Amnesty asks UK authors to consider the plight of the UAE's prisoners of conscience
Mansoureh Mills, Amnesty International Campaigner and former Amnesty UAE Campaigner has this message for UK authors and illustrators thinking of attending the festival.
"Since the Arab Spring in 2011, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has carried out a systematic crackdown on freedom of expression. Using draconian legislation introduced after 2011 and under the guise of "national security", the UAE authorities have arrested dozens of peaceful critics, including prominent human rights lawyers, academics, writers and bloggers. Activists arrested by the country's State Security apparatus are generally taken to secret detention facilities where they have no access to the outside world for many months, and are often tortured to extract "confessions" later used to convict them in grossly unfair trials and sentence them to long prison terms.
Currently, a prominent academic and pro-democracy activist, Dr Nasser bin Ghaith, is languishing in a secret detention facility since his arrest over 6 months ago. He had signed a petition in 2011 with a group of leading Emirati citizens calling for political reform, including the right to vote in parliamentary elections, and had continued his calls for greater rights and freedoms until his recent arrest. Many of his co-signatories to that petition are currently serving long prison terms on the bogus charge of "attempting to overthrow the government".
Human rights organizations and UN human rights bodies have raised concerns about these issues but the UAE government continues to ignore their recommendations. Not only do the UAE authorities have contempt for free speech by their own citizens, they also hold a grudge against foreign nationals who question their human rights record by banning them from entering the country. There is a zero tolerance policy for any form of speech, be it the spoken or written word, that expresses peaceful criticism of the government. Unfortunately, western governments are far more concerned about their economic relations with the UAE than with its human rights violations, so all these jailed activists are simply forgotten.
I would encourage British writers to learn more about the plight of fellow academics, writers and bloggers jailed in the UAE and to raise awareness of them."