Artist Alert: October 2013

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14 Nov 2013



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. 


Angola: First person charged with “insulting” Republic of Angola will be teenager who commissioned t-shirts

10 October: Lawyers of the Angolan teenager, Manuel Chivonde Baptista, also known as ‘Nito Alves’, learned that he will be the first Angolan to be charged, under Article 25 of the 2010 state security law, with the crime of "insulting" the Republic of Angola or the President of Angola in public meetings or by disseminating words, images, writings or sound.

Nito Alves is being charged because he commissioned t-shirts with the slogan "Out Disgusting Dictator". He was arrested in September 2013, held in solitary confinement, and not allowed to speak to a lawyer in private until more than three weeks after his arrest.

Tanzania: Hip-hop artist receiving death threats

29 October: It was reported that Tanzanian hip-hop artist Nay wa Mitego has been receiving death threats since the release of his single Salaam Zao [Greetings]. Nay wa Mitego, who is renowned for the socio-political nature of his music, has stated that, in addition to direct threats, he has also been on the receiving end of other attempts to silence him.  

Zimbabwe: Artist challenges defamation accusations

30 October: Zimbabwe’s constitutional court heard a challenge from the visual artist, Owen Maseko, who has been accused of insulting President Robert Mugabe through his paintings. Maseko asserts that the right of artists to free expression is being breached by certain sections of the criminal law.

Maseko was originally arrested in March 2010, less than 24 hours after an exhibition of his work opened. His work depicted the Gukurahundi Massacres carried out by Mugabe’s troops in the 1980s. He was charged with “undermining the authority of the President and causing offence to persons of a particular race or religion”. The constitutional court will now determine whether or not artistic works can be subject to prosecution under Sections 31 and 33 of the Criminal Law without breaching the Zimbabwean Constitution, which guarantees freedom of thought and expression.



USA: Facebook censors controversial photograph

10 October: Photographer Jacob Aue posted a photo on his Facebook page which received 400 likes within an hour but was then removed without warning. Aue was subsequently banned from Facebook for seven days. When he posted links to his work and people commented on the censorship it had received, he was banned from Facebook for a further thirty days.

The censored image showed a woman giving birth, her baby clearly visible in what has been deemed “too graphic”.  

The photographer has been banned at least three other times for his work and his attempts to communicate with Facebook regarding this issue have met with no response.

USA: Artist’s Instagram account shut down after posting photo of herself in bikini showing pubic hair

17 October: Canadian-born artist Petra Collins found that her Instagram account had been deleted after an image that she had posted received a high number of complaints. The photograph showed the artist from the waist down wearing a bikini. She contends that she did not violate Instagram’s terms of use and that her account was closed because her photograph did not meet society's standards of femininity as it showed pubic hair. Millions of bikini and bathing suit photographs are uploaded to Instagram and are not seen to violate the website’s regulations on nudity.

USA: Graphic artist suing NSA     

31 October: It was reported that the Minnesotan graphic artist, Dan McCall, is suing the National Security Agency (NSA) after it ordered him to cease and desist. McCall had designed t-shirts using the NSA logo with the slogan "peeping while you're sleeping" and "the only part of government that actually listens". The US government spy agency claims that he has violated their intellectual property, while McCall is suing the agency for violating his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech.

Cuba: Jailed rapper hunger strikes

29 October: Rapper Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga, also known as El Crítico [The Critic], was taken to hospital after spending 15 days on hunger strike. The rapper, who is also a human rights activist on the island, has been in jail since 26 March 2013 when he was accused of “threatening national security” after trying to stop a group of vandals from entering his house.


Asia Pacific

Hong Kong: Ballet accused of self-censorship

26 October: It is suspected that the Hong Kong Ballet may have self-censored. A 12- minute projection sequence depicting different stages in China's history including the Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty, the provisional Republic of China and the Cultural Revolution was cut from the production on 26 October 2013.

The Hong Kong Ballet denies that the scenes were cut for political reasons. However, there are concerns about the influence Chinese censorship is having in Hong Kong. Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, has stated that self-censorship is an ongoing problem that threatens press credibility and freedom. In addition, the Home Affairs Panel chairman, Ma Fung-kwok, has recommended that art groups strive for financial independence, aiming to receive no more than one-third of their funding from the government.

India: Kashmiri documentary removed from YouTube and screenings banned

16 October: The Kashmiri documentary Ocean of Tears was removed from YouTube and two screenings of the film were denied permission, with the police attending in one instance.

