Monday, 6 February 2017

If you’re appearing at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, please consider raising awareness of the human rights abuses carried out by the festival’s sponsors


This time last year Zoe Toft and I were busy running the Think Twice Campaign, which highlighted ethical concerns about the sponsorship of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. The festival's main sponsors are Emirates Airline and the Dubai Government (who are the airline’s owners). The festival’s patron, Sheik Mohammed, is both the ruler of Dubai and the Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One of the aims of the campaign was to highlight the many human rights violations taking place under the Sheik’s regime.

Zoe and I knew that the campaign would be contentious. Many authors and illustrators we admired and respected had appeared at the festival in the past or were due to appear in 2016. And the festival has a reputation for being exceptionally well-organised by a friendly and hospitable team. We were uncomfortable with putting ourselves at odds with these respectable groups, but our concern was that their respectability was being used to whitewash the reputations of extremely unethical sponsors. Actor Mark Rylance expressed a similar concern last year when he announced that he would not work for the Royal Shakespeare Company while they were sponsored by BP. We were not attacking the people appearing at or running the festival any more than Rylance was attacking the people appearing at or running the RSC. Our target was the festival’s sponsors.

We recognised that not everyone that shared our concerns would want to boycott the festival and at the top of Think Twice's FAQ page we suggested that authors and illustrators who still wished to appear at the festival might use their appearance to raise awareness of some of the issues highlighted by the campaign. Writer and philosopher AC Grayling and children’s author Chris Haughton did exactly that by meeting with UAE human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor during their stay in Dubai. Grayling addressed the UAE’s poor record on free expression during his public talks and Haughton blogged about his meeting with Mansoor on his return.

This year the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) are encouraging UK authors and illustrators appearing at next month’s festival to follow A C Grayling and Chris Haughton’s example and "speak out clearly in favour of human rights, free speech and democracy in the UAE".

Although Zoe and I have now wound up the Think Twice Campaign, we would also like to encourage the festival's authors and illustrators to consider speaking out on behalf of the following three groups whose human rights are being systematically abused by the festival’s sponsors.

 

1: The migrant workers enduring conditions “very close to slavery”


“It's pretty depressing seeing how many western companies and tourists, all kinds of people, flock there and still describe it and see it as this paradise in the Middle East, ignoring what's right in front of their nose.”
Investigative Journalist
Ben Anderson
When Donald Trump sang the praises of Dubai Airport in last year’s presidential debates, he neglected to mention the inhumane labour practices that enabled the Dubai Government to build such grandiose structures so quickly and for so little money. The 2016 HBO VICE documentary “Trump in Dubai” exposes the plight of the migrant ‘underclass’ that make up more than 80% of the emirate’s workforce and build many of Dubai’s landmark developments including the new Trump International Golf Club. Investigative journalist Ben Anderson describes the conditions endured by millions of Dubai’s migrant workers as “very close to slavery” and has this to say about western attitudes towards the city in the video below: “It's pretty depressing seeing how many western companies and tourists, all kinds of people, flock there and still describe it and see it as this paradise in the Middle East, ignoring what is right in front of their nose.”


Anderson's documentary focuses on the construction industry, but he mentions that similar labour abuses apply to migrants working as cleaners, cooks and housemaids in Dubai. In the Human Rights Watch video below Women’s Rights Researcher Rothna Begum explains how the UAE government “facilitates and fosters the abuse and exploitation of domestic workers” who are explicitly excluded from the country's labour laws.



As you enjoy the hospitality of Dubai’s impressive airports, hotels, conference centres and schools, please be aware that many of these buildings are built, maintained and serviced by people who are treated as an “underclass” by the festival’s sponsors and do what you can to draw attention to their plight.



2: The LGBT people criminalised in, or barred from entering, Dubai


When it was announced that Jennifer Anniston was to become the new face of Emirates Airline in 2015, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) urged the actor to think twice about associating herself with the airline in view of their “serious concerns about the way the Gulf carriers treat and manage their flight crews, particularly women and gay men.”

Emirates Airline’s reputation for discriminating against gay employees (and, on some occasions, gay passengers) is unsurprising given the anti-gay stance of the government that owns it. Homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Dubai and punishable by harsh, discriminatory laws which promote homophobia.

"I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture."
Crime Writer Val McDermid
Voicing her support for the Think Twice campaign, crime writer Val McDermid said that: "I will not lend my name to festivals associated with regimes that persecute their LGBT citizens. I won't strut my stuff in a country where I would not be allowed to live openly and honestly without fear of arrest, incarceration or torture." Others may see things differently and I’m told that gay authors have accepted invitations to appear at the festival. However it seems unlikely that any transgender authors will have been invited, given that transgender people are regularly barred from entering or deported from Dubai and even cross-dressing is a criminal offence within the emirate.

