Campaigners call on UK authors attending Dubai lit fest to speak out about human rights
As the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature begins today in Dubai, campaigners have called on British authors attending the 10-day event to speak out about human rights violations in the Emirates.
The Festival, which bills itself as “the Middle East's largest celebration of the written and spoken word”, is sponsored by Emirates Airlines, a company which is wholly owned by the UAE government.
This year, a host of UK authors will be appearing at the festival with notable figures such as Anthony Horowitz, Carol Ann Duffy, Jacqueline Wilson and Robert McCrum billed to give presentations.
This year marks the Dubai lit fest's tenth anniversary. Since its inception in 2008, however, the human rights situation in the UAE has deteriorated significantly. During this period, scores of people have been arbitrarily detained, forcefully disappeared, and in many cases tortured, simply for exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Nicholas McGeehan, formerly of Human Rights Watch, said of the event:
“When the festival started, UAE had a small, but burgeoning civil society. Since then, the space for dissent and criticism has been violently crushed, civil society has been decimated. The festival, on the other hand, has gone from strength to strength..“
Subsequently, ICFUAE has sent an open an open letter to around 50 British authors attending the festival urging them to use their platform to speak out about human rights violations in the UAE.
“As an author, we believe that you treasure your right to speak freely, without fear of governmental reprisal. By way of your writing, you give a voice to those who cannot be heard and exercise your right of freedom of expression towards a noble goal. Emirati citizens do not have this chance.”, the letter reads.
Additionally; authors, campaigners, and organizations took to social media today in a bid to highlight the evident contradiction of celebrating freedom of expression in a country whose citizens are systematically denied this very same right.
Children's author and illustrator, Jonathan Emmet tweeted:
“Imprisoned & #NotInvitedToTheFestival. DR. MOHAMMED AL-ROKEN, a lawyer arrested in Dubai in 2012 for campaigning for human rights in the UAE and criticising UAE government, including #DubaiLitFest patron & sponsor Sheik Mohammed. #FreeAlRoken “
Many campaigners additionally raised the case of Ahmed Mansoor, the award-winning human rights defender who has been arbitrarily detained for nearly a year in the UAE.
Ultimately, campaigners argued that rather than just an innocent celebration of world literature, more importantly for the Emirati regime the Dubai lit fest functions as a useful PR tool, as it projects a positive image of the UAE on the global stage while detracting attention away from its increasingly poor human rights record.
Nicholas McGeehan suggested that by attending the festival, UK authors risk complicity in this process, tweeting:
“So as an attendee, are you promoting writing, art, and creativity, or are you doing very useful and cheap PR for a thuggish ruling elite that destroys the lives of amazing people like Ahmed, who have the balls to speak out? I'd argue that's up to you”