On Sunday, May 17, the historic National Theatre in Tirana has been demolished. Since 2018, artists and citizens have staged the longest active protest in the history of Albania to protect the theatre from demolition by the government (see ACAR posts 1, 2) The government moved in amidst the emergency situation and lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus crisis. Resisting citizens, sitting in front of the theatre, were removed and detained. The Albanian National Theater is officially part of Europa Nostra’s 7 Most Endangered European Heritage Sites list for 2020.
Albania’s President Ilir Meta has called the demolition of the National Theatre by his own government “a constitutional, legal and moral crime that cannot be granted amnesty.”, done by the Mafia. The decision to demolish Albania’s National Theatre was approved in secret and was not on the agenda for the meeting of the Tirana Municipal Council.
Sources: exit news 1, 2, 3, 4; Europa Nostra, video
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).
Watch Yulia’s statement here
Governments have introduced drastic measures against the COVID-19 outbreak, suspending many fundamental freedoms and rights until further notice.
This discussion, originally planned for the IETM Plenary Meeting in Tromsø, took place as an interactive webinar on 24 April with Sara Whyatt, researcher on freedom of artistic expression and human rights, UK, Sina Saberi, Kakeshan, Iran, Israel Aloni, Ildance, Sweden/Australia, Salil Tripathi, Writer, Chair: Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International, India/USA. Moderator: Pelin Başaran, Siyah Bant, UK/Turkey.
Watch on Youtube (1:27)
Horizons threaten to close for international artistic mobility: On Monday, April 20, President Trump tweeted that he intends to suspend legal immigration to the U.S. indefinitely.
Although they are part of Schengen Territory, Czech Republic’s President Milos Zeman has suggested that all borders of the country should remain sealed off for a year, in order to prevent another surge of infections in the country. The Czech Republic has all air border controls in place as well as land border controls with Austria and Germany, set to expire on April 24, 2020.
Sources: Tamizdat, schengen visa info
To celebrate World Art Day 2020 (April 15), Freemuse is launching the State of Artistic Freedom Report and discuss the current state for arts and culture in 2020. The digital seminar live stream will be available at YouTube (9 am – 10:45 am CET). You may live join the live discussion on Twitter at #artisticfreedomSAF20
“This report shows that the west is losing its leading position as human rights and freedom defenders at a fast pace, while the world grows intolerant and violent against non-mainstream views and expression” (Srirak Plipat, Freemuse Executive Director).
After the launch the Report will be available for download on Freemuse.org.
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.
The Human Rights Center “Memorial” has declared Yulia a political prisoner and Amnesty International recently updated their reports about Yulia and issued an Urgent Appeal for Action in her case. Index on Censorship nominated Yulia now for the arts section of the Freedom of Expression Award 2020. The 20th Freedom of Expression Awards will be held on 30 April 2020 in London.
The charges against Yulia must be dropped and she must be released from detention immediately.
Sources: Index on censorship, post on Freemuse (March 2019), HR center Memorial (Russian), Amnesty International (Russian)
Artistic intervention: Solidarity Walk in Berlin, February 2020 (Vimeo)
Facebook site Free Tsvet