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Artistic freedom report: Films censored, American writer's books forbidden in Guantanamo and more

Some of American writer John Grisham's books are not allowed in Guantanamo Bay; in this March 2013 photo an unidentified prisoner reads a newspaper in a communal cellblock on the U.S. Naval Base
Some of American writer John Grisham's books are not allowed in Guantanamo Bay; in this March 2013 photo an unidentified prisoner reads a newspaper in a communal cellblock on the U.S. Naval Base

REUTERS/Bob Strong

In its Artist Alert report for July 2013, ARTICLE 19 highlights cases from Cameroon, Mexico, Malaysia and Uzbekistan, 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.


AFRICA

CAMEROON: BAN LIFTED ON DOCUMENTARY

On 2 July, the ban on the documentary L'Affaire Chebeya (Un crime d'Etat?) [The Chebeya Affair: A State Crime?] was lifted. The film, by filmmaker Thierry Michel, explores the assassination of human rights activist Floribert Chebeya in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the subsequent trial of his assassins.

The Cameroonian Censor Board had banned the screening and distribution of the movie in the country on 26 June 2013. The film had been due to be screened at the Ecrans Noirs [Black Screens] festival.

MALI: BAN LIFTED ON PERFORMANCES

On 12 July, Mali's Performers Union president, Mbaye Boubacar Diarra, stated that 12,000 singers and musicians in the country have been unemployed for seven months. This has been as a result of the performance ban imposed as part of the State of Emergency during Al-Qaeda's seven-month takeover and the subsequent French military intervention.

Performers and "griots" (traditional praise singers) were the most severely affected when emergency measures forbade public gatherings such as wedding celebrations which could lead to "a disturbance of public order".

SOUTH AFRICA: BAN LIFTED ON 'CHILD ABUSE' FILM

On 26 July, a South African censorship appeal tribunal lifted a ban on Jahmil XT Qubeka's film, Of Good Report, which had been deemed to be "child pornography".

The film was initially banned over a sex scene between a schoolteacher and a 16-year-old pupil, which some critics branded "disturbing". After the film was banned, it became a criminal act to possess a copy of the film and most copies were either surrendered to the police or destroyed.

UGANDA: AMERICAN FILMMAKER ACCUSED OF "SUBVERSIVE ACTIVITY"


On 27 July, an American independent documentary filmmaker, Taylor Krauss, was detained by the Ugandan authorities and held for three days after being caught filming opposition activists clashing with police in Kampala. Krauss was allegedly researching a documentary about Ugandan political opposition.

Interior Ministry Spokesperson, Benjamin Kagiremire, said that Krauss had violated the conditions of his tourist visa, which prevent him from working in Uganda. The filmmaker was accused of "subversive activity", interrogated for 10 hours and now faces deportation to the USA.


AMERICAS

GUANTANAMO: AMERICAN WRITER'S BOOKS FORBIDDEN

On 17 July, it was revealed that certain books by American politician and lawyer John Grisham are not allowed into Guantanamo Bay. The lawyer and politician has openly criticised the American government over its policy in Guantanamo, calling it "a sad perversion of American justice".

The two books in question are The King of Torts and The Innocent Man. A spokesman for the Department of State said that they "will continue to provide them [the prisoners] with appropriate reading materials based on what we believe is consistent with our responsibility to maintain good order and discipline and humane treatment" [our italics].

MEXICO: ARTWORK CRITICAL OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP REMOVED FROM ART EXHIBITION

On 21 July, the Veracruz Institute of Culture removed artwork by artist Iraís Esparza hours before its unveiling in a local museum in Veracruz state. The censored artwork was a news piece from a local newspaper where references to violence had been covered to reflect how censorship is being imposed on the media. The news piece concerned was a political comment about Governor Javier Duarte's administration.

Veracruz is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Since Duarte took office in December 2010, nine journalists have been murdered.

