October 23, 2020

Sheikh denies sexual assault claim after UK literary festival vows not to return to Abu Dhabi

October 18, 2020

An Abu Dhabi minister has denied claims that he sexually assaulted a staff member at a British literary festival in the city after organisers vowed not to return in light of the alleged incident.

Caitlin McNamara, who was launching the Hay Festival in the UAE's capital, said she was attacked by the minister for tolerance Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan on Valentine's Day this year.

London lawyers Schillings said the sheikh denies the allegations, which the festival had branded an "appalling violation and a hideous abuse of trust and position".

In a statement to Sky News, Schillings commented: "Our client is surprised and saddened by this allegation, which arrives eight months after the alleged incident and via a national newspaper. The account is denied."

The 69-year-old Oxford-educated sheikh invited Ms McNamara to dinner on a private island, The Sunday Times reported earlier.

Once there, she said she was given a diamond-encrusted Tag Heuer watch worth about £3,500.

Ms McNamara added: "It was creepy. He was on the sofa next to me and began touching my arm and feet and I was pulling away. Then he got forceful. Suddenly, it clicked why I was there. I felt so naive."

Ms McNamara, 32, who spent six months working in the UAE's ministry of tolerance, said the sheikh "grabbed my face and started kissing me".

She also claims he groped her breasts in a gold lift, pushed her on to a bed, and exposed himself.

"I was scared," she told the newspaper.

Ms McNamara, who told the PA news agency she had waived her right to anonymity, was interviewed by the Metropolitan Police about her allegations when she returned to the UK.

In an interview in January 2019, just before a visit by Pope Francis, Sheikh Nahyan said: "Our definition of tolerance is respect of others. And our definition of tolerance is to understand the other, to talk to each other, at the same time keeping our own differences.

"This is like [a] mosaic. It's a beautiful mosaic, our differences, whether it's in our religions or culture or other habits, so it means respect of others, understanding, learning about others."

Caroline Michel, chair of the Hay Festival, said on Twitter: "What happened to our colleague and friend Caitlin McNamara in Abu Dhabi last February was an appalling violation and a hideous abuse of trust and position.

"Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan made a mockery of his ministerial responsibilities and tragically undermined his government's attempt to work with Hay Festival to promote free speech and female empowerment.

"We continue to support Caitlin in seeking legal redress for this attack and we urge our friends and partners in the UAE to reflect on the behaviour of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan and send a clear signal to the world that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

"Hay Festival will not be returning to Abu Dhabi while he remains in position."

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