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Artistic freedom report: Mauritanian rapper detained, U.S. composer denied entry to Russia, and more

Egyptians watch the first episode of a show by Egypt's most prominent television satirist, Bassem Youssef, called
Egyptians watch the first episode of a show by Egypt's most prominent television satirist, Bassem Youssef, called "El Bernameg" in Cairo, 25 October 2013

REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

In its Artist Alert for November 2013, ARTICLE 19 highlights cases from Mauritania, Cuba, Malaysia and Germany, 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

MAURITANIA: RAPPER DETAINED FOR APPEARING WITHOUT VEIL

12 November: Security forces in Mauritania detained singer Hamza Brian. The following day, they detained rapper Laila Melay after conservative groups protested their most recent video where Laila appears without a veil.

The Islamic Mauritanian movement “No to pornography” strongly criticized the video and demanded authorities to take legal actions against the artist. Following the investigation, which lasted several hours, Laila agreed not to repeat her actions and both were released.

SOUTH AFRICA: COMPLAINT AGAINST 'OFFENSIVE' CARTOON DISMISSED

5 November: A complaint about a cartoon by Jonathan Shapiro published in the Sunday Times, was dismissed. Press Ombudsman Johan Retief concluded that although the cartoon was in “bad taste”, this did not outweigh the cartoonist's right to freedom of expression.

The cartoon, which accused a local cricket organisation of corruption by portraying the Hindu god, Ganesha, holding a cricket bat, received many complaints from South Africa's Hindu population.

ZIMBABWE: CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES IN FAVOUR OF ARTIST WHILE JUSTICE MINISTER DEFENDS CENSORSHIP LAW

6 November: The Constitutional Court ruled in favour of artist Owen Maseko, who had been accused of insulting the President. The court found that the so-called 'insult' law was unconstitutional. Section 33 of Zimbabwe's Criminal Codification and Reform Act stipulates that the crime of denigrating Zimbabwe's head of state carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail. Section 31 states that “communicating falsehoods” could result in a maximum sentence of 20 years. On 20 November 2013, Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa challenged the ruling, stating that it would lead to the abolition of the law. He claimed that the law is necessary as it protects the reputation of the president.

Maseko had originally been arrested in March 2010 on the first day of his exhibition at the Bulawayo Art gallery. The paintings, which depict the Gukurahundi atrocities, were subsequently covered up and the gallery treated like a crime scene.

AMERICAS

CUBA: PRIVATE CINEMAS SHUT DOWN

2 November: It was reported that the Cuban government ordered the closure of dozens of privately-run cinemas on the island. Weeks before the closure, government officials had talked about the “frivolity” and “banality” of American films screened in private cinemas and how these were “out of line with the cultural policy of the revolution”.

After the Cuban government relaxed restrictions on the private sector, many people started their own businesses under “self-employment” licences. These included taxi drivers, small-scale restaurateurs, seamstresses and owners of private cinemas. These cinemas were run in their owners' houses.

ECUADOR: BOOK ABOUT ECUADOR'S RELATIONS WITH NAZIS PULLED FROM INTERNATIONAL BOOK FAIR

22 November: The Ecuadorian writer and Head of the Hispanic Culture Institute Francisco, Núñez del Arco, claimed that his most recent book, Ecuador y la Alemania Nazi – Los secretos de una relación oculta [Ecuador and Nazi Germany – Secrets of an unknown relationship], was pulled from the Quito International Book Fair. He alleges that the Ministry of Culture insisted that the content needed to be revised before it could be presented at the fair.

Núñez del Arco said that the Ministry alleged that the book “advocated Nazism” but that, in reality, it is a collection of historic documents revealing the relationship between Ecuador and Germany under the Nazis.

USA: COMIC THEATRE ACTOR AND ACTIVIST FACES ONE YEAR IN PRISON

25 November: The actor and environmental activist, Billy Talen, was reported to be facing one year in prison after he staged a theatrical protest in a Manhattan branch of the major bank, JP Morgan Chase. Dressed as a Baptist preacher, Reverend Billy, Talen performed a 15-minute piece to protest against the bank's funding of mountaintop removal mining. Performing with him was a group dressed as Central American golden toads, a species that has been made extinct as a result of climate change.

