Artist Alert: June 2012
23 Jul 2012
Art, in any form, constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. Artist Alert, launched by ARTICLE 19 in 2008, highlights cases of artists around the world whose right to freedom of expression has been curtailed and abused, and seeks to more effectively promote and defend freedom to create.
About freedom to create
Freedom of expression, including the right to access to information, is a fundamental human right. It is guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) as follows:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) guarantees the right in more or less in similar terms as the UDHR.
The right to freedom of expression is also protected in all three regional human rights treaties, at Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), at Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and at Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Art in any form constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. Freedom to create is an essential attribute of freedom of expression, in the same way that creation is essential to expression.
As international human rights courts have stressed, the right to freedom of expression is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received but also to those that offend. For instance, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that: “[F]reedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of [a democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man … it is applicable not only to “information” or “ideas” that are favourably received … but also to those which offend, shock or disturb the State or any other sector of the population. Such are the demands of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness without which there is no “democratic society”.
Hip-hop artist, EL Haqed convicted for ‘anti-state’ lyrics
Moroccan hip-hop artist El Haqed was convicted on 11 May to a year’s imprisonment for ‘insulting public employees in his song, Kilaab Addawla (Dogs of the State), using anti-establishment lyrics, against the oppression of the monarchy and police corruption. His arrest came at a time when Morocco was hosting the Rhythms of the World Music Festival at the end of May 2012.
El Haqed was first arrested last year in October, on what were considered at the time as trumped up assault charges aimed at silencing him. That arrest set Morocco’s social media abuzz with appeals to release the artist, and prompted severe criticism in the media of the lack of democratic reforms in Morocco.
Tunisian artists under attack
On June 10, an art exhibition in El-Abdelia gallery in La Marsa, a northern neighbourhood of Tunis, was attacked by members of the Salafist members who forced their way into the art gallery and slashed several paintings deemed "blasphemous." These included paintings that caricatured Mecca, portrayed a nude woman, and showed the word "Allah" spelled out with strings of ants. Two days later, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture decided to temporarily close Palais El-Abdelia.
Artist, Electro Jaye was asked in June by the organisers of the Tunis Printemps des Arts Fair to take down his artwork as it was seen as ‘politically enraging’ and ‘anti-governmental’.
Jaye claimed that he was asked to remove his artwork because it portrayed the Star of David and the Christian cross with the title ‘Islamic Republic of Tunisia’, which the organisers claimed was offensive to the new Islamic government in the country.
Jaye’s artwork has been seen as directly attacking the increased stance of Islamism in the country, including attacks against women deemed to be crossing conservative religious boundaries. Some of Jaye’s artwork portrayed veiled women in agony and despair.
While the organisers claim it was a simple misunderstanding between the artist and them, other artists who were displaying their artwork in the gallery began removing their pieces as a sign of solidarity.
Egypt: Belly dancing now equates to ‘prostitution’
On 17 May, the owner of a satellite TV station, Baleegh Hamdi was arrested on charges of encouraging prostitution and immorality by broadcasting a show on belly dancers.
Hamdi’s channel, Al Tet, broadcasts videos of belly dancers throughout the day giving performances to live music. The channel is the only one that has been showcasing the art form in Egypt and is accessible only via paid satellite and in expensive clubs in Egypt.
Officials state that the owner was arrested on charges of offending public decency. Fears of a conservative Egyptian society have been growing ever since the establishment of the new government, led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi parties.
Israeli forces arrest members from West Bank theatre group
On 6 June, Nabil Al-Raee, the artistic director of the renowned West Bank theatre group, Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp was arrested on charges of “suspicion of involvement in illegal activity”.
Reports suggest that the Israeli army broke theatre equipment and shot live ammunition during night raids into the theatre in the camp, and intimidated and ransacked the homes of theatre employees.
