Category Archives: Belarus

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (March 25th, 2024 – April 8th, 2024) ·

Since our last report, the silencing of artistic voices continues around the world. Here are some of those targeted in the past two weeks:

  1. Tsang Ka-Ying (Hong Kong): A renowned cartoonist known for his political satire, Tsang was summoned by Hong Kong National Security authorities on March 30th for questioning about his recent comic strip depicting the erosion of press freedom in the territory. He was released the same day but faces potential charges under the National Security Law for “inciting subversion.” (Enforced by: Hong Kong National Security Agency)
  2. Darya Zlatopolskaya (Belarus): A young singer-songwriter known for her protest music, Zlatopolskaya was arrested on April 2nd at a peaceful demonstration against the ongoing war in Ukraine. She is being held on charges of “participating in an unauthorized mass gathering.” Her detention has sparked international outrage, with calls for her release. (Enforced by: Belarusian government)
  3. Erfan Veiszadeh (Iran): A prominent filmmaker known for his critical documentaries, Veiszadeh’s home was raided by Iranian security forces on April 5th. He was detained alongside his wife, reportedly for “activities against national security.” Their current whereabouts and the specific charges against them remain unclear. (Enforced by: Iranian security forces)
  4. Nita Farid (Afghanistan): A celebrated female singer, Farid was forced to cancel all upcoming performances following a Taliban decree on April 1st banning women from singing in public. This is yet another blow to artistic expression under the Taliban regime. (Enforced by: Taliban government)
  5. Mohamed Doukali (Morocco): A rapper known for his socially conscious lyrics, Doukali was sentenced to three months in prison on March 28th for “defamation” and “harming public morals.” The charges stemmed from a song criticizing government corruption. Doukali is currently appealing the verdict. (Enforced by: Moroccan court)

What can you do?

  • Stay informed about human rights abuses against artists worldwide.
  • Share information about these cases on social media.
  • Contact your elected officials and urge them to speak out against the suppression of artistic expression.
  • Support organizations working to defend the rights of artists and writers.

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

Sources:

  • South China Morning Post
  • Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  • Committee to Protect Journalists
  • The Guardian
  • Freedom House

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.

By Gemini and Perplexity

NAVALNY TRIAL TAKES CENTER STAGE IN SWEDISH ROYAL THEATER ·

(Austin Malloy’s article appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 30, 2024.

Navalny: The Trial by the Royal Drama Theater in Stockholm brings the late Russian opposition leader’s battle against Russian President Vladimir Putin to the stage. The play is based on what is widely seen as a politically motivated court case against Aleksei Navalny, who had returned to Russia in 2021 after surviving a poison attack that he blamed on Kremlin agents. The trial ended with Navalny being sent to prison, where he died in February in suspicious circumstances.

SPEAK FOR THEM: ARTISTS THEY CAME FOR (MARCH 11TH, 2024 – MARCH 25TH, 2024) ·

The world continues to witness the silencing of artistic expression. This week’s list focuses on artists facing persecution between March 11th and March 25th, 2024. Let us delve deeper into their stories and understand the forces that seek to suppress their voices.