USA: MUSIC VIDEO REPORTEDLY TAKEN DOWN FROM YOUTUBE


On 5 July Tunnel Vision, a video clip by American pop artist Justin Timberlake, was taken down from YouTube because of its semi-nude scenes. Viewers attempting to watch the video were met with a message reading: "This video has been removed as a violation of YouTube's policy on nudity or sexual content".

Days after the video was reportedly removed, a new warning for underage viewers appeared on YouTube, advising users of explicit content in videos and music.

USA: MOVIE BLOCKED ON SOCIAL MEDIA

On 18 July American actor and filmmaker Kirk Cameron reported that Facebook and YouTube had censored the trailer for his new movie, Unstoppable. The evangelically themed movie was a "personal film […] about faith, God and hope", said Cameron.

YouTube stated that the trailer violated its policies against "spam, scams and commercially deceptive content". Similarly, Facebook claimed that its automated systems had identified the address used for the movie as being one that had previously been used for spam. However, after approaching both sites, the trailer was reinstated and both social networking sites have since apologised, according to Cameron.

VENEZUELA: GOVERNMENT BODY ORDERS PALESTINIAN FILM SHOWN

On 1 July, the National Centre of Cinematography (CNAC), the government body in charge of registering and sponsoring films produced in Venezuela, forced cinemas to screen a short documentary "about the struggle of the Palestinian people" immediately before the film Esclavo de Dios [God's Slave]. The film tells the story of the deadly attack against the Israeli embassy in Argentina in 1992, when 29 civilians were killed and 242 others injured.

The filmmaker, Joel Novoa, said that he has been receiving threats on Twitter and Facebook because of the alleged "pro-Israeli" content of the film. He also said that cinemas were informed two days before the premiere that they had to screen the Palestinian documentary immediately before Esclavo de Dios. He stated that this was being done "to confuse the audience, as there is not any indication saying that the documentary is not part of the film and people are leaving the theatres in the middle of the screening".

On 8 July, William Castillo, the director of the state-run TV channel TVes, tweeted to the director of CNAC that "I have been informed that there is a Venezuelan film funded by CNAC which is Israeli propaganda and anti-Venezuela. Do investigate".


ASIA PACIFIC

AUSTRALIA: POLICE MONITORS FEMALE GENITALIA EXHIBITION

On 1 July, it was revealed that police in Sydney had, on numerous occasions, turned up to 101 Vagina, an exhibition by the artist Philip Werner. The exhibition displayed black and white photos of women's vaginas alongside related stories. The photographer was asked by police, on several visits, to cover up the walls whilst the gallery was asked to cover its glass door.

Werner argues that his work is about "breaking down the taboo around vaginas and around genitalia and sexuality in general".

AUSTRALIA: AWARD-WINNING PHOTOGRAPH OF BABY'S BIRTH REINSTATED

On 19 July, the award-winning photograph taken by Victoria Berekmeri and originally taken down by the National Wine Centre was reinstated. The photo was removed from an exhibition after patrons complained that it was "too confronting". The image, which shows a baby being born, won a Silver Distinction at the South Australian Professional Photography Awards.

After learning that her photograph had been taken down, Berekmeri took to social media to express her disappointment and gained a great deal of support. As a result, negotiations were initiated between the Australian Institute of Professional Photographers and the Wine Centre. The print has now been reinstated and carries a translucent cover and a warning.

MALAYSIA: MP CALLS TO PROSECUTE MALE ACTORS DRESSED UP AS WOMEN

On 25 July, Malaysian senator Rohani Abdullah declared that male actors dressing up as women on TV are offending Islam and should be prosecuted. Malaysian TV is already heavily censored and scenes featuring swearing and kissing are routinely removed in a bid to rid the country from what the government considers "harmful foreign influences". Rohani claims that even though the men are only playing a part, dressing up as a woman is forbidden in Islam and their actions would be seen as promoting homosexual practices.