The theatre has also faced increased pressure from within Palestinian society. Attempts were made in 2008 to burn down the theatre, and the actors were threatened to stop what they were doing. The Freedom Theatre has worked on several plays, including an adaptation of the famous Animal Farm by George Orwell. The artists used the classic story to portray the severe restrictions imposed within the Palestinian society and the rampant corruption within the Palestinian leadership.
Renowned Turkish Pianist charged with blasphemy
Fazil Say has been charged on 2 June with insulting religious values, and could face 18 months imprisonment. The well known Turkish classical pianist was charged with blasphemy after his open declaration of atheism on Twitter. He has been accused of insulting Islamic values and inciting hatred by quoting a Persian poet from the 11th century.
Say has received international support as well as support from within the Pro-secular groups in Turkey. He was quoted as saying that the charge goes against the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and blackens the image of Turkey.
Say was charged under Article 216, which makes insults to Islamic values and religious views and instigation of enmity punishable under prison terms.
Anti-Kyrgyz song raises concerns in the country post ethnic-cleaning violence
Since June, there have been increasing accusations of ‘hate speech’ in southern parts of Kyrgyzstan due to the proliferation of a number of Uzbek rap songs that allegedly insult the Kyrgyz community.
Rap songs have become increasingly popular among young people across the region. Two years after the ethnic clashes in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which saw around 400 people killed, several Uzbek artists have been expressing their anger against the Kyrgyz community through their charged lyrics.
Uzbek singer, Yulduz Usmanova became popular and was embroiled in controversies after her song ‘To the Kyrgyz’ was criticised for alleged ethnicity-based lyrics. She was later sent to exile in Turkey by Uzbek president Islam Karimov. Similar songs have since been released by Kyrgyz artists including Aaly Tutkuchev in response to the provocative messages in Uzbek rap songs.
Russian dissident punk band members arrested
Members of the all girl band ‘Pussy Riot’ announced that they were going on hunger strike on 4 July. They remain in prison after being arrested by Russian police accused of staging an anti-Kremlin performance in Moscow’s largest church, Christ the Saviour Cathedral.
The band members have been in detention since 24 April and could be imprisoned for seven years if convicted on charges of hooliganism. Their lawyers claim that the trial is being delayed, as there are no laws for which to convict them as criminals. The prosecution has in turn asked for more time and has amassed 2,800 pages of case documents for their 30-second demonstration.
The Russian Orthodox Church as well as large sections of the orthodox community have hailed the arrest of the two female singers. The claim the song was offensive as the band criticised the close relations between the Kremlin and the Church, and called out to the Virgin Mary to “drive out” Vladimir Putin.
Pashto singer gunned down in Pakistan
Ghazala Javed, a renowned Pashto-language singer was shot dead in the Northwest city of Peshawar on 18 June.
The popular young artist was shot outside a beauty salon along with her father, while her sister survived. Three assailants riding a bike came by the beauty salon and shot at her.
The famous artist married a rich businessman, Jahangir Khan, but upon finding out that he had another wife, she left him. Khan also forced Javed after marriage to leave her profession as a singer.
This attack comes after the Taliban seized control of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in 2007, after which Javed, under threat for her life for her singing, fled to Peshawar. After seizing control during that period a number of young girls have been attacked and music shops been shut down.
Spanish artist faces prison over film made in 1978
Independent underground film producer, Javier Krahe was taken to court on 28 May by the Catholic Legal Association on charges of offending the religious sentiments of Christians. The film, Cómo cocinar un Cristo, produced in 1978 was previously banned but was recently broadcast on television in 2004 during an interview with the producer.
The film uses tongue in cheek humour to depict the crucifixion and the subsequent resurrection of Christ as culinary art, using terms to such as ‘baking Christ’, and ‘popping him in an oven’ after which he comes out magically cooked in three days. Krahe has been released on bail, witnesses will be giving their statements to the Madrid Regional Court.
Singaporean street artist arrested on charges of vandalism
A Singaporean street artist, who goes by the name SKlo, was arrested on charges of vandalism and destroying public property in May 2012. Intriguing pieces of work began appearing on the streets of Singapore after she started spray painting common catch phrases and words to insult jay walkers and slow pedestrians crossing the busy roads of Singapore.
