The 20th Freedom of Expression Awards were held online on Thursday 16th April as a digital celebration. The Russian theater director, visual artist, and activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Yulia Tsvetkova (see our posts 1, 2), has been awarded the 2020 Freedom of Expression Award Arts Fellow. Index on Censorship works with the fellows during the awarding year to provide long-term, structured support.
The other 2020 fellows are: Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei (campaigning); Turkish lawyer Veysel Ok (campaigning); 7amleh (digital activism) and OKO press (journalism).
Yulia Tsvetkova, the 26-year-old Russian theater director, visual artist, and activist who has been under house arrest in (far Eastern) Komsomolsk-on-Amur since November 22, 2019 on charges related to her work with the children’s theater “Merak” and her visual artwork published on social media. Yulia is the target of homophobic harassment and persecution for her work as a defender of the rights of women and LGBT people( see our post from December 12, 2019).
She is charged with “producing and trafficking pornographic materials” for administering a group on the Russian social media site Vkontakte called “Vagina Monologues,” which published artistic and educational images of the female body. If convicted, Yulia could be sentenced to up to 6 years in prison.
Yulia was the director of the activist children’s theater “Merak” in Komsomolsk-on-Amur. The group produced 9 performances, including a play that examined gender stereotypes, called “Pink and Blue.” In March 2019 Yulia and her theater were targeted by self-described “Anti-LGBT Activist” Timur Bulatov (Los Angeles Times), who has continued to harass her and make false claims against her to the Russian police. Because of this persecution and harassment, Yulia was forced to close the Merak theater.
In December 2019 Yulia was found guilty of “LGBT Propaganda,” an administrative offense for “promoting non-traditional sexual relations among minors” and fined 50,000 rubles (780 US dollars) for administering two LGBTI social media groups. Both groups were labeled “18+” in accordance with the requirements of Russian law. In January 2020 a new case was brought against her for a drawing she published on social media with the words “Family is where there is love. Support LGBT + families .”
Yulia is extremely geographically isolated in the Russian Far East. She is supported by her mother and a handful of people in her town, but otherwise she fears violence and harassment. She is allowed to venture 500 meters from home for one hour each day. She has been denied vital medical treatment.
Today a Turkish court acquitted Osman Kavala and other defendants – amongst them the theatre artists Ayşe Pınar Alabora and Memet Ali Alaborafollowing – following a controversial trial over the anti-government “Gezi Park” protests of 2013. Kavala and two other defendants had been facing life sentences without parole. Kavala, founder of Anadolu Kultur, was arrested in Istanbul on 18 October 2017 (see ACAR posts Nov. 21, 2017 and Nov 2, 2018), followed by a wave of solidarity from artists and human rights activists. In December, the European Court of Human Rights called for his immediate release, saying there was a lack of reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence.
Only few hours later Istanbul prosecutors have issued a new arrest warrantfor Osman Kavala for his alleged ties to a failed 2016 coup.
Our colleague, the director, festival director and president of the Algerian Centre of the International Theatre Institute, Mr. Okbaoui Cheikh , was refused a visa by the Austrian Embassy in Algeria in December. The reason given to him and his 9 colleagues – Bezia Cheddad, scenographer,; Smaani Arazki, actor; Fellag Malek, actor; Kerdous Jedjiga, actress; Boutchiche Hamadache, actor; Kessir Sofiane, actor; Slimani, Samia, actress; Belayel Rayel, actor; and Sahnoune Kamel, actor – who had been invited to a conference of the International University Global Theater Experience (IUGTE) at Schloss Laubegg/Ragnitz, was that they did not have the means of subsistence and the intended return. They received the refusal of visas one day before the intended journey and had already transferred 50% of the conference fees as intended.
Okbaoui Cheikh has been representing the Algerian ITI centre at numerous international meetings of the ITI for many years and successfully directs a renowned theatre group as well as an international festival.
In a letter to the Austrian embassy ACAR pointed out: “It should be known that artists in non-European countries often work under comparatively precarious conditions, sometimes earning their living with several jobs, as many artistic professions are not officially recognized. Unfortunately, especially younger artists are often affected by restrictions on mobility, as they often have neither a secure income nor have started their own families.
Mr. Okbaoui Cheikh has been issued over 15 visas in recent years and his reliability in terms of compliance with travel conditions should be beyond any doubt.
We would urge you to review and revise the visa decision urgently.”
Authorities in Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Far East Russia, have charged Yulia Tsvetkova (26) with distributing “gay propaganda” to minors. The theatre artists and director of the children and youth theatre “Merak” is a feminist and LGBT activist. She was running a social media page called “Vagina Monologues” (related to the play by US author Eve Ensler), which encourages people to share artistic depictions of vaginas in order to “remove the taboo” around menstruation and the anatomy of the vagina. In March she organized a children and youth theatre festival “Blue and Pink”, focusing on gender stereotypes. The festival was banned by the city authorities and Yulia Tsvetkova was interrogated for four hours.
Russia banned by law “propaganda of homosexuality toward minors” in 2013. Tsvetkova’s trial is set for Dec. 9. If she found guilty she could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. More than 10,000 people have signed a petition on change.org expressing support for Tsvetkova.
An outburst of anti-government protests began September 20 in Egypt. The government has instated a harsh anti-protest law, is leveling falsified charges to quash media outlets that confront the established national narrative, introducing a law that fines journalists for reporting “false news,” and prosecuting individuals who express different religious or political viewpoints with punishments of fines, harsh prison sentences, or even death sentences. Over 2,000 people have been imprisoned, many without any apparent connection to the protests, without charge and without legal counsel. Witnesses are reporting that all places of the Arab spring revolution in Cairo have been blocked and the police are stopping people in the street and asking for their mobile phones and then looking at what they share on facebook and their messages.
Among the reportedly detained people is the playwright Ezz Darwiesh from Alexandria. Darwiesh has been awarded at the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theater 2007 and was invited to several festivals in the Arab World and Europe.