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ARTICLE 19 artist alert

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - June 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.

Since ARTICLE 19 published a report in 2005 entitled Art, Religion and Hatred; Religious Intolerance in Russia and its Effects on Art ( http://www.article19.org/pdfs/publications/russia-art-religion-and-hatred.pdf ), artistic expression in Russia remains stifled and artists self-censor their work.

There is no specific law that explicitly bans artists in Russia from exploring certain issues, but in practice artists are harassed, detained and charged for breaching various loosely-defined laws, such as the 2002 law that was established to prohibit expression of nationalist extremism. Police and security services can use vague legislation such as the 2002 law, as well as legal loopholes to instantaneously arrest and detain artists and close down exhibitions.

Russia: artist arrested for collage of Putin

Well-known and influential Russian artist Alexander Shchednov was arrested on June 11 by the FSB whilst displaying a collage in an exhibition in the city of Voronezh.

The collage, which depicts the coy-looking head of prime minister Vladimir Putin on the top of a woman's body, has written on it: "Oh I don't know . . . a third presidential . . . it's too much, on the other hand ."

Shchednov was arrested whilst attempting to hang the collage, and claims that he was questioned and abused for seven hours before being charged with "uncensored swearing in a public place".

Russia: trial of curators facing five years imprisonment starts

The trial of Yury Samodurov and Andrey Erofeev for organising an exhibition entitled "Forbidden Art 2006" at the Andrei Sakharov Museum has resumed two years after the nationalist religious organisation, Narodnyj Sobor, submitted a formal complaint.

Samodurov and Erofeev face five years in prison on charges of inciting religious and ethnic hatred under Article 282 of the Russian Penal Code. Examples of some of the art works exhibited included a crucified Lenin and Mickey Mouse as Jesus. Incitement legislation is widely used in Russia to suppress dissent and criticism of government.

Turkey: growing religious conservatism threatens free expression

Turkish author Nedim Gursel believes that increasing religious conservatism is undermining freedom of expression in Turkey in the countdown to its European Union candidacy.

In 2009 a Turkish court allowed a case to be brought against Gursel for "insulting religion" and "inciting hatred". Although Turkey is infamous for charging many authors, including Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, under laws that criminalise insulting "Turkishness", Gursel argues that increasingly it is the religious establishment that is becoming the bigger threat against freedom of expression.

Gursel is on trial for his book "The Daughters of Allah" against which a case was brought earlier in 2009 on the charges of insulting religion and inciting hatred. The book describes a fictional interpretation of the Prophet Mohammad and his life and joins a number of other publications that are indicted with insulting "Turkishness".

China: Bird's Nest architect under increasing censorship attempts

The designer of the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium, Ai Weiwei, has come under increasing state censorship since the end of the 2008 Beijing Olympic games. Ai's blog was shut down by China's biggest news portal Sina in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, after he had allegedly refused authorities' requests not to write anything about the anniversary.

Ai had also asserted in his blog that Chinese security officers were following him and intimidating his family, friends and colleagues, including his 76-year-old mother.

A highly regarded designer and artist, Ai gave the Chinese authorities grounds for disapproval after he began a campaign to expose the reasons why so many schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Mexico: assault of political cartoonist

Prominent political cartoonist Mario Robles, from the newspaper Noticias Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca, was violently assaulted and subjected to death threats in late April by members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which controls the Oaxaca state government.

Cartoons serve a specific purpose in political commentary and can often be more influential, further reaching and create a larger impression than written words. Attacking a cartoonist not only impacts on Robles, but also censors political commentary and denies citizens an opportunity to receive information.

Robles has been a political cartoonist for 30 years and has won the state journalistic award six times. In an interview with ARTICLE 19, Robles asserted that two party campaigners attacked and kicked him repeatedly before warning him that he needed to "modify his cartoons" or they would kill him and his family.

Iran: censorship of book industry pervasive

According to an International Publishers Association investigation, since the election of President Ahmadinejad in 2005, censorship within the Iranian publishing industry is clearly on the rise, with decisions about what gets published becoming more unpredictable, uncertain and arbitrary.

Although the number of titles is slowly rising, the average print run is now only 3,000 compared to an average of 10,000 in the 1970s. This is entirely due to censorship. The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance (MCIG) never officially bans books. Rather, if an author does not hear back within two years, they understand that their manuscript has been rejected.

In Iran, an author must obtain permission to print from the MCIG and a licensed publisher must obtain separate permission to distribute. In some cases the author gains permission to print, but the publisher does not gain permission to distribute.

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