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Artistic censorship report: Cuban writer sentenced, artwork censored in UK

Pragaash, the first all-girl band in Kashmir, India, separated after being declared
Pragaash, the first all-girl band in Kashmir, India, separated after being declared "un-Islamic"

Pragaash Facebook page

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - In its Artist Alert report for February 2013, ARTICLE 19 highlights cases from Haiti, Cuba, the U.K. and Italy among others.

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.


AMERICAS

HAITI: PROTEST MUSICIANS EXCLUDED FROM CARNIVAL

At least three music groups have been left out of Haitian carnivals in February 25 for playing protests songs that are deemed "critical" of president Michel Martelly's administration. Traditionally, Haitian carnivals have been a platform to air frustration and disappointment towards governments.

"These songs reflect the reality of the country, but [Martelly] takes it the wrong way," said Thomas Asabath, manager of "Brothers Posse", one of the bands rejected from the carnival line-up. Another band, "Aloral" mocks Martelly and his policies on the environment, education and energy in one of their video clips.

CUBAN FICTION WRITER SENTENCED TO FIVE YEARS IN PRISON

Fiction writer and blogger, Ángel Santiesteban Prats was sentenced to five-years imprisonment in 14 February. Santiesteban was arrested on 8 November 2012 after being beaten and injured among a group of activists demonstrating in front of a police station against the imprisonment of political advocate, Antonio Rodiles. Once released from prison, Santiesteban published in his blog the details of his arrest along with a picture of his t-shirt with bloodstains.

Santiesteban, who is critical towards Castros' human rights record in Cuba in his award-winning blog 'The Children Who Nobody Loved', was charged with alleged assault and trespassing, in what looks like a politically-motivated prosecution.


EUROPE

UK: BBC CENSORS 'HONOUR KILLINGS' DRAMA

'Heart of Darkness', a controversial drama about honour killings in Britain due to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in February, was redacted when the BBC corporation asked its playwright, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, to cut key lines from the story.

The drama tells the story of a 16 year-old Asian girl, whose body is found after being knifed to death in an honour killing. As the play suggests that the girl has Muslim heritage, Sikh playwright Bhatti was asked to treat this crucial part of the story "sensitively" as it may be perceived as "offensive" to some Muslim communities.

A week before recording the episode, Bhatti was told by the BBC that the script was being modified. Radio 4 said a line was removed since it could "possibly misrepresent" the thoughts British Muslims have towards honour killing.

Bhatti has previously faced censorship and death threats for claims of "offence" after her play, Behzti (Dishonour), was pulled from the Birmingham Rep after members of the Sikh community violently protested outside.

ITALY CALLS OFF PREMIERE OF DOCUMENTARY ABOUT POLITICAL SITUATION

The Rome premiere of the film 'Girlfriend in a Coma' was due on 13 February but was postponed by the ministry of culture who deemed the documentary "too political" to be shown in the run up to general elections. The movie addresses political corruption, media monopolies and corporate power under Silvio Berlusconi's administration, featuring interviews with political figures including the current Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Bill Emmott, co-director of 'Girlfriend in a Coma' and former editor of The Economist magazine, was declared persona non-grata in Italy during Berlusconi's period in office after the highly critical coverage of his administration in the British magazine.

UK: ARTWORK REMOVED FROM 'BANNED FILMS AND BOOKS' FESTIVAL

A visual poem and artwork by British artist Vince Laws due to be shown in February 9 at a public library exhibition of banned books and films were removed by local authorities as his work was deemed "too controversial".

The visual poem 'This Pope is Pants' and the artwork 'Eat the Poor' were intended to provoke discussion on what is allowed in contemporary societies and what is not. 'Eat the Poor' is a political comment about the recent benefit cuts undertaken by the British government and makes reference to the government coalition formed by Conservative and Liberal Democrat political parties.

ONLINE: FACEBOOK REMOVES PICTURE OF NUDE PAINTING


The entrepreneur and gay rights activist, Ivan Massow, has been repeatedly blocked from using his Facebook account in February after posting nude and semi-nude paintings of his partner, Andrew Salgado.

Massow claims that the pictures he was trying to post on the social media network did not contain any pornographic or sexual reference, but were still blocked by Facebook. Facebook has a controversial policy prohibiting nudity on its platform, although in this case their policy has grown to include paintings of nudity rather than photographs.

SWITZERLAND: PHOTO BOOK BAN UPHELD BY ZURICH COURT

The decision to ban 'In Jesus' Name', a photographic book by Swiss photographer Christian Lutz, was upheld by a Zurich court on 24 January. The book is part of a series that features the diverse forms of religious power inside the International Christian Fellowship, an evangelic church in Switzerland.

The production and distribution of the book was blocked by a court decision on November 2012 after a group of church members who were photographed by Lutz filled a lawsuit complaining that they never gave their consent to use their images.

Lutz has denied the accusation stating that he was issued a photo-reporter badge and was granted express consent from the managers of the church who welcomed him into the community. The photographer also declared that he kept requesting authorisation to take photos in different events held in the church.

Lutz has been awarded several prizes for his work on revealing the behind-the-scenes of power. In Protokoll (2007), he documented the manoeuvrings of Swiss diplomacy and in Tropical Gift (2010) Lutz revealed the power behind oil companies in Africa.

