Literature festival in UAE criticised by human rights organisations

Literature festival in UAE criticised by human rights organisations
Literature festival in UAE criticised by human rights organisations

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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - A famed literature festival in the UAE on Tuesday amid concerns that the plight of "prisoners of conscience" being held in the Gulf state are being overlooked.

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

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" in Abu Dhabi.

In an open letter to UAE authorities, over 50 non-profit organisations and individuals drew attention to people behind bars in the UAE for their dissident views.

Signatories include individuals such as 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 prisoners of conscience in the UAE, including human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor, who was sentenced to ten years in prison in 2018 for spreading "misinformation" in 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 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.

The Abu Dhabi festival ends on February 28.

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