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Artists' right to free expression curtailed with arrests, detention, censorship

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Artist Alert - April 2009

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.

In March 1959 an invitation to the Dalai Lama to attend a military theatrical performance sparked protests by an estimated 300,000 demonstrators in Lhasa, all concerned that the show would be a cover giving the Chinese army a chance to "disappear" the young leader. 50 years later in March 2009 whilst the Dalai Lama has been in exile for almost half a century, artists in Western China and Tibet still face widespread abuse, censorship and detention.

Tibet and China: numerous artists detained and censored

Editor Kunchok Tsephel Gopey was arrested in Gansu province at the end of February and his website Chomei (The Lamp) temporarily closed down.

Chomei ( ) has been written entirely in Tibetan languages and aims to raise awareness of art and culture in Tibet, providing a valuable forum for poets and artists to express themselves creatively. According to Reporters sans Frontières, Chomei has been regularly censored by the authorities since 2005.

Leading rock band Oasis has been blocked from playing concerts in China due to their previous support for the organisation Free Tibet. Concerts planned for Shanghai and Beijing were cancelled in March 2009 by their promoters after it became known that lead singer Noel Gallagher had performed in 1997 at a concert raising money for the campaigners for a free Tibet.

The cancellation follows a 2008 concert where singer Bjork allegedly shouted "Tibet Tibet!" and confirms rules that ban performers from lyrics that could damage "national unity" or "stir up resentment".

Jigme Gyatso, a monk who assisted director Dhondup Wangchen in the production of the 2008 film Leaving Fear Behind, was also re-arrested in March and there are reports of his torture.

Leaving Fear Behind ( ) was created in the run-up to the Beijing Olympic Games and contains interviews with Tibetans about the impact of Chinese policies on Tibetans and Tibetan culture. Both Jigme Gyatso and Dhondup Wangchen have been detained since filming. Jigme was released for several months in October 2008, only to be re-arrested in March 2009.

20-year-old writer Kunga Tseyang was also arrested in Golok County on 17 March. Tseyang studies at the world famous Labrang monastery and the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies and writes about Buddhism and Tibetan arts and culture. There has been no news of his whereabouts since.

These arrests are just part of a larger campaign by the authorities to suppress debate, including their earlier blocking of Tibet Culture website ( ) and their jamming of radio stations broadcasting in Tibetan languages.

United Kingdom: visa denials for artists

Under the new points-based visa system for the United Kingdom, artists of all genres are repeatedly being denied access to the country because their artistic professions are not highly rated by the system. In the first quarter of 2009, three artists: Tenzing Rigdol from Nepal; Dmitry Vilensky from Russia; and Huang Xu from China, had their visa applications rejected by the UK Border Agency. All three had applied for their visas with firm support from the highly-regarded Rossi & Rossi Gallery, the Showroom Gallery and the October Gallery respectively.

According to the Manifesto Club, contemporary visual artists, musicians, academics, promoters, museum and gallery workers, a ballet company, tango enthusiasts, and international actors have all been refused entry.

Israel: Jerusalem Cultural Festival banned

Israeli Minister for Internal Security Avi Dichter banned the festival Capital of Arab Culture 2009 from taking place in East Jerusalem in March.

The festival was due to take place over a whole year but Israeli police intervened to stop all future proceedings, despite East Jerusalem being outside of Israel's legal jurisdiction.

20 people were reportedly arrested for being associated with the event and Agence France Presse stated that Israeli police confiscated flags and detained university employees distributing t-shirts advertising the festival.

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