If SKlo gets convicted she will be imprisoned for up to three years or pay a fine of S$2000 (approx. USD1553). She was arrested after the Land Transport Authority registered a complaint with the Central Police Division about the increased instances of sprayed art-work.
This comes after Singapore was given the designation of ASEAN City of Culture for the year 2012-2013 during the fifth meeting of ASEAN Ministers for Culture and Arts.
Twitter has been abuzz with appeals made to free the artist on grounds of free expression and the increased levels of hypocrisy of the Singaporean government in dealing with an artists’ creativity and their freedom to express themselves artistically.
Nikon pulls out of a South Korean exhibition on Japanese wartime women ‘sex-slaves’
Nikon cancelled at the last minute a photo exhibition to be held in Tokyo from June 26 to July 9 at the Shinjuku Nikon Salon by South Korean photographer, Ahn Sehong. The theme for the exhibition was on the contentious issue of women who were kept as ‘sex-slaves’ for Japanese soldiers during wartime. While the Japanese camera manufacturer, Nikon failed to give the precise reason for the cancellation, the company stated that the exhibit was cancelled due to “various reasons”.
Nikon reportedly received a large number of complaints against the exhibition. Supporters and activists from the Japan Visual Journalist Association condemned the cancellation as a sign of self-censorship imposed by the company.
The issue of wartime sex-slaves has been a controversial debate between South Korea and Japan, since a large number of women of South Korean origin served as slaves for the Imperial Army of Japan.
Malaysian officials ban book by lesbian Muslim author
The Selganor Islamic Religious Affairs Department raided the office of a publisher, ZI Publications, on 29 May for publishing Canadian author Irshad Manji’s book, Allah, Liberty and Love. The department seized around 180 copies of the books.
The warrant issued by the Shah Alam Syariah Lower Court indicates that it was issued under Section 16(1) (a) or (b) of the Religious Publications Offences against the Islamic Law. The Home Ministry department has banned the book claiming that it insults the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith.
Manji has been known for her views on transexuality and bisexual lifestyles within Islamic communities, especially in Malaysia. The ban on her recent book comes after a previous ban on a book she had published titled, The trouble with Islam today.
Debate on Freedom of Expression and President Zuma’s painting in South Africa
Protesters on 22 May vandalised a painting of President Jacob Zuma with his genitals exposed claiming that they had to because of its inappropriate depiction of their leader. The paintings creator, Brett Murray was at the time of the vandalism appearing before a court for insulting the authority of the President. The vandals have since been charged with malicious damage but it is unclear whether the prosecution will proceed.
The painting showed President Zuma posing as Vladimir Lenin with his genitals exposed. The artist attempted to portray the way in which the government is functioning in South Africa.
Murray was appearing before court following a case brought by the President and his party, the ANC. The gallery has also closed down due to intimidation.
USA: Doonesbury strip about Texas abortion law criticised and removed by increasing number of newspapers
Garry Trudeau, whose satirical cartoon strip Doonesbury has been published by hundreds of newspapers around the word for decades has been met unprecedented controversy after he planned to dedicate a week’s worth of strips to a satirical look at a woman visiting a healthcare clinic and seeking an abortion.
Trudeau’s strip deals specifically with a 2010 American state law requiring a woman who wants to have an abortion to have an ultrasound scan, or sonogram, which will show an image of the foetus and other details, in an attempt to make her reconsider.
The strips portray a woman who turns up at an abortion clinic in Texas and is told to take a seat in "the shaming room". A state legislator asks if she has been at the clinic before and, when she says she had been to get contraceptives, he replies: "Do your parents know you're a slut?"
Dozens of papers asked in June for substitutes from the organisation that syndicates Doonesbury. Trudeau commented that he finds it disturbing that people should react like that to a strip that deals with what he calls the appalling state of women’s rights to contraception and the privacy of their own bodies.
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