If you care about LGBT rights, please do what you can to encourage the festival’s sponsors to be more accepting and inclusive towards LGBT people.



3: The UAE citizens imprisoned and tortured by the festival’s sponsors for peacefully campaigning for more democracy and human rights in the UAE


UAE human rights and democracy campaigners are routinely persecuted for speaking out against Sheik Mohammed’s government. More than 100 peaceful activists and critics of the UAE government have been imprisoned on broad and vague national security-related charges since the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was launched in 2009. Most of them remain in prison today, including Dubai citizen Dr Mohammed al-Roken whose case is highlighted in the Amnesty International video below.



“Despite their good intentions,
the festival’s supporters risk legitimizing the practice of censorship in the country.”
UAE Censorship Victim
Shez Cassim
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature presents itself as promoting the free exchange of ideas. Many people have commented on the bitter irony of such an event being sponsored by a government that is brutally suppressing the free exchange of ideas among its own population. Even foreign nationals can fall foul of Dubai’s draconian censorship laws for the most innocent of reasons; in August last year UK-Australian citizen Scott Richards was arrested for the "crime" of posting a link on his Facebook page to a US charity raising funds for blankets and socks for refugee children. Another victim of the UAE's intolerance towards freedom of expression, Shez Cassim, has warned that “despite their good intentions, the festival’s supporters risk legitimizing the practice of censorship in the country.”

If you have the freedom to speak freely at the festival, please consider speaking out on behalf of those whose voices are being suppressed by the festival’s sponsors.



“The root cause of so much of the violence in the region is despair. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis and nobody in the outside world seems to care.”
UAE Human Rights Campaigner
Ahmed Mansoor
On receiving the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, UAE Human Rights Campaigner Ahmed Mansoor commented that, “the root cause of so much of the violence in the region is despair. Human rights are being violated on a daily basis and nobody in the outside world seems to care.” If you care about human rights in Dubai and the wider UAE, please consider using your appearance at the festival as an opportunity to speak out about them.

If you’re willing to raise awareness of the issues highlighted above, you could mention them in the social media or blog coverage you produce regarding the festival. You might even consider raising some issues during your appearance at the festival itself. And, if you’d like to offer your support to local human rights activists during your visit to Dubai, please contact me on hr@scribblestreet.co.uk or Zoe on zoe.toft@kuvik.net and we can put you in touch with people who can help you to arrange this.

If you’re not comfortable raising awareness of these issues, then please think twice about posting photos or making comments on social media or blogs that could be interpreted as promoting or endorsing either Emirates Airline or the Dubai Government. For example, if you share APFA’s concerns about Emirates Airline’s discrimination towards women and gay men, you could avoid mentioning the airline or including photos of their logo/branding in your tweets/Facebook posts.



Further Information:


International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE's Open Letter to Authors Appearing at the Festival
http://icfuae.org.uk/campaigns/dear-uk-authors-open-letter-why-you-should-speak-out-ahead-emirates-festival-literature

Human Rights Watch World Report 2017: United Arab Emirates
https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/united-arab-emirates

Human Rights Watch Report – “I Already Bought You” Abuse and Exploitation of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the United Arab Emirates’
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/uae1014_forUpload.pdf

Amnesty International Report 2016/17: United Arab Emirates
https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/united-arab-emirates/report-united-arab-emirates/

Amnesty International  Report- “There is No Freedom Here”: Silencing dissent in the United Arab Emirates
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/mde_25.018.2014_-_there_is_no_freedom_here_-_silencing_dissent_in_the_united_arab_emirates_uae.pdf

Detained in Dubai - Homosexuality in the UAE
http://www.detainedindubai.org/homosexuality-in-the-uae



UPDATE: 30 March 2017

Disappointingly, the ICFUAE are not aware of any UK authors who highlighted their concerns for human rights in their coverage of the 2017 Festival. Immediately after the close of the 2017 festival, the UAE government launched a further crackdown on freedom of expression and human rights in the country. As part of this crackdown the UAE's last remaining human rights campaigner Ahmed Mansoor (quoted above) was arrested. Amnesty International have said that they are “appalled and dismayed” by Ahmed’s arrest and expressed “fears that he may be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment while in custody.”

For more details of the ICFUAE's 2017 Festival campaign and the subsequent UAE crackdown, read this post: http://scribblestreetnews.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/why-last-few-days-have-left-me-feeling.html




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