Literature festival in UAE criticised by human rights groups

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi draws condemnation over UAE's silencing of dissenting views
2 min read
25 February, 2020
Hay Festival in the UAE is being held despite outcry over the country's poor human rights record.
Festival attendees include Booker Prize winners and Nobel laureates [AFP]
A famed literature festival kicked off in the UAE on Tuesday amid concerns that the plight of "prisoners of conscience" and others human rights abuses in the Gulf state are being overlooked in Abu Dhabi's latest PR exercise.

Hay Festival, an annual Welsh event celebrating literature and art, gathered prominent writers and musicians in Abu Dhabi this week.

Attendees include Booker Prize winners Jokha Alharthi and Bernardine Evaristo, Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka, Shirin Ebadi and Ahmed Galai, in addition to musical acts such as Marcel Khalife and Mashrou' Leila.

According to The Guardian, festival director Peter Florence stated "no subjects are off the table" at the literary meeting in Abu Dhabi.

In an open letter to Abu Dhabi, over 50 non-profit organisations and individuals drew attention to the jailing of dissidents.

Signatories include TV presenter Stephen Fry, academic Noam Chomsky and organisations such as Amnesty International, PEN International and Front Line Defenders.

"The Hay Festival Abu Dhabi is supported by the UAE's Ministry of Tolerance, in a country that does not tolerate dissenting voices," the letter reads.

The letter mentions a number of UAE prisoners of conscience, including human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor who was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2018 for spreading "misinformation" via Facebook and Twitter posts.

According to the letter, Mansoor is being held without a bed and is seldom allowed to leave his "small" cell. He was also allegedly tortured by guards and has waged hunger strikes in protest at his treatment.

"Regrettably, the UAE government devotes more effort to concealing its human rights abuses than to addressing them and invests heavily in the funding and sponsorship of institutions, events and initiatives that are aimed at projecting a favourable image to the outside world," the letter read.

The signatories urged the UAE government to "consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues", or "at least" allow for more humane conditions to their detention.

Hay Festival Abu Dhabi ends on 28 February.

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