The United Arab Emirates refused to print and distribute Tuesday’s issue of the International New York Times over objections that an article on the abuse of workers building New York University’s Abu Dhabi campus was “too sensitive for local publication.”
“We’ve been in touch with our local printer to express our profound disappointment in this decision, which we understand was based on their objection to one particular article,” Eileen Murphy of the NYT told BuzzFeed in an email.
The article in question, Workers at N.Y.U.’s Abu Dhabi Site Faced Harsh Conditions, appeared on the front page of Monday’s New York Times in the U.S. The article can still be viewed in the UAE on the Times’ website, where the story was first published on Sunday, May 18.
The Times informed readers in the UAE of the cancelation via email and cited the objections of the company responsible for the paper’s local circulation.
Murphy told BuzzFeed that this was the first time that UAE authorities had tried to censor a Times story.
The UAE keeps tight control over media and political expression and the government is particularly sensitive to international scrutiny of its record of human rights abuses. In 2009, authorities in the UAE stopped the publication of the UK’s Sunday Times over a graphic deemed critical of Dubai’s ruler. In Dec. 2014, The Guardian published an article documenting the abuse of workers on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island, which houses the new NYU campus. In response, a state-owned news channel aired a more than 20-minute documentary on the “truth” about Saadiyat Island, criticizing the author of The Guardian story.
Human Rights Watch, along with several other human rights groups, has been banned from the UAE; after HRW’s last visit in Jan. 2014, local newspapers published on their front pages stories critical of HRW’s work, according to HRW’s Nicholas McGeehan. Several academics have also been deported or faced the threat of deportation for research deemed too critical of UAE. Labor activists and some NYU students and professors have criticized NYU for building a branch in Abu Dhabi, given the country’s poor record on academic and political freedoms.
“It raises the question of how NYU can promote values of academic freedom in a place that has zero respect for freedom of expression,” McGeehan said.
NYU’s John Beckman told BuzzFeed in an email that he had no further details on the University’s promise to investigate the Time’s findings: “We take the matters raised in Monday’s story very seriously, and are investigating them.”