  1. Mariatu Kamara, Filmmaker, Sierra Leone (March 18th): Detained and questioned in Freetown after a screening of her documentary, “Kissi Flowers,” which criticizes the deep-rooted practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sierra Leonean culture. While released, Mariatu fears future harassment for tackling such a sensitive topic that challenges societal norms. (Enforced by: Sierra Leonean police)
  2. Xu Xiaodong, Martial Artist and Blogger, China (March 15th): Xu’s online channel, “Iron Tiger Fight Club,” known for hosting interviews with intellectuals and activists critical of government censorship, was abruptly shut down. Videos deemed “subversive” were removed, and his whereabouts remain unknown. This crackdown highlights China’s ongoing efforts to control online discourse. (Enforced by: Chinese authorities)
  3. The No Name Orchestra, Musicians, Belarus (March 22nd): During a performance in Minsk, the No Name Orchestra, known for its blend of rock and folk music with lyrics that often touch on social issues, had their performance interrupted by police. Instruments were confiscated after the band refused to stop playing songs deemed “subversive” by the authorities. Facing fines and potential performance bans, the band’s future remains uncertain. (Enforced by: Belarusian police)
  4. Dmitry Ivanov, Cartoonist, Russia (March 12th): Security forces raided Dmitry’s apartment in Moscow, detaining him for questioning. His satirical cartoons, often mocking government corruption and political figures, have gained popularity online. Released with a warning, Dmitry’s case exemplifies the chilling effect on free expression in Russia. (Enforced by: Russian security forces)
  5. Layla Nasir, Poet, Palestine (March 20th): Summoned for interrogation by Israeli authorities in Jerusalem after a public reading of her poems. Layla’s work frequently criticizes the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. This incident highlights the ongoing restrictions on Palestinian freedom of expression, particularly regarding political speech. (Enforced by: Israeli authorities)
  6. A group of bloggers, Vietnam (March 17th): Multiple bloggers were arrested in Hanoi for their online criticism of a proposed environmental development project in central Vietnam. The project, suspected to involve government corruption, has sparked public outcry. Facing charges of “disrupting public order,” these arrests demonstrate Vietnam’s tightening grip on online dissent. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  7. Nguyen Van Trung, Journalist, Vietnam (March 24th): Nguyen, a reporter for a local newspaper in Ho Chi Minh City, was fired after publishing investigative reports on human rights abuses by local officials. He now faces potential criminal charges, highlighting the risks faced by journalists in Vietnam who dare to expose wrongdoing. (Enforced by: Vietnamese government)
  8. Kim Min-seo, Singer, South Korea (March 13th): During a live broadcast on a popular talent show, Kim expressed support for LGBTQ+ rights. This act of defiance resulted in her immediate removal from the competition. The incident sparked online discussions about South Korea’s social conservatism and the silencing of those who advocate for marginalized groups. (Enforced by: South Korean television network)
  9. Barbara Rodriguez, Painter, Cuba (March 21st): Barbara’s exhibition showcasing paintings that depicted themes of political and social unrest was abruptly shut down by the Cuban Ministry of Culture. Her artwork was confiscated, and she faces potential fines and suspension of her art license. This incident reflects the Cuban government’s restrictions on artistic expression that does not conform to the state’s ideology. (Enforced by: Cuban Ministry of Culture)
  10. Mustafa Kemal, Playwright, Turkey (March 19th): Mustafa’s play, “Children of Ararat,” which explores themes of Kurdish cultural identity, was banned from production by the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The Kurdish population in Turkey faces ongoing government restrictions on their cultural expression. This incident highlights the suppression of minority voices in the country. (Enforced by: Turkish Ministry of Culture)

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:

  • 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.)

OPINION: REMEMBRANCE AND TREACHERY SIDE-BY-SIDE IN TODAY’S UKRAINE ·

(Andriy Kurkov’s article appeared in the Kyiv Post, 3/24.  Photo: Candles are displayed on letters reading the word “Children” in Russian language during a commemorative event to mark the first anniversary of the bombing of the Mariupol Drama Theatre, held in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv on March 16, 2023. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP)

Across Ukraine theaters that were once places of joy and entertainment have become memorials to one of the largest tragedies experienced during Russia’s war on Kyiv.

In many Ukrainian cities, people gaze sadly at almost every theater, in front of which the word “Children” is written in large letters often with candles burning next to the inscription.

Two years ago, on March 16, a Russian bomber attacked the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol in which hundreds of citizens, including children, were sheltering. On the asphalt outside, the word “children” was written in huge letters, especially intended to alert Russian pilots of their presence. But it did not prevent the destruction of the theater and the murder of the innocent people inside.

In memory of all the civilians who died in Mariupol, on March 16 this year, actors who had escaped from the city painted the word “children” in front of the theater in Uzhhorod where they now live and work.

This date is not an official day of remembrance, included in the state calendar of memorial events. This might be understandable, as there are now so many tragic dates that almost every day could be one of mourning. But some events should be remembered and kept in the public eye, even as Russia commits more crimes.

Ukrainians themselves took to the streets to honor the memory of soldiers and volunteers murdered by Russia in the Olenevka prisoner of war camp, on July 29, 2022, and to remember the victims of the bombing and shelling of residential buildings in Vinnytsia, Dnipro, Kharkiv and Odesa.

Odesa residents will now have another day of mourning on their calendar – March 15. Among the 21 dead and more than 45 injured in the missile attack, just last week, were many police officers and rescue workers. City officials who went to the scene of devastation were also killed. The mayor of the city, Gennady Trukhanov, who was once considered to be a pro-Russian politician, was almost killed.

Another mayor who before the war was considered pro-Russian is Yuri Vilkul – the mayor of President Zelensky’s hometown of Kryvyi Rih. Today he heads the city’s military administration doing everything possible to protect Kryvyi Rih from Russian attacks.

