Dubai Festival of Literature and Ahmed Mansoor

opening ceremony

I went to Dubai to speak at the fantastic Emirates Literature Festival last month. Just before it opened a number of authors announced that they were boycotting the festival because of the UAE’s human rights record.

There was also a thoughtful petition by Human Rights Watch and English Pen as well as the campaign to boycott. I agreed to sign the petition but I thought and still do think there are much better ways to encourage free speech than by boycotting a literary festival. Emirates festival is the largest literary festival in the Arabic speaking world and I think we should be doing all we can to encourage dialogue everywhere but surely especially in the middle east where there are differing perspectives we can all learn from. Chris Cleave puts it a lot better than I could here.

Anyway, during the lead up to the festival a number of activists were tweeting to me encouraging me to boycott etc etc and i struck up a conversation on twitter with Ahmed Mansoor, one of the UAE’s leading activists who was previously imprisoned. We ended up meeting for a coffee and I was so shocked by his story that i feel obliged to write about it here:

‘the only thing clear in this country is it’s opacity!’

Ahmed Mansoor is an Emirati writer and poet who has a masters in IT. He did his IT studies in the US and on his return he was involved in setting up a discussion website in the UAE (hewar means dialogue). The discussion threads that emerged were topics like politics, human rights, news from international media which is banned domestically. The website became popular and the UAE government managed to shut it down and imprisoned some of those responsible. Ahmed became more and more politicised by the actions that were going on around him that he and other intellectuals/activists initiated a petition calling for political reform. Five of them were imprisoned. He was detained for 8 months and the government ran a smear campaign. They were tried by a closed court which sentenced Ahmed to 3 years in jail and the others to 2 years each. Amnesty deemed the trial grossly unfair and after an international outcry the ‘UAE 5’ were released.

However after his ordeal he had a criminal record and his employer were forced to dismiss him. His passport was also confiscated in a raid on his house and has never been returned, his email and phone were hacked, a new ‘cyber crime’ law was passed by the government (which has been deemed unconstitutional) which means he and others like him will never have ‘security clearance’ and without ‘security clearance’ he has no possibility of getting a job. Then, all of his money ($160,000) suddenly disappeared from his bank account. The nature of its disappearance implicates not only the government but also the bank. When Ahmed was reporting the disappearance of this, his life’s savings, his car tyres were first let down and then his car was stolen… all outside the main court/prosecution building in Abu Dhabi. He was also twice beaten up and received numerous death threats which has made it impossible for him to complete his law studies at university. (He had tried to return to university after he lost his job)

So Ahmed is currently without his life’s savings or a job or a way to leave, but he says many are facing much worse consequences than he has. There are hundreds of political prisoners currently in jail without charge. Often they just disappear. People are terrified to speak out and face a similar fate. As Ahmed says ‘extremism grows when hope for peaceful change evaporates’ and i cant help worrying with him about the wider consequences of such extreme crackdowns. 

Ahmed Mansoor and myself

Despite these stories there was so much else I saw in Dubai that seemed hopeful about the UAE. The festival itself was incredibly inspiring. The astronaut Chris Hadfield gave an incredible talk aimed at inspiring children into science and exploring the unknown and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy made I call out to support womens day on the opening ceremony. I did school visits as part of the festival, all were very multicultural and open, one of the classes I taught had 110 children from an incredible 33 different countries, and the schools were some of the best equipped i have ever seen. One of my friends is an academic advisor working with institutions there and he raves about the enthusiasm of the young people and the set up that he works with. The country has developed at a faster pace than literally anywhere else in the world and has achieved an incredible amount in just a few decades. Hopefully the politics can be changed equally quickly. 

Ahmed Mansoor won the Martin Ennals award in 2015
(Ennals was the first head of Amnesty International)

You can read about it on the BBC here

Please consider supporting Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Ahmed’s story made me appreciate the fantastic work they are doing all the more.


one of my school visits

One of my school visits in Dubai


By | 2017-09-02T02:15:04+00:00 April 14th, 2016|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

Skype workshop in India

I just did a skype presentation to the students of the Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore India. They are doing a really interesting project developing inventive ways to produce quality cost effective picture books for families who would usually be unable to afford them. I have been twice to Srishti to lecture and do workshops and I think they are really one of the most interesting colleges i have ever visited. very forward thinking in many ways. Its the first time we did this skype talk but it worked really well. Thanks very much to Matt Lee who got me involved 

 ‘a book in every child’s hands’
read more about the project here


By | 2017-09-02T02:16:51+00:00 March 27th, 2012|Tags: , , |1 Comment

Offset 2010

Im doing a panel discussion in Dublin at the amazing OFFSET design festival. Myself, Niamh Sharkey and Childrens Books Ireland are doing a panel talk at 12pm on Sunday 3rd Oct about childrens books.

Offset is one of the best design festivals anywhere and Im very very proud to be asked to participate at it again. It is quite incredible that something of that scale has been created in Ireland. Check out the line up of speakers !!!! DJ Shadow / David CarsonGary Baseman / Steven Heller / Scott Dadich (wired magazine) / Daniel Eatock / Studioaka / Poke David O’Reilly ….cant wait.


You can watch the talk i did last year at Offset 2009 here ..basically…. ahem…

There is also a write up about Offset in the Irish Times yesterday here


By | 2017-09-02T02:23:14+00:00 September 29th, 2010|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

My OFFSET talk. basically.

The talk I gave in Dublin at the Offset series of talks has been put online.

I get a little bit better after the first few mins…. oh dear….

Thanks so much to everyone at OFFSET for putting on such a great event. Its probably the best series of design talks ive seen together anywhere.  It was an amazing honour to speak at it. Many of the other talks are now online. David Shrigley’s one is really funny.

[vimeo w=500&h=281]

Walker Books

As a child..
I grew up in dublin. i wanted to be an archaeologist because i was crazy about dinosaurs. my uncle gave me a trowel which i used to carry around. I also liked the muppets.
i went through a phase of making airplanes. ever since i remember i was good at drawing. i loved factual books with pictures and diagrams i could understand and i hope to do some of my own non-fiction soon.
As an adult..
I went to art college in Dublin. I moved to Hong Kong in 2001 and worked as a teacher. I also got some of my first illustration work while i was there. I traveled around a lot and settled in London in 2004. I got a full time job in an animation studio and also started working for people tree. I became a freelance illustrator in around 2005, mainly working for magazines. I went to the Bologna fair to look for a publisher and ended up meeting a korean publisher to make my first book.
10 Things you didn’t know about Chris Haughton
  1.  i travel a lot have lived and worked in lots of different cities
  2.  when i first moved to london i was the handy-man in paddington station.
  3.  in san francisco i worked in an american diner. my name badge said ‘jesus: guatamala city’
  4.  i stayed on the bottom bunk in a hostel in hong kong for 6 months.
  5.  in hong kong i was a teacher of very small children for a year. i taught art and drama.
  6. i started to illustrate while i was in hong kong and thats why i called my website
  7.  i lived in kathmandu for 6 months to work on fair trade projects and helped set up pecha kucha kathmandu.
  8.  i think nepal is the most beautiful country in the world
  9. my book book A BIT LOST first came out in korean and i made it in seoul.
  10.  i also make rugs!
A video is about chris’s work in 2010 work
[vimeo w=500&h=283]
A video panel talk about getting into childrens books
[vimeo w=500&h=283]
By | 2017-09-02T02:25:17+00:00 February 10th, 2009|Tags: , , , , |0 Comments