DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- A leading rights watchdog said a Dubai news conference Thursday on human rights issues in the United Arab Emirates was abruptly cancelled, a move it alleges underscores threats to freedom of expression in the Gulf nation.
Human Rights Watch said it was told Wednesday by the Novotel hotel, where the event was due to take place, that the conference was being called off because a government permit was needed.
The event was supposed to highlight the New York-based group's latest assessment on the state of human rights in the Emirates, a Western-allied federation of seven sheikdoms that includes Dubai and the federal capital, Abu Dhabi. The report alleges the UAE stifled free expression and carried out "manifestly unfair trials" against dissidents last year.
The group said it booked the event space and informed the hotel about the news conference a month ago, and that no permit had been requested during that time. It also reached out to government officials to try to discuss its research plans, it said.
"It's not entirely clear to us if this is an arbitrary decision ... but we are disappointed in the way this was handled," said Nicholas McGeehan, Gulf researcher for the group. "We came here to talk about freedom of expression ... and to engage with the authorities. They shut us down and prevented us from doing that."
The Novotel's general manger, Frederic Gitzner, referred questions to Human Rights Watch, saying that "we have explained to the organizer that the necessary permissions were not obtained as per the agreement."
Emirati authorities had no immediate comment.
But the speaker of the UAE's Federal National Council, Mohammed Ahmed al-Murr, has denounced the report in comments carried by state news agency WAM. He said "the report involves many fallacies that are not based on any foundation."
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