Turkey’s Growing Hostilities Against Artistic Expression
Turkey has always had a complicated relationship with protecting—and prohibiting—the right to artistic freedom. The country specifically protects artistic freedom under its constitution, such as in Article 64, which states, “The State shall protect artistic activities and artists. The State shall take the necessary measures to protect, promote, and support works of art and artists, and encourage the spread of art appreciation”. However, Article 26 in the country’s constitution also imposes limitations on artistic expression that essentially allow the government to censor, detain, prosecute and even imprison an artist for work that is perceived to be an endangerment to the nation.
Notably, what is considered to be “an endangerment to the nation” can be broadly interpreted. Earlier this month on 12 July, popular Turkish actress and singer Zuhal Olcay received a suspended jail sentence of 11 months and 20 days for “insulting” President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a performance almost two years ago. She was originally sentenced to a 10-month prison sentence in March; the new sentence followed an appeal. Olcay was prosecuted after a concertgoer told police she made an insulting hand gesture while singing a song with revised lyrics about President Erdoğan at an August 2016 concert in Istanbul. The singer has continually denied the offences, claiming she only changed the lyrics because the president’s name fit the rhyme, not because of any “ulterior or insulting motive”.
Similarly, it was announced last month on 5 June that prominent Turkish cartoonist Nuri Kurtcebe was granted conditional release by a Turkish court in lieu of his 14-month imprisonment on charges of insulting Erdoğan in his drawings published in 2015. The ruling followed the Hamburg Higher Court’s decision release on 15 May to dismiss Erdoğan’s appeal to ban a poem by German comedian Jan Böhmermann, claiming that the work was insulting to the president himself, and by extension, Turkey.
Additionally, two singers who expressed pro-Kurdish sentiments were arrested and charged by Turkish officials within a few days of one another due to claims of alleged terrorist activities. On 22 June 2018, Hozan Cane, a German citizen of Kurdish heritage, was taken into custody in the city of Edirne by Turkish officials while attending campaign events for the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Singer Jiyan, lead vocalist for the band Koma Rosîda, was also detained and charged after a performance on 19 June 2018, just four days before Cane’s arrest. Jiyan allegedly performed a song that included the word “Kurdistan” in the lyrics. Turkish authorities deemed the lyrics to be pro-Kurdish propaganda, and as such, terror related.
Most recently, on 11 July Turkish rapper Ezhel (Ömer Sercan İpekçioğlu) was recharged by the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Office for “encouraging drug use” to the Turkish public through his lyrics. This is Ezhel’s second time facing the charge of encouraging drug use, which if found guilty, could result in a 10-year prison sentence. His initial indictment was issued in late May alongside charges filed against Turkish rappers Khontkar (real name of Onur Dinç) and Young Bego, who were also prosecuted for the same crime. Ezhel was acquitted of the initial charges on 19 June 2018, less than one month before his new indictment.
Listen to the Silenced: The State of Artistic Freedom in Europe
Freemuse has partnered with Culture Action Europe
to organize an event regarding the state of artistic freedom in Europe. The event will take place on 4 September 2018 in the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. The event will be based on our The State of Artistic Freedom 2018 report, assessing the global state of artistic freedom, and will include panelists consisting of representatives from the arts community and policy-and decision makers.
Be sure to register here before 25 August 2018 if you would like to attend the event. Programming for the event will be available in the upcoming weeks.
Artistic Expression in the Pride World: Three Cases Related to LGBT Rights
In honour of pride season, we’re highlighting three recent cases involving art and the LGBT community.
Student activists arrested: On 28 June 2018, three student activists were detained and fined over an artistic protest supporting LGBT rights outside a Belarusian government ministry in Minsk. The students placed rainbow-coloured footprints and pots of flowers at the base of a policeman statue outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which had said in a statement on 20 May that same-sex relationships are “fake”.
Book Ban: Ten LGBT-themed children’s books have been pulled from the shelves at Hong Kong’s public libraries following heavy campaigning by anti-gay rights group: Family School Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance Concern Group.
For months the group complained to the Home Affairs Bureau about books that promote gay and transgender awareness. In a Facebook post on 17 June, the group shared an email from the Bureau confirming 10 books would be moved to the closed section of libraries. The titles can still be accessed upon request.
Spread the Love: Despite reportedly having received certification from the Central Board of Film Certification on 6 February 2018, the LGBT coming of age film “Love, Simon” has yet to be screened in Indian theatres. Indian audiences called for its release after the film failed to air on its premiere date of 1 June 2018. Many fans even took to social media to demand the film be shown, utilising the hashtag #ReleaseLoveSimoninIndia to express their discontentment.
Galal is facing charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army”—sentences that carry a two-year and three-year prison term, respectively—related to the release of his latest book of poetry “The Finest Women on Earth”.
Today marks Galal’s 145th day in detention. Demand the immediate and unconditional release of the poet by signing this petition.
10 August 2018: Trial for musician and activist Chama Fumba, popularly known as Pilato, will reconvene
Pilato is facing charges related to his participation in a
peaceful protest in September 2017. On 25 June 2018, Pilato stood trial at Lusaka Magistrate Court regarding charges related to his participation in a peaceful protest in September 2017. The musician was arrested on 16 May 2018 upon arrival at Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in capital city Lusaka after he was forced to leave his home country on 5 January due to death threats over his new song Koswe Mumpoto (Rat in the Pot), which is said to criticise Zambian President Edgar Lungu.
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The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) criticised Russia for its “exceptionally severe” treatment of musical group Pussy Riot after its protest performance at a Moscow cathedral in 2012.
In a judgment handed down 17 July 2018, the ECHR found Russia committed multiple violations of the European Convention on Human Rights when it detained, tried, convicted and jailed three Pussy Riot members for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”.The court ordered Russia to pay damages of 16,000 euros each to members Alekhina and Tolokonnikova and 5,000 euros to member Samutsevich, as well as 11,760 euros for costs and expenses.
Iranian teenager detained for dancing
Maedeh Hojabri was briefly arrested after posting videos of herself dancing on social media, sparking international protests. In a state-run TV program that aired on 6 July 2018, Hojabri acknowledged posting the content for her thousands of Instagram followers. Some of the 18-year-old’s videos show her dancing to western pop music, without wearing a headscarf, in what appears to be a bedroom.
Iranian women took to social media to post their own dance videos with the hashtag #DancingIsNotACrime.
Dominican Republic’s Music Crackdown
Between 11 May and 20 June 2018, the Comisión Nacional de Espectáculos Públicos y Radiofonía, the agency responsible for regulating radio and television content within the Dominican Republic, banned a total of 16 songs and their accompanying music videos. According to officials, the songs and videos promote “vulgar content” such as “high sexual content, [obscenities], incitement to death, suicide and use of prohibited substances”.
To view the complete list of banned songs click here.