The 27-minute documentary portrays State forces and militants committing violent acts against women in Kashmir. It has been unofficially banned, despite being certified for “unrestricted viewing” by the Censor Board.  

Malaysia: US pop star banned from performing

26 October: A concert planned by US pop star Kesha was cancelled by the Malaysian authorities, citing religious and cultural sensitivities. Malaysia has strict rules for female performers, who must wear clothing that covers them from the top of the chest to the knees. Although Kesha had already agreed to modify her clothing and lyrics for the concert, the organisers were notified the day before the concert that the Malaysian authorities had decided not to approve the show.

Maldives: Bollywood movie song banned

31 October: The song God Allah Aur Bhagwan from the Bollywood movie Krrish 3 has been banned by the National Bureau of Classification due to its deemed ‘anti-Islamic’ nature. The Censor Board banned the import, sale, broadcast and re-broadcast of the song.


Europe & Central Asia

Italy: Photo exhibition depicting same-sex kiss attacked in Rome

17 October: A gay kiss exhibition was attacked by vandals, who entered the gallery and spray painted over the images. The Catholic Church had previously protested against the photos, which feature gay men kissing in churches and also includes an image of a woman dressed as a Catholic priest. One of the pieces had already been covered with black paper by the artist due to a threat of legal action from the Vicariate of Rome.

Kazakhstan: Imprisoned poet moved to unknown detention centre

5 October: The poet, Aron Atabek, who was sentenced to two years in solitary confinement in November 2012, was moved out of Arkalyk prison without being allowed to notify his family of the transfer. Atabek is currently appealing against his sentence and, if successful, will be moved out of solitary confinement and back into the general prison system. The exact location of the poet is still not known, and the Penal System Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has refused to respond to confirm or deny his current location to his son.

Spain: Concert cancelled over “anti-Spain” comments

18 October: The Council of Gijón province in Spain cancelled singer Albert Pla’s public concert over his “anti-Spain” comments. In an interview with a local newspaper Pla said that it “was disgusting to be Spanish and I hope everyone feels the same”. He added that “everyone should f****** learn Catalan [dialect from Catalunya region]”.  The Council stated that Pla’s insults were unacceptable and that he would be banned for life in the region.

UK: Art piece blocked by private companies

22 October: It was reported that two of the companies that own the majority of advertising sites in Manchester, CBS Outdoor and JCDecaux, have refused to display a piece of contemporary artwork that is part of an Imperial War Museum (IWM) promotional campaign. The piece is a photomontage, showing ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair taking a photograph of himself in front of a burning oil field. It is the lead image in the IWM’s campaign promoting their first major exhibition to be held at their national contemporary art collection in Manchester.

The two companies own the majority of the sites in Manchester and 50-70% of all outdoor advertising sites in Britain. Their refusal to display the image meant that the IWM had to abandon the entire campaign. The artists, Cat Phillips and Peter Kennard, have rejected CBS's response that they will not run anything “political” or “involving explosions” on “public transport media”, arguing that the corporation has allowed a poster on the London Underground showing a drone flying out of an explosion. They propose that the more likely reason for the censorship of the image is that it is anti-war and offends Tony Blair who is a popular speaker at corporate functions.


Middle East & North Africa

Iran: Female actor jailed for 18 months

29 October: It was reported that Pegah Ahangarani, an Iranian female actor known for her political activities, has been jailed for 18 months for "action against national security and links to foreign media". The female actor has appeared in about twenty films and has twice been detained since the election protests of June 2009.

Lebanon: Two films banned

13 October: Two films which were due to be shown at the Beirut International Film Festival were blocked by a government censorship committee. According to an Interior Ministry spokesman, the two films - Stranger by the Lake, a film about homosexuality by French director Alain Guiradie  and I Offered You Pleasure by Farah Shaer which deals with pleasure marriages - were banned due to various scenes that offend public opinion, including some showing gay men kissing as well as sex scenes.

Saudi Arabia: Writer jailed for supporting women’s protest

27 October: Writer and schoolteacher Tariq Al Mubarak was arrested for supporting a campaign to lift the ban on women drivers in the country. He has been held at the Criminal Investigation Department over a number of articles that he wrote supporting the campaign.  

Tunisia: Rapper acquitted

17 October: An appeals court has overturned the conviction of rapper Klay BBJ, who was sentenced to six months imprisonment for performing lyrics deemed insulting at a summer music festival. He spent three weeks in prison and was beaten en route to the police station.