As the Hay Festival gets under way in Abu Dhabi, Stephen Fry and Noam Chomsky have signed an open letter calling on the UAE authorities to release imprisoned writers and demonstrate their commitment to free speech.
The four-day event began on 25th February, featuring appearances from authors including Booker-winner Bernardine Evaristo and Peter Frankopan.
In an open letter published on 24th February, writers and organisations including PEN International and Amnesty called for all those imprisoned for speaking out to be freed.
The letter states: “In the context of the Hay Festival, the UAE’s Ministry of Tolerance is promoting a platform for freedom of expression, while keeping behind bars Emirati citizens and residents who shared their own views and opinions.”
Among others, it raises the case of human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor who has been jailed for 10 years over posts on social media that “insulted the status and prestige” of the UAE.
It states Mansoor is being kept in solitary confinement at Al-Sadr prison, with no bed or books and has only been allowed a few visitors since his arrest three years ago.
The letter continues: “With the world’s eyes on the Hay Festival Abu Dhabi, we urge the Emirati government to consider using this opportunity to unconditionally release our jailed friends and colleagues, and in the interim, to at least allow prisoners of conscience to receive books and reading materials, to have regular visits with family, to be allowed outside of their isolation cells to visit the canteen, or go outside in the sun.”
Hay Festival director Peter Florence said: "Engagement is important to us. In Abu Dhabi, as in our other festivals, writers will host conversations and ask questions touching on the biggest issues of our times, including these questions of free speech. The programme is focused on Arabic-language writers, including many of our Beirut 39 novelists and poets alongside anglophone and francophone writers who are writing about the Arab world. There are no subjects that are off the table. We are excited about inviting audiences in the region to participate in these discussions and our festival partners are supportive of that."