Robinson backs out of Dubai festival appearance

Peter O’Dwyer
January 15 2019, The Times

Mary Robinson cancelled the planned visit after an open letter called for a jailed activist to be freed by the UAE

Mary Robinson has pulled out of a literary festival in Dubai after the country’s leader faced calls to free a jailed human rights activist.

Ms Robinson, who has been heavily criticised after a visit to Dubai at the request of the ruling family, has withdrawn from Dubai Lit Fest after the publication of an open letter concerning the case of Ahmed Mansoor, who was jailed last year for posts he made on social media.

The letter calling for Mr Mansoor’s release was initiated by the International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates and signed by figures including Noam Chomsky, the philosopher; Stephen Fry, the author and television presenter; and several MPs.

“The EU parliament and multiple human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have repeatedly called for Mr Mansoor’s release and UN human rights experts have described his case as ‘a direct attack on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the UAE,’” the letter says.

“As a member of the UN human rights council, the UAE has an obligation to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights for all its citizens. We call on the UAE government to uphold this obligation with respect to Mr Mansoor by ensuring his immediate and unconditional release.”

A spokeswoman for Ms Robinson confirmed that, in response to the letter, she had withdrawn from the festival which is due to take place at the beginning of March.

Ms Robinson flew to Dubai in December to meet Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, who tried to flee from her family last year after claiming that she had suffered years of abuse. She is the daughter of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, to whom the open letter in The Guardian newspaper yesterday was addressed.

The literary festival, sponsored by the Emirates airline, is run by a non-profit body under the patronage of Sheikh Mohammed.

Ms Robinson met Sheikha Latifa, 33, at the request of Princess Haya bint Hussein, one of Sheikh Mohammed’s wives, and subsequently said that the case was a “family matter”. Ms Robinson, a former UN high commissioner for human rights, was criticised by human rights groups for describing Sheikha Latifa as a “vulnerable” and “clearly troubled” young woman in need of psychiatric help.

Ms Robinson has said that she was “dismayed at some of the media comments” about her role in the controversy and had visited Sheikha Latifa in Dubai in “good faith”.

Ms Robinson was praised yesterday by Detained in Dubai, a UAE human rights organisation, for her decision to withdraw from the festival. It said that it was “important for all people; writers, artists, academics, and tourists to recognise that the UAE is far from an open society, and restrictions on freedom and civil liberties are severe”.