(Beirut) – Staff at a Dubai hotel informed Human Rights Watch today that they had cancelled a reservation for a January 23, 2014 news conference to release the Human Rights Watch World Report 2014 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Hotel staff said Human Rights Watch needed a government permit for the event.
Human Rights Watch reserved the room a month ago, informing the hotel about the news conference. But the hotel had made no request for a permit during this month. Human Rights Watch had also sought meetings during that time with a number of government officials to discuss its upcoming research plans and ways to improve the country’s human rights record.
“Blocking Human Rights Watch from holding a news conference in the UAE sadly underscores the increasing threat to freedom of expression in the country,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If the UAE wants to call itself a global media center, it needs to show that it respects freedom of speech and the open expression of critical ideas, not shut down media events.”
Human Rights Watch has held several news conferences in Dubai since 2005, without any requirement for an advance government permit. It has no information about any such law or requirement in the UAE. In February 2012, at the last Human Rights Watch news conference in Dubai, people who identified themselves as UAE government employees interrupted the event, stating that a permit was required. Following this incident, Human Rights Watch wrote to Shaikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai to request clarification of required procedures for holding a news conference, but received no reply.