of 15 dissenting members (commonly known as the G-15) of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PDFJ), on charges of committing crimes against national security and sovereignty. The G-15 had earlier published an open letter in which they denounced the President’s abuse of power and presented his actions as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’.

On 18 September, the authorities also shut down all independent newspapers in the country, including the weeklies Meqaleh, Setit, Tsigenay, Zemen, Wintana and Admas which were closed down for publishing the G-15’s open letter and conducting media interviews on the issues raised in the letter. On 21 September twelve journalists, all associated with the banned independent media outlets, were rounded up by security forces and detained. Some of these journalists are also writers, poets, translators, playwrights, songwriters and art critics. The Eritrean authorities have held them and the G-15 members in incommunicado detention without access to family members, lawyers or independent doctors, and without trial, for two decades.

Over the years, there have been unverified reports that several of the detainees died in custody due to ill-treatment and neglect. The Eritrean authorities have ignored calls by human rights organizations and regional and international human rights mechanisms for justice for the detainees, with official denials of the clampdown in 2002. The authorities also claimed that the writers and journalists had merely been sent to carry out their national service, and that all those arrested in 2001 are alive without providing proofs to substantiate these claims.

Eritrea is a militarized authoritarian, single party state that has been consistently ranked as one of the worst countries for freedom of expression in the world, with independent media banned since 2001.  Virtually all critical voices (journalists, writers, poets, playwrights, musicians, artists, dissenting politicians) are arbitrarily detained for indefinite periods, disappeared, forced to flee into exile or subjected to extrajudicial killings. Its democratic constitution, which guarantees the freedoms of speech and the press, was ratified in 1997 but not instituted. Eritrea has not held national elections since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and the Transition National Assembly, which was established to act as the legislative body until national elections are held, has not met since 2002.

Take Action



PEN International considers the continued arbitrary and incommunicado detention of Eritrean journalists, writers, poets and government critics a violation of their human rights, including their right to freedom of expression, personal liberty, and life. The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Dawit Isaak; Amanuel Asrat; Said Idris ‘Abu Are’; Temesken Ghebreyesus; Methanie Haile; Fessehaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes; Yousif Mohammed Ali; Seyoum Tsehaye; Dawit Habtemichael; Said Abdelkadir; Sahle ‘Wedi-ltay’ Tsefezab; and Matheos Habteab.

This is what you can do:

Advocacy

Write a letter or e-mail to the Eritrean authorities

  • Write a letter or e-mail to the Eritrean authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained without trial and held incommunicado since 2001, for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Here is a sample letter you can adapt
  • Spread the word about the case of the detainees. Encourage others in your network to write letters and e-mails calling for their immediate and unconditional release

Please send letters and emails to:

President of Eritrea H.E. Isaias Afewerki:

  • Postal address: Office of the President, P. O. Box 257 Asmara, Eritrea
  • Fax : + 2911 125123
  • E-mail : (through the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the United Nation) eritrea@un.int

and through:

The Minister of Information Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel:

  • Postal address: P.O. Box 242 Asmara, Eritrea
  • Tel: +291 124 847
  • Twitter: @hawelti

Social Media

Raise awareness about the Eritrean journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained without trial and held incommunicado for 20 years using the sample messages below and the hashtags #FreeEritreanWriters #ImprisonedWriter:

Facebook

  • For twenty years, the Eritrean authorities have detained 12 journalists, writers, and poets incommunicado and without trial for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Their safety and health situation remains unknown. Today, I join PEN International in calling for their immediate and unconditional release. Please help #FreeEritreanWriters by sharing this message #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As PEN International commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter this week, I take action to #FreeEritreanWriters. Please write a letter or send an e-mail to the Eritrean authorities urging them to immediately and unconditionally free the writers. Support freedom of expression [insert link]

Twitter

  • Today I join @pen_int in calling on the Eritrean authorities to #FreeEritreanWriters imprisoned since September 2021 for their peaceful expression of dissenting views. Please support their case by sharing this message RT #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As @pen_int commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter this week, I take action to #FreeEritreanWriters. Please write an appeal to the Eritrean authorities urging them to immediately and unconditionally free the writers. Support freedom of expression [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media together with your messages.

Outreach


We also encourage you to:

  • Write and publish articles and opinion pieces in your local and national press to highlight the case of arbitrarily detained Eritrean journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained incommunicado and without trial since 2001
  • Organize public events, e.g., press conferences, public forums, exhibitions, demonstrations to highlight their case


Please read and share The Scourge of War, a poem by imprisoned writer Amanuel Asrat

Something growled

Something boomed

Invading the calm

It echoed.

… Stuck

Where two brothers pass each other by

Where two brothers meet

Where two brothers join

In the piazza of life and death

In the gulf between calamity and culture

In the valley of anxiety and peace

Something boomed.

While the chia and seraw acacias spat at each other

Sorghum and millet cut each other down

With no one to collect them they feed on one another,

Until a single seed remains …

Brimming with tears

Being chopped—hacked

Sowed unto itself.

… planted

In earth yet to gush In that indiscernible thing

Stream of blood and water,

The seed …

Assailed by:

The freezing sun

Tempestuous nimbus cloud

Grayish lightning

Scalding rain …

Slipping through littered iron

Climbing onto the spirit of death

Shouldering its sterile life

Here, it has grasped at spring.

The seed …

Arrived on its own

From the blood and water yet to gush

Whose and to whom unascertained

Its tributaries unidentifiable

When it parted that spring

But in that spring …

When the seed looked to the right

He was a man, it was a beard

When it looked to the left

He was the earth, it was a seed

Bewildered… it fed on amazement

Tempted … but joining forces is not like it

Who should it stick with, where should it lurk

Who should it win over or be thrown at

But that spring’s dirtiness is its ugliness

It plowed with the beak of bullet

Spilled infinite lives Swept breath

Reaped death with death

Threshing it on the shoulders of our offspring

Finally bruised the fruit in distrust.

For the fruit …

When day and night became one

Anxiety and calm mingled

A world within a world

War within peace

Trust in betrayal’s backdoor

It sunk in bewilderment.

Is it not bewildering?

The scourge of this spring of war

After a mother’s tear for her children

The clan’s tear for its time

The earth’s tear for the earth

Flowed and flowed like a stream

Soon the earth became wet and muddy

The property, mired

Entrapping all … robbing them Then the shovel and the pick were produced

And the shroud and the stretcher sprang up

But …

How fast everything is used up and everyone scrambles for it

All of us crave and own it

The ugliness of this thing, war

When its spring arrives unwished-for

When its ravaging echoes knock at your door

It is then that war’s curse brews doom

But … You serve it willy-nilly

Unwillingly you keep it company

Still, you pray so hard for it to be silenced!

Amanuel Asrat (1999). Translated from Tigrinya by Tedros Abraham in collaboration with David Shook (2015)

Please keep us informed of your actions. Messages can be sent to Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Regional Programme Coordinator: nduko.omatigere@pen-international.org.

Mohammed Al-Roken (UAE) Down arrow

Mohammed-Al-Roken-english-final-021121.jpg#asset:10431:editor

Background


Dr Al-Roken has been persecuted by the UAE authorities for a long time due to his human rights work. He was arrested in August 2006, detained for a few days, and interrogated about his role in founding the Emirati Human Rights Association. During this time, the authorities confiscated his passport, subjected him to surveillance and banned him from leaving the country, as well as from writing for and giving interviews to media.

On 17 July 2012, UAE State Security arrested Dr Al-Roken searched his house, confiscated his personal belongings, and took him to an unidentified location where he was detained in solitary confinement for three months, without access to his lawyer or his family. On 4 March 2013, he was tried before the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court in the notorious “UAE 94” case, alongside 93 other activists, accused of several bogus and vague charges, including allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. In June 2013, human rights organizations revealed that the state security officers had subjected Dr Al-Roken and the other “UAE 94” defendants to systematic mistreatment, including torture, while in pre-trial detention.

On 2 July 2013, the State Security Chamber of the Federal Supreme Court convicted Dr Al-Roken and sentenced him to ten years in prison, followed by three years of probation, and handed down prison terms between seven and 15 years to 68 other defendants, including eight in absentia. Leading human rights organisations regarded the trial as unfair and their imprisonment a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

In April 2014, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) issued an opinion recognising the arbitrary nature of the detention of Dr Al-Roken and 60 other defendants in the “UAE 94” mass trial. In its opinion, the WGAD raised concerns over the defendants' claims that they were beaten with a plastic tube all over their bodies while tied to a chair, threatened with electrocution, insulted and humiliated in attempts to force them to confess to acts they did not commit. The WGAD also underlined the defendants’ allegations of being subjected to prolonged solitary confinement; exposed to unremitting fluorescent lighting and inadequate heating; and hooded when being taken from their cells. It further raised concerns about the flagrant breaches of fair trial guarantees, including through the denial of their right to appeal any judicial decision. The WGAD concluded that the conviction of the defendants was based on charges of acts that would fall under the rights to freedom of expression and of assembly, and urged the UAE government to release them and provide them with adequate reparation.

