German Author Detained in Abu Dhabi After Book Fair, Released

After two weeks detained in Abu Dhabi following this year’s Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, German author Jörg Albrecht has been granted passage home. According to his publisher, he arrived in Berlin this morning.

Albrecht had been invited to attend the fair to give a talk about “The Panorama of German Literature” and was imprisoned for three days for taking photographs of two of the city’s embassies.

The ADNEC spaceship.
The ADNEC spaceship.

Although Albrecht was released from prison, apparently after “strenuous efforts” by the German Embassy and ADIBF organizers, the 32-year-old author was not allowed to leave the country for another week and a half.

Albrecht’s publisher, Wallstein Verlag, launched an online petition calling for for the author’s immediate release. It collected more than 6,000 signatures in just 24 hours, including those of prominent German authors, editors, and publishers, and likely helped in expediting Albrecht’s case.

The petition says that Albrecht was detained without access to a lawyer for three days. The petition-writers added that: “The Abu Dhabi International Book Fair officially aims to promote ‘networking’ between the Emirates and Europe. The guest programme for Swiss and German writers is intended to form a basis for dialogue. It is now essential to give back to Jörg Albrecht, an invited guest of your country, the safety and security that he appears to have lost entirely since arriving in Abu Dhabi.”

According to The LocalAlbrecht said he took photos of two buildings on May 1 — several days before his scheduled May 4 talk — and was shortly afterwards arrested. It was only then, Albrecht said, that he discovered the buildings he had photographed were the embassies of Iraq and Iran.

This underlines the disconnect between the ADIBF and the emirate within which it operates. As I wrote over at WWB, “Novelist Youssef Rakha—who has two books forthcoming in English translation this fall—referred to the giant ADNEC building as a spaceship. This Battlestar Galactica feeling was intensified by one’s inability to leave the book-fair premises and walk about in the nearby city. The ADNEC felt like a futuristic world onto itself, near the rest of the city, but cut off from a real connection to it.”

Albrecht left the ship, and afterwards found himself — albeit temporarily — stuck in a no-man’s land. Certainly, he isn’t the first to have inadvertantly violated another country’s laws. And certainly, this is not an outcome book-fair organizers would’ve wanted. But his extra stay in Abu Dhabi will not help ADIBF’s calls for international authors and speakers in coming years.

On Words Without Borders:

Dispatch from the Abu Dhabi Book Fair