Talen and choir director Nehemiah Luckett were arrested and charged with riot, trespass, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct.

VENEZUELA: NATIONAL ASSEMBLY SUMMONS PERFORMER OVER COMMENTS “INCITING TO VIOLENCE”

27 November: The Venezuelan National Assembly summoned Guillermo Dávila for allegedly inciting violence against the artist Roque Valero and his family. Both artists were queuing in a supermarket when a group of people started shouting “insults” at Valero's wife and children regarding Valero's well-known closeness to the Presidential family and the government. Dávila was accused of inciting the customers to shout at Valero.

The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, tweeted Roque Valero deploring “yet another attack on Valero by opposition groups”, a reference to Dávila's political opinions.

ASIA PACIFIC

CHINA: RELEASE OF CONTROVERSIAL FILM BLOCKED

25 November: The latest film by director Jia Zhangke, A Touch of Sin, was not released as scheduled on 9 November and the director was notably absent from the 50th Golden Horse Awards in Taipei, also known as the 'Chinese Oscars'. A leaked order from China's Central Propaganda Department allegedly directed media outlets to block coverage of the film. It was also reported that the director was banned from attending the awards ceremony despite claiming personal reasons for his absence.

The film is inspired by actual events and explores the human cost of China's rise through the story of four main characters: a miner, a migrant worker, a sauna hostess and a factory employee. It also makes reference to the Foxconn suicides and the bullet train wreck that killed dozens of passengers.

MALAYSIA: COURT OF APPEAL UPHOLDS RULING AGAINST POLITICAL CARTOONIST

1 November: The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court ruling that the arrest and detention of political cartoonist Zulkiflee SM Anwar Ulhaque in 2010 was lawful. The original ruling found that the cartoonist had contravened the Sedition Act 1948. Zulkiflee, however, claimed that his arrest and detention and the seizure of his works just hours before his book, Cartoon-0-phobia, was due to be launched were all aimed at sabotaging the book launch.

The Court of Appeal has found that, while the arrest and detention was lawful, the seizure of the cartoonist's work was not. The cartoonist has responded saying that he finds the decision “unacceptable and comical”. He questions how the judges could rule that his detention was legal while the confiscation of his book was illegal.

VIETNAM: GOVERNMENT ISSUES DECREE INCREASING FINES FOR PERFORMERS WHO BREAK REGULATIONS

12 November: A new decree was issued which tightens control over every aspect of artistic performances. Decree 158, which will take effect in January 2014, stipulates that:

artists will be unable to wear costumes that are deemed “too sexy”
performers will be unable to introduce ideas which have not been pre-approved into their shows
artists could be fined for lip-syncing or playing recordings in instrumental performances.
In addition to heavy fines, artists may also be banned from performing for one to three months for violating these regulations.

EUROPE & CENTRAL ASIA

GERMANY: EDUCATION CENTRE'S DECISION TO REMOVE NUDE ARTWORK SPARKS DEBATE

15 November: It was reported that an adult education centre in Berlin decided to remove a series of nude artworks out of respect for Muslim beliefs. The paintings by Berlin artist Susanne Schueffel, depicted nude women and were also excluded from an art exhibition in the neighbourhood.

The move came after a refugee centre was established nearby and an increasing number of immigrants moved to the area. The decision has sparked a debate in Germany about the balance between respecting artistic expression versus respecting religious beliefs.

RUSSIA: PUSSY RIOT MEMBER COULD SPEND REST OF SENTENCE IN HOSPITAL

15 November: Imprisoned Pussy Riot member, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, told her husband that she has been admitted to the Regional Tuberculosis Hospital in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk. She disappeared from public view while being transferred from prison, having been on hunger strike to demand better conditions in prison for herself and the other prisoners.