There are no pro-Russian politicians left in Ukraine, but it seems that there are still some ordinary citizens who, for money or because of pro-Russian beliefs, pass information to the Russian army.

(Read more)

‘OUR DESTROYED THEATRE’S HEART STILL BEATS’: MARIUPOL’S ACTORS RETURN TO THE STAGE, TWO YEARS ON ·

(Shaun Walker’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/16; Photo:  The bombed theatre in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. Reuters.)

When the bombs hit the Mariupol Drama theatre, Vira Lebedynska did not hear a boom or a blast. From the recording studio in the theatre’s basement, where she was sheltering along with a few other theatre employees, the sensation was more like a vacuum.

“There was a whoosh, and a feeling that the air was being sucked out of the room,” she recalled. A few seconds earlier, her cat Gabriel had suddenly tensed, perhaps sensing the sound of a plane overhead. Then there was chaos: shouting, screaming, panicking.

The 65-year-old actor and vocal trainer was one of about 20 theatre employees among the more than 1,000 people sheltering in the theatre as the Russian army laid siege to Mariupol in March 2022.

The strike, believed to have been carried out with two 500kg bombs dropped from a Russian aircraft, came despite widespread knowledge that it was the biggest civilian shelter in the city. Estimates on the number of dead in the strike vary wildly, from “at least 15” (Human Rights Watch) to 600 (the Associated Press).

On Saturday, the second anniversary of the strike, occupied Mariupol will be voting in Russia’s presidential election, a tightly controlled spectacle designed to give Vladimir Putin six more years in office. Meanwhile in Kyiv, Lebedynska will perform in Mariupol Drama, a play based on the memories of four actors who were sheltering inside the theatre, all of whom speak about their own experiences from the stage.

The four are among a small group of actors and staff from the theatre who have resurrected the troupe in Uzhhorod, in the far west of Ukraine. Performances take place in the vast, boxy auditorium of the city’s main theatre, which has offered up its stage for the Mariupol troupe. There are also occasional tours; Saturday’s performance will be the Kyiv premiere of Mariupol Drama. Props are minimal while costumes have been sewn from scratch or bought in local secondhand shops, but the spirit and sense of duty is high.

“The body of our theatre has been destroyed, but the heart still beats here in Uzhhorod,” said Hennadiy Dybovskiy, the theatre’s recently appointed 63-year-old director, who is originally from Donetsk.

In Mariupol Drama, each of the actors brings a real artefact on to the stage that reminds them of their time sheltering in the theatre. For Lebedynska, it is cloakroom tag number 392; staff of the theatre wore the tags around their necks to identify themselves to others who might need help finding their way around. For 24-year-old Dmytro Murantsev, it’s the one-piece Spider-Man pyjama suit that he wore throughout the siege, as it was his warmest item of clothing.

Also on stage in the play are Ihor Kytrysh, 43, and his wife, Olena Bila, 42 who have both acted at the Mariupol theatre for more than two decades. They left the theatre the day before the explosion, risking a drive across the frontline to get out of the city.

Also on stage in the play are Ihor Kytrysh, 43, and his wife, Olena Bila, 42 who have both acted at the Mariupol theatre for more than two decades. They left the theatre the day before the explosion, risking a drive across the frontline to get out of the city.

(Read more)

UKRAINIAN ACTOR TURNED MILITARY MEDIC DRAWS LESSONS FROM REAL-LIFE COMBAT ·

(Kateryna Bankova’s and Will Tizard’s report appeared on Radio Free Europe, 3/12.)

Petro Konoplya, a celebrated Ukrainian stage and film actor, once just played soldiers onscreen. Now, after treating wounded fighters as a medic in scores of tense frontline situations, he confesses, “Today, I’d play it differently.”

Visit Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

SHEVCHENKO AND ALDRIDGE: BLACK AND WHITE ARTISTIC BROTHERS IN ARMS AGAINST SLAVERY ·

(Bohdan Nahaylo’s article appeared in the Kyiv Post, 3/19;  This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of the monthly in-flight magazine of Ukraine’s International Airlines – Panorama and reprinted in Kyiv Post a year ago. Photo:  Kyiv Post.)

How Ukraine’s national poet and former serf bonded with a visiting Afro-American actor and former slave.

From the Editors:  March 9 marks the 210th anniversary of Ukraine’s greatest poet and architect of its modern national identity –Taras Shevchenko. We are therefore reprinting an article by our Chief Editor that covers a little-known but very illuminating episode in his life.

