Free the UAE 5! Speaking freely at the Edinburgh Festival

I’m up at the Edinburgh Festival for the next two weeks, helping Amnesty promote our work for freedom of expression at the world’s biggest arts festival. Today we launched this year’s Festival Campaign to Free the UAE 5, five men who’re detained in Abu Dhabi after they called for more democracy.As reported today in the Guardian and Scotsman, we’ve managed to enlist the support of some of the festival’s top comedians to support the campaign. As comedian Mark Watson says: “Poking fun at officials and questioning the authorities is a stock-in-trade for all comedians. We’ve got to stand up for people’s right to peacefully express their opinions.” I’m hoping that plenty more comedians will show their support too over the next couple of weeks – I’ll be signing them up when they play in the “Comics vs Critics football match” that Amnesty’s refereeing this Sunday at 2.00 on The Meadows.Amnesty’s (non-violent) army of volunteers is out on the streets of Edinburgh asking festival-goers to support the campaign and my colleagues tell me that we’ve already got hundreds on board. We’re asking people to text (SMS) the word “FREEDOM” followed by their name to 81222 to join a petition, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the “UAE 5”, which will be presented to the United Arab Emirates’ embassy in London ahead of their trial, now set for the end of September. Or click here if you’d rather sign up online.

The five men – blogger and political commentator Ahmed Mansoor, lecturer Nasser bin Ghaith and online activists Fahad Salim Dalk, Ahmed Abdul Khaleq and Hassan Ali al-Khamis – have been detained in the UAE’s capital Abu Dhabi since April. In June they were charged under article 176 of the Penal Code, which makes it a crime to publicly insult the country’s top officials. None of the men are known to have advocated any violence or change of government.

We’re also hoping to get the 1,200-strong audience at our Stand Up For Freedom gig on 17 August to all take part in a mass text action, which should really swell the numbers & pile the pressure on the UAE authorities. The show is selling out fast, hardly surprising considering the line-up: Mark Watson, Ed Byrne, Fosters Best Comedy winner 2010 Russell Kane, David O’Doherty, Holly Walsh and Roisin Conaty (Fosters Best Newcomer 2010). It’s at 9.30pm at the EICC (Venue 150) and you can get tickets at www.venue150.com.It’s not all work here though, in fact there’s been rather a lot of play since I arrived on Saturday. If you’re coming to the festival, my top tips so far are:The Horne Section at the Assembly’s lovely new Spiegeltent in George Square Gardens – featuring great funnies, live jazz and an interactive game of “Guess Who?” with the whole audience; Tim Key at the Pleasance Dome – be prepared to get wet if you sit in the front row; and The Fitzrovia Radio Hour at the Gilded Balloon, which was incredibly slick and very funny. Personally I’d skip Phil Jupitus at The Stand as it felt a bit run-of-the-mill. Oh yes, and dress for monsoon weather – it emptied it down all weekend! (Though the sun is shining right now).One other tip: Amnesty did some great podcasts from the Edinburgh Festival last year, which you can still get from iTunes. We’re not podcasting this year as we’ll have our AmnestyTV colleagues up here filming instead, but the production team that did such a great job last year is producing the “Live from the Gilded Balloon” podcast this year – the first one has US stars Tom Green and Michael Winslow, the “Man of 10,000 sound effects” from Police Academy (who’s also performing at Amnesty’s Stand Up For Freedom gig, as it happens) – check it out here:  http://bit.ly/GBpod11

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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