April 12, 2011

John Sexton, President

New York University

 

Richard Armstrong. Director

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

 

Laurence des Cars, Scientific Director

Manuel Rabaté, Secretary General

Agence France-Museums

 

By now, you are no doubt aware that the Emirati government has detained and arrested Ahmed Mansoor, a leading human rights activist in the country and an artist who has published a poetry book. They have failed to inform Mr. Mansoor's family or lawyer of his whereabouts or let them speak to him. Attached you will find a press release that we issued on Saturday, April 9, detailing not only the circumstances of his arrest but the very obvious political motivations behind it.

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

As institutions that have invested a great deal in the United Arab Emirates, in particular a vision to lead the region's development as a free society that appreciates art and education  and celebrates artists and academics, the Guggenheim, New York University and French Museum Agency have a responsibility to condemn publicly this outrageous attacks on  activists. These institutions need to do so not only because those targeted include an artist and an academic, but because they are leading voices for freedom in their country. We know that your institutions are well placed to condemn such politically motivated arrests; for instance, Richard Armstrong and the Guggenheim Museum recently launched a petition demanding that the Chinese government release Ai WeiWei.

While the three detained activists may not have the renown or standing of Mr. WeiWei, in the context of the UAE, their  principled stand for freedom is no less a threat to the UAE government than Mr. WeiWei's to the Chinese. And of course, the role of your institutions in the UAE is far more significant and prominent.

We urge you to send a clear message to the Emirati authorities that your organizations condemn attacks on civil society, and particularly attacks on artists and academics, and stand in support of the basic values of freedom and human rights, without which no advanced institution of art or learning can prosper.