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.
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.
At the European Parliament in Brussels, on January 21st, Freemuse in collaboration with Culture Action Europe is launching its first European report on the state of artistic freedom. The report first of its kind, outlines the emerging trends found to be particularly challenging in Europe in relation to freedom of artistic expression. Freemuse has documented 380 cases of violations to the right of freedom of artistic expression in Europe from January 2018 until October 2019. At the launch, concrete actions and recommendations will be proposed to the European Parliament ensuring that the right to artistic expression is not only better protected but also crucially better promoted across the continent.
A Moscow court has released theater director Kirill Serebrennikov on bail after a year and a half spent under house arrest on criminal fraud charges, Russian news agencies reported this week. Bail terms restricted travel for Serebrennikov, former Seventh Studio general director Yury Itin and former Culture Ministry official Sofia Apfelbaum. A fourth defendant in the case, former Gogol Center director Alexei Malobrodsky, has been under similar travel restrictions since April 2018. The courts’s resent decision has overturned all the defendants’ travel restrictions.
Serebrennikov was detained in August 2017 on charges of embezzling 68 million rubles ($1 million) in government funds as part of a theater project, damages that later doubled to 133 million rubles. Supporters of the Gogol Center’s artistic director say the charges against him are politically motivated.