Malaysian cartoonist Zunar awarded the International Press Freedom Award

Posted on September 15, 2015 | No Comments

ipfa2015-zunar-largeThe personal slogan of Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, a Malaysian cartoonist who is better known by his penname “Zunar,” is: “How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand.”

Zunar is best known for his provocative cartoons that lampoon issues of high-level abuse of government power and corruption. His portraits are published both in books and on the Malaysiakini news website, one of the country’s few independent news publications. Malaysian police and authorities have claimed on several occasions that Zunar’s cartoons are “detrimental to public order” and run afoul of the country’s sedition law.

The latest legal threat against Zunar comes amid a government crackdown on dissent, a heavy-handed response to the long-ruling United Malays National Organization’s waning popularity and legitimacy, a theme that Zunar’s cartoons have frequently portrayed. The cartoonist has been temporarily detained twice–in 2010 and 2015–on accusations of sedition in relation to his cartoons. At least five of his cartoon books, compilations of original contents and his work previously published online, have been banned or confiscated by authorities. His Kuala Lumpur-based office and those of the printers who produce his volumes have been raided several times.

Despite these threats, Zunar continues to draw, challenging the same forces that seek to silence him. He currently faces nine counts of sedition and up to 43 years in jail in connection with nine critical tweets, including one with an embedded cartoon portrait of Prime Minister Najib Razak acting as a court judge, that he posted on February 10, 2015, in connection with a court decision to jail the country’s main opposition leader on sodomy charges. Zunar’s sedition trial is scheduled for late 2015.

Zunar is the first full-time cartoonist to receive the Committee to Project Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award. While the attack on the staff of Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015 showed the risks some cartoonists face in reprisal for their work, the legal harassment Zunar endures is indicative of the type of threats that outspoken satirists contend with around the world. CPJ highlighted these threats in its 2015 report, “Drawing the Line,” in which Zunar’s cartoons and case were featured.

In 2011 and 2015, Human Rights Watch honored Zunar with its Hellman/Hammett Award. In 2011, he was also the recipient of the “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award” by the Washington-based Cartoonist Rights Network International.

Image and text reposted from

Mexican photojournalist Ruben Espinosa found murdered along with three women in Mexico City

Posted on August 3, 2015 | No Comments

REspinosa_guardianA photojournalist who was found dead in Mexico City after he fled harassment in his home state appears to have been tortured before he was shot dead, the head of a free press advocacy group said on Sunday.

Ruben Espinosa sustained severe injuries to his face before he was killed, said Dario Ramirez, director of the Article 19 group.

Espinosa was found dead late on Friday in an apartment in Mexico City. Three women who lived in the apartment and their housekeeper also were killed. They appeared to have been tortured and sexually assaulted before being shot, Ramirez said.

All the victims were shot in the head with a 9mm weapon.

But Ramirez was angered when Mexico City prosecutor Rodolfo Rios Garza said on Sunday he was pursuing all lines of investigation into the killings, including crimes against women and a possible robbery.

Ramirez said Espinosa’s work and the threats that drove him out of his home state of Veracruz should be the main line of investigation. He had worked in the state for eight years, including for prominent newsmagazine Proceso, before fleeing to Mexico City.

Rios never acknowledged that Espinosa was seeking refuge in Mexico City, saying he came to the capital for “professional opportunities”.

When dealing with journalists’ killings, authorities in Mexico are often quick to discard their work as a motive, even though the country is the most dangerous in Latin America for reporters. In large swaths of the country, crime and corruption are never reported, as the media has been bought or intimidated into silence.

“I feel there is a disdain toward investigating the journalistic motives or even motives that had to do with his displacement,” said Dario Ramirez, director of the Article 19 free press advocacy group. “The issue is that he was at risk and after a month he was assassinated. These are coincidences that can’t be discarded by saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Article 19 said it published an alert about Espinosa on 15 June after he reported unknown people following him in Veracruz, taking his photograph and harassing him outside his home in Xalapa, the state capital.

Veracruz has been a dangerous state for reporters. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 11 journalists have been killed there since 2010, all during the administration of Governor Javier Duarte – the most recent just a month ago. Espinosa is the second Veracruz journalist to be found dead outside of the state.

Espinosa’s killing has raised tension among reporters who long have considered Mexico’s capital to be a refuge from media intimidation and violence elsewhere in Mexico.

