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Artistic censorship highlighted in latest monthly report

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 8 November 2012 - In its Artist Alert report for October 2012, ARTICLE 19 highlights cases from Vietnam, Greece, Uganda and Turkey among others.

Artist Alert, October 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.

UNESCO CONVENTION ON CULTURAL EXPRESSION: ARTICLE 19 URGES UN BODY TO ACCEPT SHADOW REPORT ON CHINA

ARTICLE 19 has submitted a shadow report to UNESCO on artistic expression in China. The report argues that China has failed to create an environment conducive for diverse cultural expressions as required under its ratification of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

VIETNAM: SONGWRITERS SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR 'ANTI-STATE PROPAGANDA'


In its latest crackdown on freedom of speech, a Vietnamese court sentenced two popular musicians on 30 October to six years imprisonment for spreading "anti-state propaganda". They were charged under Article 88 of the criminal code which punishes anti-state conducts with up to 20 years in jail.

RUSSIA: PUSSY RIOT TRIAL EXHIBITION UNDER INVESTIGATION

The 'Spiritual Row' exhibition, dedicated to the punk band Pussy Riot and its recent trial, is under a pre-investigation inquiry by the Russian Investigative Committee for violating Article 282 of the Criminal Code that provides for punishment for incitement to hatred.

The exhibition at Vinzavod Gallery in Moscow, displayed wooden icons and paintings portraying the Pussy Riot members wearing balaclavas of various colours. One of the pictures carried the word "free" in large yellow letters.

The Orthodox Church described the art show on 3 October as an "act of cynical terror against Russian culture". "What is going on at the exhibition has nothing to do with art. It is yet another instance of cynical and ruthless terrorism against our culture," said Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), secretary of the Patriarch's Council for Culture.

Natalya Pelevina, member of 'Partiya 5th October' - an opposition political movement - reported that the five people who took the photos of the exhibition for the purpose of investigation came dressed in civilian clothing but were backed by the Investigative Committee and the 'religious extremism' branch of the Interior Ministry.

Evgenia Mal'tseva, artist, and Viktor Bondarenko, organiser of the exhibition, were called in for questioning by the Investigative Committee concerning whether or not they wanted to insult the feelings of religious believers.

GREECE: GAY KISS BROADCAST CENSORED

Greek state television decided on 17 October to censor a kiss between two men from a scene in the popular imported British drama, Downton Abbey. The state-run NET channel said it had to edit out the scene to comply with "parental guidance rules" which applied at the 10pm screening slot and would screen the full programme at a later date. The opposition party claimed the omission was clearly an act of homophobia and discrimination.

UGANDA: MEDIA COUNCIL BANS PLAY

The Ugandan regulator covering theatre, the Media Council ordered a theatre group to stop staging the play "State of the Nation" on 31 October after a month of showing it in the National Theatre. Although the play had received the "approval" of its script by the Council - a regulation in violation of freedom of expression in itself - the regulatory body stated that the approval for the play would be suspended and placed under review.

"State of the Nation" makes allegations of corruption in Uganda which has been under the rule of President Museveni since 1986. The play was produced to coincide with the fiftieth Anniversary of Uganda's independence.

Another play being staged in the National Theatre, "The River and the Mountain", written by the British playwright Beau Hopkins and featuring a debate about homosexuality in Uganda, was also cancelled in 2012 when the Media Council decided to reconsider the content of the play.

TURKEY: PIANIST CHARGED WITH INSULTING RELIGION WITH 1000-YEAR OLD POEM


Turkish pianist Fazil Say has pleaded not-guilty before a court in Turkey charged with insulting religion. Say re-tweeted a verse from a 1000-year old poem by Omar Khayyam who lived in 11th century Persia which states "I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there's a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it's always an Islamist". He faces a maximum 18 months in prison.

The full poem mocks religious hypocrisy and state prosecutors allege that Say was "explicitly insulting religious values" which is a crime in Turkey. Say denied the charges in front of a courtroom packed with fellow artists concerned at increasing censorship of the arts in the country.

CHINA: "DON'T SPEAK" WINS NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE


Mo Yan is the first Chinese author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature for his work as "hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary". Mo Yan, a pen name, translates as "Don't speak" which the author chose to remind himself and others that there are some things that he as a writer cannot say in China at the risk of censorship, arrest and repression.

Despite the meaning of Mo Yan's pen name, many Chinese dissidents and writers have expressed dismay at the Nobel committee's choice, arguing that as Vice Chairman of the government-supported China Writers Association, Mo Yan is at the heart of the Chinese system of censorship of the arts.

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