Launch of #FreeWord Campaign
One week from the start of this year’s Emirates Festival of Literature, the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) launched today a campaign calling for authors to take a stand against human rights violations in the UAE. Activists held aloft a banner outside the Emirates Airlines UK headquarters, the main sponsor of the festival, while presenting an open letter calling for freedom of expression in the UAE.
The annual festival of literature, which will take place between March 3-11, is sponsored by the Emirates Airline, which is wholly owned by the UAE government. Although the festival has been described as “the Middle East's largest celebration of the written and spoken word”, campaigners claim that the statement heavily clashes with the political realities inside the UAE concerning human rights violations. The organisers of the campaign state, “The purpose of the campaign is to draw attention to the hypocrisy of the UAE authorities, sponsoring an event that celebrates freedom of expression whilst routinely denying it to its citizens within its own borders”.
In an open letter directed at UK authors, the ICFUAE writes: “while UK citizens are accustomed to writing and speaking freely and criticising their government as they see fit, UAE citizens are routinely persecuted for exercising these same rights”.
Campaigners point to the fact that since 2011 the UAE authorities have arbitrarily detained hundreds of peaceful activists and government critics calling for human rights and democratic reforms. Vague cybercrime laws have allowed authorities to monitor online activities and imprison citizens and non-citizens alike for any comments posted on social media that criticize the government or its allies. Rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented regular cases of enforced disappearances, torture, and other ill treatment perpetrated by the UAE security forces.
As a result, campaigners are encouraging UK authors and illustrators invited to next month’s festival to take a stand and speak out clearly in favour of human rights, freedom of speech and democracy in the UAE. The organisation is calling upon authors and illustrators to use social media platforms and other tools available to raise awareness of issues of freedom of expression and other human rights abuses in the United Arab Emirates.