Love Literature, Hate Human Rights Violations: Campaigners protest Dubai lit fest
Campaigners gathered outside the Emirates Airline headquarters in London today in a bid to persuade authors attending the Dubai Literature Festival to speak out about human rights violations in the UAE.
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 that is wholly owned by the UAE government.
Several attendees, including historian Anthony Beevor and BBC Journalist Frank Gardner, pulled out of the event late last year over the UAE’s arrest of British PhD student Matthew Hedges on dubious espionage charges.
In January they were joined by former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, who cancelled her scheduled appearance in protest at the UAE’s continued detention of Ahmed Mansoor, an Emirati rights activist currently serving a 10-year jail sentence for Twitter comments critical of the regime.
Holding posters aloft, activists urged those still attending the festival to use their platform to speak out about human rights violations in the UAE:
“In essence, a literature festival is a celebration of freedom of speech and expression. But from the detention of Matthew Hedges to the continued imprisonment of Ahmed Mansoor, it is clear that free speech is not something that the festival’s sponsors permit, let alone celebrate.
It is imperative that UK authors use their platform at the festival to speak out on behalf of freedom of expression and human rights in the UAE. Failure to do so risks whitewashing a myriad of systematic abuses that take place on an almost daily basis in the Emirates,” an ICFUAE spokesperson said today.
Today’s action marks the culmination of a long-running campaign leading up to the event, where ICFUAE had been calling for a UK-wide boycott; last month, we launched an open letter to attendees, which read:
“We urge you to boycott this year’s festival and speak out for human rights. By remaining silent you help to normalise the regime’s systematic abuses: the ten-year prison sentence handed down to Ahmed Mansoor for Tweets critical of the government; or, indeed, the detention of Matthew Hedges, a young British academic who was arrested after conducting research in the country for his PhD thesis.”