NYU, Louvre, Guggenheim Silent on Arrests of Activists
April 12, 2011

The Guggenheim, NYU, and the Louvre have a responsibility to publicly condemn this outrageous attack on these activists. These institutions shouldn't stand by and watch as the government silences the leading voices for freedom in the United Arab Emirates. If they truly have a vision to lead the region's development as a society that celebrates artists and academics, they need to speak out.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) - International public institutions opening branches on Saadiyat Island should send a clear message to Emirate authorities that they strongly condemn the United Arab Emirate's attack on rights advocates, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Guggenheim, New York University (NYU), and the French Museum Agency (Agence France-Museums, responsible for the Louvre Abu Dhabi) should urge the immediate release of three activists detained since April 8, 2011, in what appears to be a politically motivated campaign of intimidation against political reformers, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to the institutions.

"The Guggenheim, NYU, and the Louvre have a responsibility to publicly condemn this outrageous attack on these activists," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These institutions shouldn't stand by and watch as the government silences the leading voices for freedom in the United Arab Emirates. If they truly have a vision to lead the region's development as a society that celebrates artists and academics, they need to speak out."

On April 8, the Emirati government detained and arrested Ahmed Mansoor, a leading human rights activist and published poet who recently called for political freedoms and an elected parliament in the UAE. As of April 12, UAE authorities have refused to inform Mansoor's family or lawyer of his whereabouts or let them speak to him. Mansoor's lawyer told Human Rights Watch that police have now charged him with alcohol possession. Mansoor is a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee.

Since Mansoor's arrest, UAE authorities have detained two more activists advocating democratic reforms. On April 10, security forces detained academic Nasser bin Ghaith, an economics lecturer at the Abu Dhabi branch of Paris' Sorbonne University who has frequently criticized UAE authorities for failing to undertake significant political reforms, and on April 9, detained online activist Fahad Salem al-Shehhy.

"Is NYU going to advertise the magnificence of studying in Abu Dhabi while the government persecutes an academic for his political beliefs?" said Whitson. "Are the Guggenheim and the Louvre going to extol the freedom to see art in the Emirates while citizens have no freedom to speak?"

In its letter, Human Rights Watch said the international institutions are well placed to condemn such politically motivated arrests. For example, the Guggenheim Museum recently launched a petition demanding that the Chinese government release detained artist Ai Weiwei.

"Silence on the part of public institutions who partner with the UAE government will be taken as condoning the attacks on reformist advocates," said Whitson. "If the institutions want the world to believe they are in the UAE for more than profit, they should speak out in defense of the values they espouse."