AZERI WRITER PERSECUTED FOR "PRO-ARMENIAN" BOOK

Stone Dreams, a novel by Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli about the Azerbaijan-Armenia war through the 20th century, which sympathised with Armenian victims, sparked anger amongst pro-government activists in Azerbaijan. The book was publicly burnt, Aylisli's national literary awards were withdrawn and a prominent Azeri politician offered the equivalent of US$13,000 as a reward for anyone who cut off the writer's ear.

Ruling party parliamentarians asked to test Aylisli's DNA to check if he was a truly Azeri or an Armenian. Other high-ranking politicians labelled him as a "traitor" and said "public hatred" was the right response to his writing.

RUSSIA: RAPPER KILLED AFTER "BAD" SHOW

Rapper Alexei Gorlishchev, 25, was performing at a sports bar in Arkhangelsk, north Russia on February 17 when his allegedly "poor" show sparked anger from the audience. One member of the audience told the rapper to "take it outside" where Gorlishchev was then kicked to death, according to reports.

Hip-hop in Russia is often critical of the government and remains unpopular for some audiences, especially among those with tendencies towards nationalistic or punk music.

TURKEY: PIANIST FACES TRIAL OVER 'BLASPHEMOUS' COMMENTS ON TWITTER

The trial of Turkish pianist Fazal Say, 43, for forwarding tweets mocking the practices of some followers of Islam, was postponed on February 18. Three Turkish citizens accused Say of "mocking" their religious beliefs and brought charges against the pianist for "denigration of faith".

The outspoken pianist, a declared atheist, is openly opposed to Turkish social policy. His criticism of the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip and the governing Islamic party, AK Party have won him several detractors. Say's Symphony No. 2, "Mesopotamia" which highlights the situation of Kurds in Turkey, is also seen unfavourably amongst conservatives.

Say's trial will continue in Istanbul from 15 April and he could face an 18-month prison sentence if found guilty.


ASIA

INDIA: KASHMIR GIRL BAND SPLITS UP AFTER BEING DECLARED "UN-ISLAMIC"

Pragaash, the first all-girl band in Kashmir, separated after the region's top Muslim cleric declared the band "un-Islamic" and "indecent" and demanded they disband on January 30. The band was also the target of threats on social media for looking "too Western".

A spokesperson from one of the main political parties in Kashmir said that allowing Pragaash performances was "a step toward diverting young girls toward Westernisation."

Pragaash ("First Light" in Kashmiri) is a three-member band whose members are in high school. They started to receive online threats after winning "Battle of the Bands", a local musical contest held every year in December.

CHINA INTENSIFIES CONCERT RULES FOR FOREIGN MUSICIANS

After the performance of British singer Elton John last November in China where he dedicated his show to Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei, China has tightened its music gig and immigration rules for foreign artists. State-run newspapers in China criticised John's show saying it was "disrespectful" and "political".

Cai Wu, Chinese Minister of Culture, said that only artists with university degrees should be granted licenses to perform in China. Since the announcement a group of classical musicians that prefer to stay anonymous said they were asked to provide diplomas and proof of qualifications when applying for their Chinese visas.

JAPAN: FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER ARRESTED FOR NUDE PHOTOS


Leslie Kee, a Tokyo-based fashion photographer, was briefly arrested in Japan on February 4 for selling pictures with male nudity in an art exhibition. The charges brought against Kee were based on Japan's Penal Code which penalises the distribution, selling or display of material deemed "obscene".

The photographer is also known for his homoerotic artwork and for working for US pop singers Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

BENGALI FILM CRITICAL ABOUT CHIEF MINISTER CENSORED

The Bengali censor board has denied the approval of Kangal Malsat (War Cry of the Poor), a film about the shift in power in West Bengal, last February 25. The board claimed the movie was "dishonourable" to the newly-elected West Bengal chief minister, Mamata Banerjee, for showing a scene in the movie where a person is yawning and bored watching the swearing-in of the chief minister on TV.

The board also refused to approve the movie for using "abusive language" and a "casual approach" to portraying social movements that may "hurt sentiments and a distortion of history" in reference to the depiction of the recent political changes in West Bengal.

VIETNAM'S NEW DRAFT CONSTITUTION UNDERMINES FREEDOM OF ARTISTIC EXPRESSION

The new Vietnamese draft constitution weakens freedom of artistic expression in the country, expressing in Article 64.5:

"All activities in the fields of culture and information that are detrimental to national interests, and destructive of the personality, morals, and fine lifestyle of the Vietnamese; and the propaganda of all reactionary and depraved thought, publications and other forms shall be strictly banned. Superstitions are to be eliminated."

In October 30 2012, two Vietnamese songwriters were sentenced to six years imprisonment for spreading "anti-state propaganda".


MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

ISRAELI MINISTER OF CULTURE ENCOURAGES FILMMAKERS TO SELF-CENSOR

The Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat said on 27 February that Israeli filmmakers who are critical to Israeli policies should avoid making movies that "defame" the State and encouraged them to "self-censor" when doing so.

The Culture Minister also mentioned she was not disappointed to learn that neither of the two Israeli films nominated in the 85th Academy Awards won. One of the documentaries nominated, "5 Broken Cameras" addressed the non-violent resistance in the occupied Palestinian territories, while the other, "The Gatekeepers", explores decision-making in the Israeli secret service.

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