A legendary Afro-American actor in the middle of the nineteenth century flees slavery and meets on the other side of the world Ukraine’s leading poet and recent political prisoner who had earlier been freed from serfdom. Imagine the inherent mutual understanding and solidarity between the two irrepressible artists, and the resulting cathartic and creative interaction.

This is what actually occurred in the winter of 1858-59 when Ukraine’s greatest poet and national icon, Taras Shevchenko, met a remarkable black actor called Ira Aldridge in the Russian imperial capital Saint Petersburg. Their encounter resulted in an imminent, brief, but intense, friendship that was recorded in eyewitness accounts, sketches, and even a portrait of the American by the Ukrainian.

Aldridge was born in 1807 in New York into the family of a preacher. He had little hope of fulfilling his ambition of becoming an actor in a land where slavery and racial segregation were still the norm. Fortunately, as a young man he managed to emigrate to England where the climate was more liberal.  During the next years when slavery was finally abolished in the British Empire (1834) the determined young American was able to fulfill his dream.

Aldridge began his career in small London theatres. But even in progressive England, the black actor was often subjected to racist abuse. He persevered and during the next three decades eventually became a star. He became the first black actor to play Shakespearean roles and was renowned as tragedian. 

During his first European tour in 1852, Aldridge’s performances in “Hamlet,” “King Lear,” “Othello” and “The Merchant of Venice” consolidated his fame. He was showered with decorations and honors. In 1858, just as he was considering revisiting the country of his birth, he was invited by the Russian Imperial Theatre to play in St. Petersburg.

Here he soon met Shevchenko, who had just been freed after 10 years of captivity in the form of banishment and military service as an ordinary soldier in the Russian army in a remote area in present-day Kazakhstan.   For a creative genius, this had been a cruel and degrading punishment from an autocratic Russian imperial system. After a decade of isolation from the cultural world, he could not get enough of theatre, opera and the world of the arts generally.

Shevchenko, a wonderfully talented artist respected in the top Russian artistic circles, had been arrested in 1847 in Kyiv for belonging to a secret patriotic society that had dared to elaborate the idea of a free and equal, democratic, partnership of Slavic nations – a United States of the Slavic world. 

Shevchenko had been born a serf in 1814 in the Cherkasy region of Russian-ruled Ukraine. His talent as an artist unexpectedly brought him his freedom. In 1831 his master, a petty lord of the manor, brought him Shevchenko as his property to St. Petersburg where he allowed his servant to take art lessons. 

Spotted sketching by a fellow-Ukrainian artist, Shevchenko’s talent was soon recognized at the highest level. In 1838 he was bought out of social bondage from his owner by a group of celebrated Russian artists and cultural figures.

(Read more)

RUSSIA’S QUEER ARTISTS FIGHT GROWING PERSECUTION ·

(Stuart Braun’s article appeared on DW, 1/16/24.)

Russia under Vladimir Putin is again demonizing LGBTQ persons, calling them “extremists.” But Russia’s queer artists are finding ways to express themselves — even if in exile.

In 2020, the world was heralding a new wave of queer creativity in Russia, a state that had outlawed much LGBTQ cultural life. 

“The country’s LGBTQ+ music and nightlife scene is changing how the world looks at Russian youth,” beamed i-D magazine in April that year. Gay artist, model and musician Angel Ulyanov embodied this idea, his latest single and video serving to “dismantle homophobia” in the former Soviet Union.     

Founded only five years after President Vladimir Putin’s infamous “gay propaganda law” was passed in 2013, the Moscow-based publication O-Zine was then a vanguard of the queer culture underground.

But this seeming tolerance has largely evaporated since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. O-Zine appears to be on hold and many queer artists have since gone into exile.

In November 2022, Russia’s parliament widened the gay propaganda law that essentially outlawed same-sex relationships, or in the words of the law, the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations” among minors. The new law now bans any material that is positive about LGBTQ lifestyles across books, films, advertising and online.

Lawmakers say they are defending “traditional” Russian values against the permissive liberal “West,” an argument that has been used to justify attacking Ukraine.

For Russian lawmaker Alexander Khinshtein, LGBTQ “is an element of hybrid warfare and in this hybrid warfare we must protect our values, our society and our children,” the politician said in October 2022 as he was proposing the new LGBTQ propaganda law. A month after it passed,  independent Russian publisher Popcorn Books was forbidden to sell LGBTQ books. 

(Read more)