We thank the Special Rapporteur for her timely report. We share her concerns at the risks facing cultural rights defenders, including those using artistic expression to defend human rights, engage in cultural criticism, and express dissent. As she highlights, the threats against cultural rights defenders are varied, and their access to protection often limited: States must do more to guarantee their rights.
ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned by States’ misuse of overly restrictive legislation to arbitrarily detain, and harass, cultural rights defenders. Defenders cannot rely on the State to keep them safe if those same authorities apply abusive laws – including criminal defamation, morality, and ‘insult’ laws, and overbroad counter-terror legislation – to silence those voices they disagree with.
In Myanmar, documentary filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi was sentenced in 2019 to 1 year’s imprisonment under section 505(b) of the Penal Code, in relation to comments critical of the military. Over the last year, the authorities have piled on charges against members of the Peacock Generation thangyat troupe – a satirical performance group – for a performance deemed critical of the military. Members of the group have already been convicted under section 505(a) of the Penal Code, and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, and still face additional charges.
In Turkey, the authorities have targeted cultural rights defenders – including writers, artists, and journalists – through the abuse of extraordinarily vague counter-terrorism laws. In 2019, Nazlı Masatçı was sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, on trumped-up terrorism charges related to her acting in a stage production. This is just the latest in a long line of legal attacks against her, and others in Turkey. This “hostile environment” is driving self-censorship, and a decline in the diversity of cultural life, with a particular impact on minority communities.
We call on all States at this Council to cease their harassment of cultural rights defenders, and review, repeal or reform all those laws that restrict freedom of expression, and the exercise of cultural rights.