SRI LANKA: FILM BANNED BECAUSE IT "INSULTS ARMED FORCES"


On 12 July, the film Flying Fish by filmmaker Sanjeewa Pushpakumara was banned by the Sri Lankan government because it "insulted the armed forces", was "illegal" and used uniforms "without permission".

Pushpakumara released a statement saying that he sought to depict reality "in a humane and artistic way" based on his personal experience growing up in a Sri Lankan war zone. He denied any connection to the Tamil Tigers and non-governmental organisations that had been alleged on state television.


EUROPE AND CENTRAL ASIA

FRANCE: RELIGIOUS GROUP DEMANDS THAT MINISTRY OF CULTURE CENSOR SUICIDE BOMBER EXHIBITION

On 1 July, Jewish groups in Paris called on the French Ministry of Culture and Communication to shut down the exhibition Foyer Fantôme [Phantom Home] by Palestinian artist, Ahlam Shibli. The collection, which was not closed, includes a series of images of domestic shrines to Palestinian suicide bombers, labelling them "martyrs". The Jewish groups said the exhibition "justifies and glorifies terrorism".

UK: PHOTOGRAPH WITHDRAWN FROM ART FESTIVAL OVER "SEXUAL" TITLE

On 4 July, a photograph by John Byford was withdrawn from the British SO festival over its title, which was deemed too "sexual". The picture, named A Mouthful of Sperm, depicted two children staring into the mouth of a dead sperm whale. Its title was seen as "inappropriate" for a family audience. Organisers claimed that the title of the image could be interpreted in various ways, some of which "had very strong sexual connotations".

Byford, who is known for his edgy and controversial work, decided to withdraw all of his images after the removal of this picture in order to protest against the decision.

UK: AMERICAN POP SINGER VIDEO CENSORED OVER "INAPPROPRIATE" CONTENT


On 25 July, American pop artist Miley Cyrus revealed that the video to her song No Gyrating was censored for UK viewers by MTV. In the video released last month, the singer makes sexual gestures that were deemed 'inappropriate' for an underage audience. Cyrus stated that the UK music TV channel, MTV, sent her 18 requests to edit the video, but she refused.

UZBEKISTAN: UNIDENTIFIED ARTIST'S DRAG VIDEO SPARKS ONLINE OUTCRY


On 3 July, an unnamed Uzbek artist reportedly uploaded a video to YouTube where he was dressed in drag. In the video, he was passionately singing to a male colleague appearing to work in the same office. In the video, the soloist sings in Uzbek: "Drink me as your honey tea, know me as your sweet tea".

As homosexuality is illegal in Uzbekistan, the video has inevitably caused an outcry online and produced heated exchanges from YouTube users and bloggers alike. Online commentators have threatened the artist with violence and even murder for "disgracing the nation".

Uzbekistan punishes homosexuality with up to three years' imprisonment. Islam Karimov, the country's leader, for over two decades has repeatedly claimed that homosexuality is "disgusting" for Uzbeks to participate in.


MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA

TUNISIA: 19 ACTORS ATTACKED AND FACING "INDECENCY" CHARGES

On 7 July, Tunisia's public prosecutor questioned 19 actors who were attacked by Salafist Muslims for "indecent" behaviour. The male actors, who were performing bare-chested, were fundraising for a local theatre damaged in an arson attack. The actress heading the support group, Leila Toubel, noted that "the Salafists carry out attacks but actors are arrested". The actors are expected to be charged for "indecent acts".

TUNISIA: TWO RAPPERS ARRESTED FOR PERFORMING "DEFAMATORY" WELD EL 15 SONGS

On 21 July, hip-hop artists Maher Chebbi and Romdhane Jebali were arrested after performing the Weld El 15 song Les policiers sont des chiens [The police are dogs] at the Mjez El Bab festival. They were arrested for "insulting the police" and were held for six hours.

Weld El 15, whose real name is Ala Yaakoubi, was originally sentenced to a two-year imprisonment for charges related to the song. The charges included conspiracy to commit violence against the police. On appeal, the verdict was changed to a six-month suspended sentence and the rapper was released.

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