She is now being treated for medical complications resulting from her hunger strike. As she is due to complete her sentence in March 2014, she may spend the rest of her sentence in hospital.

RUSSIA: PERFORMANCE ARTIST DETAINED

15 November: A performance artist was detained in Moscow after nailing his genitals to the ground in Red Square as a protest against the Russian government. His performance, which went on for an hour and a half before he was arrested, was captured on video and put online, though it was blocked by leading social media. He could now be charged with hooliganism and sentenced to five years in prison. The artist has previously performed other painful protests to highlight political causes.

RUSSIA: US COMPOSER DENIED ENTRY VISA

22 November: It was reported that US composer Richard Cameron-Wolfe, who specialises in promoting Russian classical music in the USA, has been denied an entry visa to Russia despite having visiting more than 11 times since 1989.

The composer is one of many artists who have been denied an entry visa since the signing of a visa facilitation agreement in September 2012. Representatives of Russia's consulate in San Francisco said they did not understand why his visa was denied. While the intention behind the visa facilitation agreement was to make travel easier between the two countries, the reality is that the granting of visas is still highly vulnerable to changes in political relations between the two countries.

SPAIN: CALLS TO BAN BOOK “GET MARRIED AND BE OBEDIENT”

25 November: The Spanish Minister of Health, Ana Mato, called on the government to ban Cásate y se sumisa [Get married and be obedient]. The book, which is aimed at women, was written by Costanza Miriano, and published by the archdiocese of Granada.

Mato said the book was demeaning to women and she did not agree with “the title or the content of the book” as “it promotes machismo”. She added that “all women in Spain” felt the book was offensive.

MIDDLE EAST & NORTH AFRICA
EGYPT: COMEDY SHOW EL BERNAMEG CANCELLED

November 19: The privately-owned Egyptian TV channel, CBC, cancelled comedian Bassem Youssef's contract for his popular TV show El Bernameg. Although CBC has claimed that the show was cancelled for financial reasons, the biting political satire for which the show is famous has led people to suspect otherwise. The first episode of the season mocked the fervour of fans that support Defence Minister Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the series was taken off air minutes before the start of the second episode.

CBC had earlier issued a statement distancing itself from Youssef, stating that it supports “the general national sentiment and the will of the Egyptian people”. Leaks from the un-aired second episode suggest that the show was going to criticise the statement issued by CBC. Bassem Youssef, who was arrested earlier in the year for mocking President Morsi, says that the programme is not biased against any group and, despite the increasingly polarised political environment in Egypt, aims to mock extremists from both sides equally.

IRAN: AZERI FOLK MUSICIAN AND ACTIVIST ARRESTED

4 November: It was confirmed that 70-year-old folk musician and political activist, Hasan Demirçi, has been arrested and transferred to an unknown location. He was previously sentenced to six months in prison by the Tabriz Revolutionary Court. According to reports, he was charged with:

collecting funds without government permission (for the earthquake victims in the Azerbaijan region of Iran)
teaching music without permission
interacting with separatists, both inside and outside the country
meeting released prisoners with the intention of supporting and pursuing separatist activities.
The musician has previously been arrested several times for his cultural and political activities.

SYRIA: COMEDIAN KIDNAPPED

7 November: The comedian and graphic designer, Abdulwahab Mulla, was kidnapped. He hosts his own YouTube programme, The 3-Star Revolution, in which he documents the daily struggles of the citizens of Aleppo. In his programme, he sings and uses his graphic design skills to comment on political issues. He has repeatedly criticised the abuses carried out by militant Islamist groups.

Although the identity of the perpetrators is unconfirmed, there has been an increasing number of kidnappings and murders of citizen journalists and others publicly broadcasting views that are critical of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda affiliate active in the rebel-held areas in Syria.

Latest Tweet:

Director of #Pakistan's largest media group kidnapped @Pakistan_Press : https://t.co/QmIOmEo2KB @pressfreedom : https://t.co/c0iaJ3Fvhv