Article and image reposted from

Artist Tania Brugera arrested and injured by police in Havana

Posted on June 12, 2015 | No Comments


This weekend artist Tania Bruguera was arrested once again in Cuba, along with dozens of other activists, and was manhandled by the police. As with most information about Bruguera over the past few months, the news — which Hyperallergic has not been able to independently verify — comes via the Facebook page for her project #YoTambienExijo (“I also demand”), which was a planned participatory performance on New Year’s Eve in Havana’s Revolution Square that led to Bruguera being arrested multiple times. Cuban authorities also confiscated her passport and are allegedly pressing charges against her.

On Sunday, June 7, Bruguera was visiting and observing a weekly silent protest by the Ladies in White, a group of female relatives of imprisoned dissidents who attend mass every Sunday at the St. Rita of Cascia Church in Havana wearing white, then march through the streets with photos of their missing loved ones. Bruguera attended in part because she’d heard that the Ladies in White had been attacked and arrested by police for the last eight Sundays, and this one was no different: according to a Facebook post, police descended in a raid “which included 3 buses, several patrol cars, 2 motorcycle police and more than a hundred agents of the National Revolutionary Police.” Bruguera was not beaten — the Facebook post says she received “special treatment,” and in an interview with PanAm Post, she clarified that an officer specifically said, “not her, not her, she’s Tania.” Still, she says she was pulled by the hair, thrown into a bus, and handcuffed. The Facebook post claims that she has “several hematomas” on her arms due to her handling by police, and another one shows photos of the severe bruising.

Bruguera had also been attending the Ladies in White protest as research for a new project she’s working on, “to present a law which will penalize violence due to political hate and which would propitiate freedom of expression in public spaces,” according to a Facebook post. The legal research is one of two branches of her current work in Cuba; the other is the establishment of the Hannah Arendt International Institute for Artivism, which she inaugurated with a 100-hour reading of the philosopher’s landmark book The Origins of Totalitarianism in her home beginning on May 20, Cuban Independence Day. The Havana Biennial opened two days later, and two days after that, when she finished reading, Bruguera was arrested again. (On May 23 she was also denied entry to the Museum of Fine Arts for an opening to which she’d been personally invited.)

Those in charge of the #YoTambienExijo Facebook page have been stressing the importance of framing Bruguera’s actions as art, not politics: they’ve posted a 2010 “Political Art Statement” by Bruguera that outlines her thoughts on political art — “It is intervening in the process that is created after people think the art experience is over” — and a clarification about her current position (translated by Hyperallergic):

The only group Tania Bruguera belongs to is the platform #IAlsoDemand, which is the structure of her work. Tania does not belong to any group of opposition, nor of dissidence, nor of activism in Cuba. Tania is an artist who works in an independent manner with EVERYONE … Tania is not an opposition, nor a dissident, but an artist who works with political art and who believes that art can help transform the social and political reality we live in.

Bruguera was released around 4pm on Sunday after her arrest. Forty-seven Ladies in White and other activists were detained along with her, according to PanAm Post.

Article and image reposted from

fD joins international community in condemning the attacks on Charlie Hebdo

Posted on January 12, 2015 | No Comments

france-shootingIn the wake of the deadly attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris last week, we recognize more than ever the need to uphold the fundamental principles of free expression, open communication, and a respect for differing points of view by creating spaces for dialogue and deep reflection. We join our colleagues around the world in condemning the killing of these artists and in supporting their families. – the fD team


Photo credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters. Re-posted from

ARTSFEX statement on cancellation of Exhibit B at the Barbican Centre

Posted on September 30, 2014 | No Comments

We the undersigned members of Artsfex condemn an alarming worldwide trend in which violent protest silences artistic expression that some groups claim is offensive. People have every right to object to art they find objectionable but no right whatsoever to have that work censored. Free expression, including work that others may find shocking or offensive, is a right that must be defended vigorously.

We call on artists, arts venues, protestors and the police to work together as a matter of urgency, to stand up for artistic free expression and to ensure that the right to protest does not override the right to free expression. This means that every possible step is taken to ensure that the art work remains open for all to see, while protesters voices are heard.

We must prevent the repetition of recent ‘successful protests’ in which the artist is silenced by threats of violence towards the institution, the work or the artist him or herself, as we saw with Exhibit B in London, and The City, the hip-hop opera by the Jerusalem-based Incubator Theatre company, which was disrupted and consequently cancelled earlier this year in Edinburgh.

Greater clarity around policing of controversial arts events is an essential first step. In the United Kingdom there is nothing at present in Association of Chief Police Officers guidance relating to the particulars of policing cultural events, except in reference to football matches and music festivals.

Controversial art triggers debate – and in the case of Exhibit B there was a huge outpouring of feeling in opposition to the work. A contemporary institution should anticipate and provide for this. Detailed planning such as this is important if the arts venue is to cater for both the artwork and the debate it generates.

We are concerned that unless arts institutions prepare procedures to manage controversy, including to develop strategies for working with the police to control violence, our culture will suffer as a result and become less dynamic, relevant and responsive.

Article 19, freeDimensional, Freemuse, Index on Censorship, National Coalition Against Censorship (US), Vivarta


For further information, please call 0207 260 2660


About Artsfex

ARTSFEX is an international civil society network actively concerned with the right of artists to freedom of expression as well as with issues relating to human rights and freedoms. ARTSFEX aims to promote, protect and defend artistic freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly, thought, and opinion in and across all art disciplines, globally.


“Writing Exile” event – Tuesday, September 16 – 7PM

Posted on September 12, 2014 | No Comments

Words without Borders, in collaboration with freeDimensional and Verso Books, present a reading from WWB’s September issue, dedicated to writing exile. The reading aims to draw attention to the voices of writers forced from their homes, and will feature contributors and other special guests reading selections from the issue. To accompany the reading, freeDimensional will present an exhibition of work from contemporary visual artists who use creativity to fight injustice, and have experienced persecution and forced displacement as a result of their artistic practice.

Featured readers will include Israel Centeno, Kayhan Irani, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and Nathalie Handal. 

The event will also feature the work of visual artists  Arahmaiani, Zunar, Owen Maseko, Chaw Ei Thein, Issa Nyaphaga and others. (Please note that artwork by Kardash Onnig will not be featured.)

Free and open to the public. Seating is limited–please RSVP


Israel Centeno (Caracas, 1958) has published thirteen books, mostly novels, but also short fiction and poetry. His books include the novels Calletania (Monte Ávila, 1992; Periférica, 2010), Exilio en Bowery (Troya, 1998; Nuevo Espacio, New Jersey, 2000), El Complot (Alfadil, 2002), and Bajo las hojas (Alfaguara, 2010). He has published two books of short stories: El rabo del diablo y otros cuentos (Eclepsidra, 1993) and Criaturas de la noche (Alfaguara, 2000, 2011). He currently lives, with his wife and two daughters, in Pittsburgh, where until 2013 he has been Exiled Writer in Residence in City of Asylum. Sampsonia Way has published his novel The Conspiracy in an English translation by Guillermo Parra.

Nathalie Handal is the author of numerous books, most recently Poet in Andalucía; Love and Strange Horses, winner of the 2011 Gold Medal Independent Publisher Book Award; and the W.W. Norton landmark anthology Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond. Her plays have been produced at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Bush Theatre and Westminster Abbey, London. Her poetry, stories and literary travel articles have appeared in Vanity FairGuernica Magazine, the Guardian, the Nation, and other publications. Handal is a Lannan Foundation Fellow, winner of the Alejo Zuloaga Order in Literature 2011, and Honored Finalist for the Gift of Freedom Award, among other honors.

Kayhan Irani was born in Bombay, India and was raised on the mean streets of Queens, NYC. She is an Emmy award winner, a Fulbright Fellow and a Theater of the Oppressed trainer.  Kayhan loves playing theater games.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo was born in Havana in 1971 and came to the US in March 2013. In Cuba he published the narratives Collage karaoke (2001), Empezar de cero  (2001), Ipatrias (2005) and Mi nombre es William Saroyan (2006). His novel, Boring Home, was censored by the Letras Cubanas publishing house in 2009 and then published by Garamond (Paris, 2009) and El Nacional (Caracas, 2013). In Cuba he was an independent journalist and photographer. He is the webmaster of the blogs Lunes de Postrevolución and Boring Home Utopics and the founding editor of the magazine Voces. He contributes columns to Diario de Cuba (Madrid, Spain), Sampsonia Way (Pittsburgh, Penn.), and El Nacional (Caracas). In 2014 OR Books published his anthology of new Cuban narrative writing, Cuba in Splinters.  He is a visiting fellow at Brown University for the current academic year. Restless Books will publish his book of photographs and essays, Abandoned Havana, this October.

Statement by Palestinian performing arts organizations

Posted on July 20, 2014 | No Comments

palestine solidarity17 July, 2014

We, cultural workers representing the majority of Palestinian performing art organizations, condemn the current Israeli attack and aggression on Gaza, and the indiscriminate killing and maiming of mainly civilians, among them many children and women.

As artists, the most powerful weapon we have is our ability to play, dream and imagine. The oppressive forces fear this weapon because as long as we are able to imagine another kind of reality, we have the power to pursue it – a free and just Palestine.

