ICFUAE Open Letter to the John Lewis Partnership
Dear Sir Charlie Mayfield, Board of Directors, and all John Lewis Partners,
We are the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE, a London-based NGO campaigning against human rights abuses in the UAE, and we are writing to urge you to reconsider your relationship with a state that consistently and systematically violates basic human rights.
As of 2019, John Lewis has nine Waitrose branches operating in the UAE and a John Lewis store in Dubai Festival City Mall. As a company who have built a reputation on their commitment to ‘Do Right’ and ‘Be Yourself. Always.’ we find your operation in the UAE to be in direct conflict with these principles. The UAE currently has one of the highest rates of political prisoners per capita anywhere in the world, and forced disappearances and torture are routine. According to Human Rights Watch, it has become “worryingly unsafe for academics, journalists, activists, and critics alike.” John Lewis may claim that their partners and customers are at their best when they are “free to be themselves” but the people of the UAE cannot afford this luxury.
A cogent example of our time is the case of Mohammed Al-Roken, a renowned human rights lawyer famed for defending democratic freedom in the case of the ‘UAE 5’, a group imprisoned for seven months for criticising the government on an online forum. He is also the recipient of the 2017 Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize and a current prisoner of conscience. Al-Roken has stridently called for democratic reform and respect for human rights in the UAE which, in this authoritarian state, are duplicitously akin to “crimes against state security.” As a result, he was falsely arrested on July 17th 2012 for allegedly “opposing the UAE constitution and ruling system.”
Following his arrest he was forcibly disappeared, denied access to a lawyer, and his location remained unknown until July 2nd 2013 where he was convicted alongside sixty-eight individuals and sentenced to ten years detention for allegedly “plotting to overthrow the government” in the widely criticized show-trial of the ‘UAE 94.’ He has since been held at Abu Dhabi’s notorious Al-Razeem prison where he has been subject to mistreatment including, but not limited to, “music torture” for hours on end, eventually causing him to collapse.
A campaign for his release as part of Amnesty International’s Write for Human Rights received support from over 100,00 people, but he is yet to see justice. As part of their 2,000 Voices campaign, Al-Roken was sent letters from children who voiced their support and called for his release. One letter said that Al-Roken taught him “the importance of trying to change things that look unjust.” You too can teach this lesson.
We urge you to abide by your commitment to “act with integrity” by ceasing all trade in the UAE until all political prisoners are released and demonstrating freedom of expression, assembly, and association are no longer an arrestable offence.
Stop putting profit over principle.
The International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE