Category Archives: Artists and Arts Watch

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (February 5th – 19th, 2024) ·

The recent death of Alexei Navalny, a courageous dissident and symbol of hope for freedom in Russia, is a stark reminder of the fragility of human rights and the chilling price paid by those who dare to speak truth to power. Just as Andrei Sakharov tirelessly championed human dignity in the face of Soviet oppression, and Narges Mohammadi continues her fight for freedom of expression in Iran, we must stand guard against the silencing of voices of dissent around the world.

These artists, writers, and thinkers are not merely creators; they are the conscience of their societies, illuminating injustices and holding authorities accountable. Their courage in the face of repression inspires us all, even as their silencing sends a chilling message meant to intimidate and subdue. We must not let their voices be extinguished.

Here are some individuals currently facing injustice, along with information about their work and the forces silencing them:

  1. Elif Shafak, Novelist, Turkey: Accused of “insulting the Turkish nation” due to her historical novel “10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World,” exploring feminist and LGBTQ+ themes. Facing potential imprisonment. (Enforced by: Turkish government)
  2. Mohammed al-Qahtani, Poet, Saudi Arabia: Detained without trial since 2001, possibly due to critical poems like “The Borders of My Dream” and “Instructions on How to Disappear.” (Enforced by: Saudi Arabian government)
  3. Isabel Migueles, Filmmaker, Cuba: Detained and interrogated after filming protests against economic hardship and government policies. Her documentary “Invisible” critiques social inequalities in Cuba. Released but facing potential future harassment. (Enforced by: Cuban government)
  4. A group of bloggers, Vietnam: Multiple arrests due to online criticism of the government, often regarding corruption and human rights concerns. Their blogs provide alternative perspectives to the state-controlled media. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  5. Ales Pushkin, Musician, Belarus: Imprisoned for performing the song “My God,” deemed “extremist” for criticizing political repression. Sentenced to three years. (Enforced by: Belarusian government)
  6. Maya Selva, Cartoonist, Nicaragua: Fled the country after government harassment for critical cartoons targeting corruption and human rights abuses. (Enforced by: Nicaraguan government)
  7. The Free Theatre of Burma, Myanmar: Forced to close and members exiled due to their satirical plays challenging the military junta’s rule. (Enforced by: Burmese military junta)
  8. Gonçalo Lira, Journalist and blogger, Brazil: Facing online harassment and threats for criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic and social issues. (Enforced by: individuals aligned with the Brazilian government)
  9. Mahboubeh Abbasgholizadeh, Writer, Iran: Imprisoned for attending a writing workshop deemed “illegal.” (Enforced by: Iranian government)
  10. Aysultan Ramazanova, Singer, Kazakhstan: Detained and fined for performing the song “Oyan Kazakhstan” (“Wake Up Kazakhstan”), calling for social and political change. (Enforced by: Kazakhstani government)
  11. Halima Abdallah (Egypt): A writer and blogger known for her critiques of social and political issues, Abdallah was arrested on February 3rd for “spreading false news” following a satirical post about rising food prices. Her whereabouts and condition remain unknown. (Enforced by: Egyptian government)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about artists and writers facing injustice. Share their stories and raise awareness.
  • Support organizations working for freedom of expression and human rights.
  • Contact your local representatives and urge them to advocate for these individuals.
  • Consider donating to organizations providing legal aid and support to persecuted artists.

Remember, silence is complicity. Lend your voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

— Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

The information presented in the list of artists and writers facing injustice is based on reports and statements from the following reputable human rights organizations:

Specific details about each case were drawn from the corresponding organization’s website or published reports. For instance:

  • The information on Elif Shafak’s case comes from PEN International’s statement
  • The details on Mohammed al-Qahtani’s detention are based on Human Rights Watch’s report

Additional Notes:

  • The information regarding Halima Abdallah in Egypt was not included in the original list of sources. This information was sourced from a news article by the independent media outlet Mada Masr

Disclaimer: This information is based on publicly available reports and may not be complete or entirely accurate. For the latest updates and details, please consult reputable human rights organizations.

(Gemini, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article.)


In the past two weeks, the world witnessed continued attacks on artistic expression and free speech. From playwrights censored for challenging authority to musicians harassed for their songs, artists continue to be targeted for their voices. Here are 10 individuals whose stories demand our attention:

  1. Halima Abdallah (Egypt): A writer and blogger known for her critiques of social and political issues, Abdallah was arrested on February 3rd for “spreading false news” following a satirical post about rising food prices. Her whereabouts and condition remain unknown. (Enforced by: Egyptian government)
  2. Natalia Drach (Belarus): A playwright whose work often explores themes of social justice and resistance, Drach’s play “Revolution” was banned in January for its alleged “extremist content.” The director of the theater staging the play was also fined. (Enforced by: Belarusian Ministry of Culture)
  3. Reza Safari (Iran): A renowned Kurdish musician facing ongoing harassment and pressure from Iranian authorities due to his songs that celebrate Kurdish identity and culture. Recent threats have forced him to cancel several concerts. (Enforced by: Iranian security forces)
  4. Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe): A celebrated author and filmmaker who has faced imprisonment and persecution for her criticism of the Zimbabwean government, Dangarembga’s passport was confiscated yet again in January, preventing her from attending international events. (Enforced by: Zimbabwean government)
  5. The “Dissident Orchestra” (Russia): A group of independent musicians formed in opposition to the war in Ukraine, the orchestra’s members have faced intimidation, online harassment, and even threats of violence for their anti-war stance. (Enforced by: Pro-government groups and individuals)
  6. Mayya Lukasova (Russia): A young artist known for her street art depicting anti-war messages and symbols, Lukasova was detained and fined in January for “discrediting the Russian Armed Forces.” Her artwork was also defaced and destroyed. (Enforced by: Russian police)
  7. Ebraheem Nasir (Saudi Arabia): A poet and writer detained without charge since 2015 for his peaceful activism and expression of dissent, Nasir’s family has received no updates on his condition or the status of his case. (Enforced by: Saudi Arabian authorities)
  8. The “Free Cinema Collective” (Myanmar): An independent film group documenting the ongoing human rights abuses in Myanmar, the collective’s members have faced surveillance, harassment, and threats for their work. One member was recently arrested and accused of “supporting terrorism.” (Enforced by: Myanmar military junta)
  9. Aysultan Ramazanova (Kazakhstan): A rapper and activist facing charges of “inciting social discord” for lyrics critical of the Kazakh government, Ramazanova was sentenced to four years in prison in February despite widespread international condemnation. (Enforced by: Kazakh court)
  10. The “Art Without Borders” exhibition (China): An independent art exhibition showcasing works critical of government policies was shut down by authorities in January, with organizers facing pressure and interrogations. Several exhibited artworks were confiscated. (Enforced by: Chinese security forces)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about these and other cases of human rights abuses against artists.
  • Share their stories and raise awareness on social media using relevant hashtags.
  • Support organizations working to defend artistic freedom and free speech around the world.
  • Contact your elected officials and urge them to speak out against these injustices.

By amplifying the voices of silenced artists and demanding accountability for those who suppress them, we can help create a world where art and expression can flourish without fear.

Note: This list is not exhaustive and only highlights a few recent cases. Many other artists and writers around the world face similar challenges.

First they came for the artists, and I did not speak out—because I was not an artist. Then they came for the journalists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a journalist. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Martin Niemöller

Art by Luba Lukova

Information for this article has been compiled from the following sources:

Additional information:

(Bard, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article.)


(from Sky News)

The 66-year-old dissident told Sky News’ Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips that “society becomes so timid, to really avoid any kind of questioning or argument.

 “Today I see so many people by giving their basic opinions, they get fired, they get censored. This has become very common.”

Read more:… #censorship #weiwei #skynews


(from Radio Free Europe, 11/20; Photo: Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich; Creator: Anton Novoderjozhkin|Credit: Sipa USA via AP Copyright: Sipa USA.)

The Moscow city court on November 30 rejected appeals filed by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk against an extension of their pretrial detention on charges of justifying terrorism with the production of the play Finist-The Brave Falcon, about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria.

The court upheld a lower court decision in early November to extend the two women’s pretrial detention until at least January 10.

During the hearing, Berkovich expressed gratitude “to all who were involved” for allowing her to travel from a Moscow detention center to St. Petersburg to attend the burial of her grandmother, noted human rights defender Nina Katerli, who died at the age of 89 on November 20.

However, Berkovich said “the act of mercy had tuned into an act of torture” as while being transported to the funeral she spent 25 hours in “a cage of avtozak” — a special vehicle designed for transporting suspects and convicts, which affected her health.

“I did not have warm clothes with me because I was not aware where I was going and my lawyers did not know. It was a cage — a piece of an iron cage 1 meter by 2 meters, in which it is not possible to stand or properly sit. Because of that, it is painful for me to stand up or sit down. It was not possible to sleep there either as there was no heating…. For those 25 hours, I was allowed to get out to a toilet only twice,” Berkovich said.

But Judge Oksana Nikishina rejected Berkovich’s complaints, saying that she should be grateful that she was allowed to attend her grandmother’s burial at all.

(Read more)


(Ray Furlong’s and Golnaz Esfandiari’s reporting appeared on Radio Liberty, 3/14.)

Five Tehran girls were reported to have voiced contrition after posting a dance video that went viral among Iranian social media users. It’s illegal for women to dance in public in Iran, but the video has inspired others across the country to post similar videos with the same song, in a potentially dangerous act of open defiance toward the regime.

(Go to Radio Liberty)


(Megan Specia’s article appeared in The New York Times, 2/24; Photo: back home, and expressed feelings of hopelessness. Ukrainians and supporters of Ukraine outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office in London on Thursday protesting Russia’s invasion.Credit…Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.)

Across Europe, Ukrainian expatriates looked on in horror at the scenes of destruction

LONDON — Ukrainians living across Europe watched in horror and disbelief from afar on Thursday as Russia’s invasion of their home country began with shelling and rocket attacks in several cities.

Many shared feelings of helplessness as they received frantic calls from loved ones back home describing attacks nearby, instructing them what to do if they were killed in the conflict, or sending requests to empty bank accounts.

At protests in London on Thursday, some wept. Some fingered prayer beads. And many said they were determined to raise their voices and demand greater action by the world to end Russian aggression.

Yulia Tomashckuk, 29, wore sunglasses to shield her tears as she clutched a small Ukrainian flag. A village that neighbors her hometown in western Ukraine had been attacked, she said, news that her mother relayed to her by phone before dawn Thursday.

“I just felt I was useless sitting at home watching the news — here at least I can show there are people who support Ukraine, who are against war and who want Putin to be shown his place,” she said. “He needs to be stopped now.”

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, was the focus of much of the outrage.

Chants of “Putin, hands off Ukraine” and “U.K. support Ukraine” echoed from the crowd of hundreds that gathered outside Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office at 10 Downing Street on Thursday.

Even before Russian strikes on Ukraine began, Britain and the European Union earlier this week announced targeted sanctions against Moscow. On Thursday, Mr. Johnson announced new actions from Britain and its allies that included asset freezes on major banks and individuals, a ban on the Russian airline Aeroflot, and a ban on many technology exports to Russia.

Those who gathered near his office waved Ukrainian flags and demanded more stringent sanctions and broader actions from the West in response to Russian military action.

“I’m shocked, probably like everyone, because my family is still in Ukraine,” said Mariya Tymchyshyn, 30, who took time off work to join the protests. “We were panicked as well: We don’t know what to do. No one can be ready for this.”

Ms. Tymchyshyn’s family lives in the western part of Ukraine, away from the most fierce attacks, but she was worried for her grandparents, who as survivors of World War II have already lived through intense fighting in Ukraine.

“It’s probably the hardest part for us,” she said. “I was trying to calm down my grandmother, but she remembers being a child at that time and a bomb killed her mother. I want peace for all of us.”

Inna Tereshchuk, 26, who has lived in Britain for eight years, said her family members “are all scared for their lives.”

She is trying to remain strong for them.

“We don’t know how long they will be alive, what Putin has on his mind,” she said. “The whole world knows about it, and no one is doing anything.”

She was joined at the protest by her friend Alina Clarke, 25, whose family lives near Kyiv. Ms. Clarke spoke with her father, who vowed to stand his ground, telling her that he was not going anywhere and planned “to stay until the end.”

“I hope that in every city and town all over the world Ukrainians are going to come out and show that we are not afraid of Putin, and we want him to take his hands off our country,” Ms. Clarke said. “Ukraine has every right to exist.”

A small group also gathered at the Russian Embassy in northwest London, where a number of protests have been held in recent days, but by Thursday morning they had taken on a more somber tone. Among the handful who stood outside the embassy were a number of Russians denouncing their government’s actions.

Tatiana Rudayak, 46, a Russian-British woman who held a blue sign with the words “Stop the War” painted on in bright yellow paint, was keen to have her voice heard.

“I am here because my country has started a war, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t protest that,” she said. “I was fluctuating between despair and fury and this is the only thing I can do.”

Denis Zihiltsov, 34, who said he had not slept the night before, came to the embassy holding a sign in Russian that read, “I’m Russian and I demand you stop killing our brothers. Glory to Ukraine.”

“Its heartbreaking,” he said. “It’s killing people for nothing.”

The Belarus Free Theatre, one of Europe’s most acclaimed theater troupes, was rehearsing a play in an east London studio on Thursday, but all of its members were continually checking their phones for updates on the conflict.

Several of its members are Ukrainian and everyone knew someone trapped in the country.

Marichka Marczyk, at the rehearsals in London, said in a telephone interview that she’d just had a text exchange with her brother in Kyiv about what to do if he was killed in the conflict. “My will is simple,” he replied. “Burn my body/scatter the ashes,” adding: “All my riches to my kid.” Those riches include his honey bees.

Similar scenes played out in cities across Europe, where Ukrainian expatriates were grappling with the troubling news from their homeland. In Berlin’s Pariser Platz, hundreds of somber protesters wrapped themselves in Ukrainian flags.

(Read more)


(Harriet Sherwood and Andrew Roth in Moscow—their article appeared in the Guardian, 12/6; Photo: Some of the 16 Belarus Free Theatre members currently in London rehearsing for a production. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian.)


Members of Belarus Free Theatre say authorities ‘are more scared of artists than of political statements’

For 16 years, the Belarus Free Theatre has advocated for freedom of expression, equality and democracy through underground performances from ad hoc locations to audiences hungry for an alternative voice to the country’s repressive dictator, Alexander Lukashenko.

Now the banned company has taken the momentous decision to relocate outside Belarus, saying the risk of reprisals against its members is too great for it to continue its cultural resistance under the Lukashenko regime.

Sixteen members of the BFT ensemble in London rehearsing for a production at the Barbican next year, plus another nine family members, have decided they cannot return home for the foreseeable future. The BFT is the only theatre company in Europe to be prohibited on political grounds.

Its new base has not been established, but Poland and other eastern European countries are being considered. The troupe has ruled out applying for asylum in the UK as its members would be barred from working during the process, which could take more than a year.

Several members of the BFT were imprisoned amid widespread protests after Lukashenko declared victory in flawed elections in August 2020. The theatre group’s co-founders, Natalia Kaliada and Nikolai Khalezin, have lived in London since being forced into exile in 2011.

Kaliada said it was unprecedented in 2021 for a theatre company to be forced to relocate out of a European country “for fear of persecution and torture”. She added: “It is a disgrace that we allow not just artistic freedoms but basic human freedoms to be absolutely disregarded in a country that is a three-hour flight from London.

“The sheer existence of Belarus Free Theatre and our continued work, despite repression, is the greatest threat to dictatorship – the will of the people to continue telling the truth is the greatest show of power imaginable.”

As the regime cracked down forcefully against protests after the disputed 2020 election, “it became clear we needed to get our team out of the country”, said Kaliada. “There was very severe repression and people being arrested every day.”

The members of the company left Minsk in October, taking different forms of transport. Some were smuggled out of the country, she said. All left parents and other loved ones, and brought nothing apart from clothing and small personal items. “It is very painful for them to leave their families, and they have feelings of guilt,” Kaliada added.

(Read more)


Comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year in Russia after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied. He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.
(Photo by Maksim Morozov)

(Robyn Dixon’s and Mary Ilyushina’s article appeared in The Washington Post, 12/2; via the Deudge Report.)

MOSCOW — A Russian video comedy troupe in a small provincial city was doing just fine. It clocked up millions of YouTube views with mischievous political satire.

Then the comedians did a gag in which a drunken political boss with a grenade launcher blows up an election poster for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

They each face up to eight years in jail, charged with “extreme hooliganism.”

“We’re not criminals. They’re trying to make us into criminals. We are not hooligans. We are just an ordinary film crew,” said director Andrei Klochkov in an interview with Russian independent media.

The team in Ussuriysk, north of Vladivostok, has since been barred by a court from speaking to media, said its lawyer, Alexei Klyotskin.

For years, Russian authorities have expanded their crackdowns: curbing freedom of speech, sweeping away activists, pressuring rights lawyers and jailing Putin’s opponents. Prosecutors last month called for the liquidation of venerable human rights group, the International Memorial Society, with roots in Soviet-era dissent.

Now they are arresting comedians — seeking to muzzle any edgy comedy that might offend Putin loyalists or be seen as mocking Russian patriotism.

Until recently, stand-up comedy and freewheeling Internet posts were refuges from censors, said comedian Kirill Sietlov, who was jailed earlier this year after claims he organized a protest rally, a charge he denied.

He recently set up a Telegram channel for traumatized comedians to share their stories of persecution.

 “It seemed that this was a truly free art form. Everything there was possible. There were no restrictions,” he said.

Now, however, Sietlov said the state “has launched a real campaign of fear — fear and hatred.” Besides the police and intelligence agencies, informers and snitches play their part, drumming up outrage, claiming that comedians offended someone’s beliefs or dignity.

Stand-up comedians are scrolling through their old online content, removing cheeky jokes. YouTube comedy creators are fearful. Police and suspected plain clothes agents turning up at stand-up comedy clubs. Comics are getting death threats.

Even harmless pranksters are targeted.

On an irreverent YouTube channel known as BARAKuda, a fictional character, Vitaly Nalivkin (the name is a play on pouring a drink), parodies a provincial official, slurring his words, issuing crazy orders and making local problems worse.

“This is a guy who thinks he always knows what to do, is very confident, who can never be wrong and is always right. He does whatever he wants. He’s funny because he is so recognizable to people,” said Andrei Ostrovsky editor of independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East.

He said the sketch mocks the fawning local TV coverage of Ussuriysk’s mayor, Yevgeny Korzh, a member of Putin’s party — although director Andrei Klochkov and the BARAKuda team insist it is not supposed to be political.

The episodes are based on real Ussuriysk problems.

One skit addresses the city’s public toilet shortage. So the fictional character Nalivkin orders up rickety wooden latrines with no internal walls to be installed on every street.

(Read more)


People hang Cuban flags over the windows of Yunior Garcia Aguilera’s home in an attempt to stop him from communicating with the outside, in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Epinosa)

(Mary Beth Sheridan’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 11/15; via the Drudge Report.)

Security forces surrounded the homes of Cuban activists on Sunday, the day before a planned march that will test the strength of the protest movement that erupted last summer when Cubans poured into the streets to demand more political freedoms on the communist-ruled island.

The best-known organizer of Monday’s protest, 39-year-old playwright Yunior García Aguilera, had announced he would march alone through Havana at 3 p.m. on Sunday, carrying a white rose in solidarity with Cubans who had been prevented from participating the following day. But hours before he set out, plainclothes police swarmed his block and besieged his building. He tried to signal to journalists from his apartment, displaying a white sheet in support of the protests, and a rose. People dropped giant Cuban flags over the side of the building to cover the windows.

“We all know we can be detained within a few hours,” García Aguilera said in a Facebook Live post on Sunday morning, appearing nervous but calm. “I will face this with dignity. I believe this country will change.”

He called on people around the nation to clap at 3 p.m. to show their “thirst for freedom,” but there did not appear to be a widespread response. “I won’t renounce my ideas,” he told The Washington Post later Sunday. He said, however, he was penned in by hundreds of security forces outside his home. “The lives of my family members are in danger,” he said.

Cuban authorities had hoped to celebrate the island’s grand reopening to tourists on Monday, following a coronavirus shutdown of nearly 20 months that has crippled an already weak economy. Instead, the day has become symbolic of the confrontation between the government and pro-democracy activists.

Thousands of Cubans, fed up with food shortages, a battered health system and electricity blackouts, spontaneously joined demonstrations last July. They were the biggest protests in six decades.

Activists planned a nationwide “Civic March for Change” on Monday. But with the advance warning, the government has moved aggressively to derail another massive protest. It denied the organizers a permit, claiming they were tied to “subversive organizations” financed by the U.S. government.

n recent days, García Aguilera said, his phone lines and Internet connection were cut. Authorities summoned independent Cuban journalists and activists for questioning and warned they could face charges of public disorder.

On Sunday, the crackdown intensified. Several government critics, including Washington Post opinion contributor Abraham Jiménez Enoa, said that security forces were preventing them from leaving their homes. The Facebook forum Archipiélago, run by García Aguilera and other activists, reported that its moderator, Daniela Rojo, had vanished. Security forces detained another leader of the site, Carlos Ernesto Diaz Gonzalez, in the city of Cienfuegos, according to Archipiélago. The government suspended the credentials of several Havana-based reporters working for EFE, the Spanish news agency.

Journalists who drove to García Aguilera’s apartment building on Sunday morning were driven away by pro-government demonstrators, the playwright said. Several hours later, he appeared at his window, brandishing a white rose, according to reporters at the scene. At one point, he flashed a sign reading: “My house is blocked.” That’s when people on the roof unfurled giant Cuban flags that cascaded down the side of the three-story building, cutting him off from view.

(Read more)



(Amy Kazmin’s article appeared in the Financial Times, 9/9; street painting depicting Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul in March 2015 © Yaghobzadeh Alfred/ABACA/Reuters.)

The city’s domineering blast walls were a canvas for colourful murals 

They were afraid of these murals and they had a very clear plan for them,” says artist Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of the grassroots movement Artlords, which mobilised Afghans to paint more than 2,000 murals across the country. “They knew that these murals were the soul of Kabul city, and they wanted to destroy — silence — the soul of Kabul.” The first Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, was a time of extreme hardships for the country’s artists, as an extreme, dour, joyless interpretation of Islamic law was enforced. Arts and entertainment — even television and videos in private homes — were banned by fundamentalist leaders who believed photography violated the Islamic injunction against idolatry. In their zeal, the Taliban blew up two monumental 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas — an act of cultural vandalism that provoked global outrage.

Music was prohibited, instruments smashed, with brutal punishments for anyone who broke the rules. Many Afghans hoped the Taliban — who have embraced social media with gusto — might have grown more tolerant of arts and cultural expression over the past two decades. But the destruction of Kabul’s murals, Sharifi said, has made clear that the new regime will not tolerate any voices other than their own.

(Read more)