Israel is portraying the ongoing massacre in Gaza as a war between them and Hamas, as part of an obnoxious media campaign of turning the oppressed into the villains. This latest Israeli attack against Gaza is a crime that must be understood within the context of Israeli occupation and apartheid. For over six decades Palestinians have been systematically bereaved of their lands, their water and their freedom of movement. Settlements continue to be built, a wall is erected on occupied lands and Gaza has been under a suffocating blockade for over six years. These crimes must be condemned and acted upon immediately.

Among our companions are institutions that despite all the hardships continue to work in Gaza, using music, theatre and drama to comprehend, process, educate and mobilize. We stand with them and we ask you to do the same.

While governments are once again turning their backs, people around the world are raising their voices; taking to the streets and refusing to let the people of Gaza suffer in silence. We urge our colleagues, friends and partners not to stay silent and join us in our protest.

We call upon the world to put pressure on Israel to stop the blockade of Gaza.

We particularly call upon our fellow artists and cultural organizations to condemn the current aggressions against Gaza and the occupation of Palestine through petitions, protests and statements. Further to that, we urge you to act by supporting the Palestinian cultural and academic boycott of Israel (PACBI), thereby refusing to be complicit in the ongoing occupation and apartheid.

Together, we can turn hopelessness into determination and the forces of division into unity. It is within our power.

The undersigned, as founding members of the Palestinian Performing Art Programme (PPAN)


The Magnificat Association:

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music:

Al Kamandjati Association:

Theatre Day Productions:

Yes Theatre:

The Palestine Circus School:

The Freedom Theatre:

Popular Art Center:

El Funoun Dance Troupe:

Ashtar Theatre:


Text reposted from

Analysing the Art of Resistance – World Policy Institute

Posted on July 10, 2014 | No Comments

freeDimensional has posted the following blog as part of the World Policy Institute’s  Arts-Policy Nexus

A theatre director is beaten and stabbed to death in front of his apartment. Another is shot to death in front of his wife and child. A filmmaker is kidnapped, his fingers cut off, and he’s left to bleed along the roadside. A radio DJ wakes to see his car in flames. A writer comes home to a house drenched in kerosene. A dancer is raped. A performance artist is kidnapped and beaten. A singer is imprisoned for years. A television comedian is kidnapped, threatened and told to never work again or be killed. These are real cases of artists whose artwork speaks truth to power and upholds social justice.

Shall we measure the work of these artists by the number of people in their audiences, how many workshops they have given or how much turnover their artistic output has generated, directly or indirectly, to the ‘evening economy’ of the city? Can these standardized indicators capture the depth or long term effect of thought-provoking artistic interventions in highly charged public and political contexts?

We are living in a period of measurement by economic indicators that define financial and legal support. The arts sector has continuously baulked at submitting its ‘intrinsic values’ to market measures, even if it has been tempting to play the risky game of citing urban regeneration and ‘creative’ economic development as benefits.

Today, we believe that public and private financial support ought to be awarded on the basis of objective criteria that confirm an (often elusive) idea of quality. The distribution of money must be accountable to taxpayers and donors. Subjective choice here is suspect, yet evaluation concepts have been offered, argued, and contested with no clear conclusion. Are we hell-bent on finding the perfect means of objectively assessing artistic quality, aesthetic delight, taste, and the impact of thought on human development?

Evaluating the impact of art and cultural activity is tough already. Throwing in human rights and free speech complicates the issue. Support for human rights defenders who confront governments, civil or religious groups is justified by international law. But how do we evaluate arts practices that raise awareness of universal rights or individual identities in situations where they are denied?  Egyptian writer Alaa Al-Aswany writes, “My father told me his legacy to me was prison cells. My legacy to my son will be prison cells.” On what ‘impact measures’ are artists risking their lives?

More research is needed on alternative methods to analyse fields that resist economic-based measurement. We need to describe the real impact of supporting artists and cultural communicators whose politically or socially charged work places them into the crosshairs of repressive regimes intent on quashing perspectives differing from their own. If numbers-driven criteria can be supplanted by deeper, more long-term analysis, donors can feel confident supporting such work.

Some researchers are trying to explain what happens in circumstances where traditional quantity measures are not the most meaningful indicators. In arecent article, Dr. Patrycja Kaszynska dissects “the difficult relationship between cultural value, economics and the problem of measurement and evaluation.” She concludes that a major problem is the assumption that a natural hierarchy of disciplines places economics on top, as the final arbiter of all other disciplines: a hierarchy, which is not accepted by many, and is accompanied by “the fear of flattening all expressions of value into a single register.”

