ICFUAE Open Letter to CEO of Costa Coffee regarding the case of Mohammed al-Roken
Re: Human rights violations in the United Arab Emirates
03 February 2020
Dear Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee,
We are the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, a London based NGO campaigning for freedom of expression and association in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). We are writing to you, the CEO of Costa Coffee, to open a dialogue about the human rights abuse committed by the Emirati government, and your continued presence and expansion within the country in spite of this.
Costa Coffee won the “2017 Most Ethical Brand award” at the Allegra coffee symposium, and proudly boasts its partnerships with both the Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade. With the UAE as your largest market within the MENA region, we appreciate the business opportunity that the country might offer. However, as a brand that is seeking to market itself as an ethical and sustainable company, there is a clear irony in operating in a country with such a dire human rights record.
The Emirati government has sustained a systematic crackdown on journalists, lawyers, judges, human rights activists and critics since the Arab Spring in 2011. The crackdown on the right to freedom of expression has been so severe that, today, freedom of speech and civic space are virtually nonexistent in the country.
We would like to introduce you to Mohammed Al-Roken, an Emirati lawyer, academic and human rights defender detained in the UAE. Al-Roken dedicated his life to providing legal assistance to victims of human rights abuse and became known for defending cases deemed “too dangerous” for others. His most notable case was that of the “UAE 5”, a group of prominent Emirati activists including Ahmed Mansoor and Nasser Bin Ghaith, who were arrested for their online criticism of the Emirati regime. For his tireless contribution to his field, Al-Roken was awarded the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize in 2017 – an award held in high esteem by the human rights community.
Consequently, in July 2012, he was arrested by UAE security forces and subjected to an enforced disappearance for three months, before reappearing at a mass trial alongside 93 other defendants, which later became known as the “UAE 94” trial. The group had been arrested on charges of “plotting to overthrow the government” when in reality, all they did was sign an online petition for democratic reform, calling for universal and free elections and an independent judiciary. During the trial, many defendants showed “obvious signs of torture, malnutrition and maltreatment” and the mass proceedings were internationally condemned as being “grossly unfair” by the United Nations and the International Commission of Jurists. Despite this, Al-Roken was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Currently, Al-Roken is held in solitary confinement in the notoriously repressive Al-Razeen prison – known as the “Guantanamo of the UAE”. Mohammed continues to face ill-treatment and torture, including random and degrading body searches, denial of family visits and “music torture”, in which propaganda music is played at deafening volumes for hours on end.
In light of the above, we believe that Costa Coffee, a champion for ethical business, should reconsider its current relationship with the UAE. We urge you to make your business relations conditional upon the respect for human rights by ceasing all trade in the UAE until Mohammed al-Roken is released and the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association are no longer arrestable offences.
International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE