Amnesty launches Edinburgh Festival campaign to 'free the UAE 5'

Top comedians show their support for campaign to free men detained for 'insulting officials'

Amnesty International today announced its 2011 Edinburgh Festival campaign for the 'UAE 5', five men detained in the United Arab Emirates and charged with 'insulting officials' after calling for democracy and criticising the government.

Amnesty is asking people at the festival 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. Amnesty campaigners will be out on the streets in Edinburgh asking people to get involved.

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.

The world’s biggest human rights organisation has always focused on the Edinburgh Festival as the ideal place to promote free speech and campaign for those whose rights are denied.

Amnesty International Scotland Director John Watson said:

'The UAE 5 should be released immediately and unconditionally. Their case is typical of the thousands of people in other countries across the Middle East and North Africa – from Egypt to Syria, Libya to Bahrain – whose right to freedom of expression has been denied.

'In other countries in the Middle East People have been jailed and tortured just for speaking out; or beaten and shot at just for protesting peacefully in the streets.

'Here in Edinburgh we can use our freedom of speech to help free the UAE 5. Just by sending a text, people can join our petition to demand their release, which we’ll deliver to the UAE’s London  embassy. We’re hoping that thousands of people will join us and speak up on their behalf.

'The UAE 5 were arrested for alleged statements made long before the calls for change in the Arab world surfaced. Their arrests came after they called for more democracy and posed questions about how their country is run.'

Amnesty is hoping that a ‘mass text action’ from the 1,200-strong audience at its famed Stand up For Freedom comedy show, on 17 August at 9.30pm at the EICC’s Venue 150, will help swell the petition for the five men. The show features Mark Watson, Ed Byrne, Russell Kane (Fosters Best Comedy winner 2010), David O’Doherty, Holly Walsh and Roisin Conaty (Fosters Best Newcomer 2010).  More top comedy acts are soon to be announced, from the producers of the acclaimed Secret Policeman’s Ball. Tickets are available now from www.venue150.com. Amnesty will also be asking audience members at the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s daily ‘Imprisoned Writers’ events and the ‘Amnesty Annual Lecture’ to join the petition – www.edbookfest.co.uk.

Comedian Ed Byrne said:
'If you can get locked up in the UAE for insulting officials, I hope no Emirati police ever come to Edinburgh or they’ll end up jailing half of the festival. People have a right to free speech and for the UAE 5 that right is being denied.'

Comedian Mark Watson said:
'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 hope plenty of people send a text and this campaign puts some pressure on the UAE authorities to let these guys go.'

Comedian Holly Walsh said:
'As a comedian, the freedom to say what we want is at the heart of what we do. This campaign makes you realise why Amnesty’s so important. If we can get audiences in Edinburgh to join the petition then hopefully the Emirati embassy will listen.'

The United Arab Emirates comprises Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Article 176 of the country’s penal code permits a sentence of up to five years in prison for "whoever publicly insults the State President, its flag or national emblem." Article 8 of the code widens the application of the provision to include the vice president, members of the Supreme Council of the Federation, and others.

The charges against the UAE 5 relate mainly to postings on the banned online forum www.uaehewar.net.

Since their arrests, the activists – particularly Mansoor – have been the subject of an intimidating online and satellite television campaign accusing them of being religious extremists and foreign agents, who want to cause harm to the UAE.

Ahmed Mansoor faces additional charges for inciting others to break the law, and calling for an election boycott and for demonstrations.  In March, shortly before his arrest, he vocally supported a petition signed by more than 130 people that called on the UAE president to introduce universal, direct elections for the Federal National Council and to give the body legislative powers.

The latest hearing took place on 25th July and applications for bail were again denied. The trial will resume at the end of September (26 September).

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