Regarding human rights, Johannes Thoolen adds, “ The first problem of assessment is that common to all human rights advocacy work, namely the difficulty of measuring and establishing a causal link between a particular intervention and an outcome…. assessing advocacy for individual cases is the least developed.”

Clearly, the current means of valuing art that upholds social justice is inadequate. There must be a more comprehensive method that brings together different disciplines as well as value systems and objectives.

freeDimensional (fD) is one of a very few NGOs and non-profit associations working at the intersection of arts and human rights. Since 2006, fD has supported artists and culture workers whose artistic work presents alternatives, challenges the status quo, a government line, or fundamentalist views. These cultural communicators may be threatened, their economic livelihood denied; they and their families can be physically harmed, imprisoned, or worse. fD recognizes them as doing the work of human rights defenders, identifies shelters in artists residencies, and develops artists’ safety networks in high risk regions.

But non-profits such as fD are mired in the current evaluation stalemate, pressed by funders to demonstrate impact in an interdisciplinary area comprising sectors bogged down by lack of adequate evaluation methodologies.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. At the upcoming International Conference on Cultural Policy Research (ICCPR) in Hildesheim, Germany, fD will call out to universities and researchers interested in tackling these issues, identifying best practices and exploring alternative methods to describe the impact of supporting artists whose work defends human rights and social justice.

The challenge is about measuring the impact of work that influences thought, poses a question to engrained perspectives, and may take years or even generations to reach a concrete tipping point. Rebecca Solnit finds, “many now do not even hope for a better society, but they recognize it when they encounter it, and that discovery shines out even through the namelessness of their experience.”

Let’s work across disciplines – cultural workers, human rights workers, universities, and researchers – to share information, build upon lessons learned, and ultimately find ways to measure impact and convince potential legal and financial supporters. It is important to uncover the ripple effects of these artists’ courageous behaviour and in doing so, learn how to better support, defend, and protect those who undertake it, at great risk to their own safety.

Mary Ann DeVlieg

To send letters of support for Moroccan musician Mouad (El Haqed)

Posted on July 7, 2014 | 2 Comments

If you would like to send support letters to the Moroccan musician, Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed), please note:

– keep messages short with simple message wishing El Haqed well and that he will soon be free.
– no political or religious comment or images ( tourist cards are appreciated….)
– Give return address/email.

Send to:

 Mouad Belghouate

Prison local Oukacha 

Quartier Oukacha 

20 580 Casablanca, Morocco 


Letter to Moroccan Minister of Justice re: musician Mouad Belghouate

Posted on July 7, 2014 | No Comments

Open Letter to the Moroccan Minister of Justice and Liberties El Mustapha Ramid on the Four-month Sentence Against Musician Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed)

7 July 2014
Mr El Mustapha Ramid
Minister of Justice and Liberties
Ministère de la Justice et des libertés Place El Mamounia – BP 1015
Fax:+212 537 73 47 25

We the undersigned organisations committed to the defence of the rights to freedom of expression, culture and the arts, condemn the four-month sentence served against musician Mouad Belghouate (aka El Haqed) following a trial that fell short of international standards. We are concerned that the sentence has been given in retribution for his involvement in Morocco’s pro-democracy movement, and specifically his condemnation of corruption and police violence through his music.

Convicted of assaulting police officers during an incident in Casablanca on 18 May 2014, evidence including testimonies of witnesses to the incident were not accepted by the court. This led defence lawyers to withdraw from the proceedings calling them “unjust” and “unfair”.

This is the third incident since 2011 where Belghouate has been imprisoned following trials that have been condemned as highly flawed. Notably in May 2012 he was imprisoned for 12 months for insulting police in a song and its accompanying video, a charge that clearly violated his rights to freedom of expression.

Belghouate has been closely engaged with the 20th February democracy movement, and he has been openly critical of corruption in Morocco and accused police of brutality in his lyrics, leading to concerns that these are the source of the accusations against him, concerns that are heightened by trial irregularities.

Morocco has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which includes the rights to freedom of expression and fair trial. We therefore call on the Moroccan authorities to immediately release Mouad Belghouate and to ensure that any appeal be carried out fairly and include all evidence and witnesses relevant to the case.

Yours sincerely,

Arterial Network
Article 19
European Council of Artists
Index on Censorship
Institute for Freedom of Expression, Turkey
Observatoire de la liberté de creation, France

Copies to:
President of National Human Rights Council Mr. Driss El Yazmi
Minister of Culture, Mr Mohamed Amine Sbihi 
Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (AMDH), Mr. Ahmed El Haij (President) 

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