Dr Al-Roken has been serving his prison sentence in the notorious Al-Razeen maximum-security prison, often referred to as the Guantanamo of the UAE. In July 2019 the WGAD and three UN experts, including the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, expressed concerns about his detention conditions. Experts highlighted that Dr Al-Roken regularly faces arbitrary disciplinary measures, including being placed in solitary confinement without access to daylight, being subjected to invasive body searches and the seizing of personal items, as well as being deprived of family visits and medical care.

Take Action



Dr Mohammed Al-Roken’s case exemplifies the authoritarian nature of the Emirati regime and highlights the dire situation of freedom of expression in the UAE. PEN International considers Dr Al-Roken’s imprisonment arbitrary and a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression. The UAE authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him, and drop all charges against him. They should also ensure Al-Roken has regular access to his family and lawyers, and to medical care, and protection from torture and other forms of ill-treatment, pending his release.

This is what you can do:

Advocacy

  • Write to the UAE authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, for all charges against him to be dropped, and for his fair treatment, pending his release.
  • Spread the word about his case. Encourage others in your network to take action.

Here is a sample letter you can adapt. Please send this letter to:

President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan:

  • Salutation: Your Highness
  • Postal Address: Ministry of Presidential Affairs Corniche Road POB 280 Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates
  • Fax: +971 2 622 2228
  • Email: ihtimam@mopa.ae

Send a communication form to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, urging him to take all the necessary steps to ensure Dr Mohammed Al-Roken’s release and protection from all forms of torture and ill-treatment.

Send social media messages of solidarity and call for Dr Mohammed Al-Roken’s release through these Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Social media

Raise awareness of Dr Mohammed Al-Roken’s case on social media, using the sample messages below and the following hashtags #MohammedAlRoken #FreeAlRoken #ImprisonedWriter

Facebook

  • The imprisonment of Emirati academic, human rights lawyer and author Dr Mohammed Al-Roken is arbitrary and a clear violation of his right to freedom of expression. Today, together with PEN International, I ask the UAE authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, and to drop all charges against him. Please join us and ask others to take action on behalf of #ImprisonedWriter #MohammedAlRoken #FreeAlRoken [insert link]
  • As PEN International commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter campaign this week, I condemn the imprisonment of Emirati academic, human rights lawyer and author Dr Mohammed Al-Roken. Will you join us in taking action to #FreeAlRoken? You can make a difference #ImprisonedWriter #MohammedAlRoken [insert link]

Twitter

  • The imprisonment of Emirati academic, lawyer and author #MohammedAlRoken is arbitrary and a violation of his freedom of expression. Today, with @pen_int, I ask the UAE authorities to #FreeAlRoken and drop all charges against him #ImprisonedWriter. Join us and RT [insert link]
  • As @pen_int commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter campaign this week, I condemn the imprisonment of Emirati academic, lawyer and author #MohammedAlRoken. Will you join us in taking action to #FreeAlRoken? You can make a difference. RT [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media to highlight Dr Mohammed Al-Roken ’s case.

Solidarity

Please consider electing Dr Mohammed Al-Roken as an honorary member of your Centre.

Outreach


We further encourage you to highlight the case of Dr Mohammed Al-Roken, by:

  • Publishing articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press
  • Organising public events, press conferences and demonstrations


Please keep us informed of your activities. Messages can be sent to Mina Thabet, MENA Regional Coordinator, at Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org.

Note to editors Down arrow

PEN International activities to commemorate the Day of the Imprisoned Writers 2021 are part of a series of events planned throughout 2021 to mark PEN International’s Centenary. Founded in 1921 by English writer Catherine Amy Dawson Scott, PEN International has spent 100 years celebrating literature and protecting freedom of expression.

For further information, please contact Sabrina Tucci, Communications and Campaigns Manager: Sabrina.Tucci@pen-international.org | Twitter: @pen_int | Facebook: @peninternational | www.pen-international.org