In the Wake of COVID-19: Free Speech and Freedom of Artistic Expression Threatened

Rivera himself, as a pug-faced child, and Frida Kahlo stand beside the skeleton; mural in Mexico City courtesy of Diego Rivera Núñez and one more author under CC BY 2.0

“Freedom of expression is a human right and forms Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Freedom of expression [a foundation for other rights] covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and gives individuals and communities the right to articulate their opinions without fear of retaliation, censorship or punishment. (The right to freedom of expression wouldn’t be worth much if the authorities also had the right to imprison anyone who disagrees with them.) An effective media also depends on the legal basis that freedom of expression gives the right to function and report freely, sometimes critically, without threat or fear of punishment.

“Freedom of expression is not an absolute right: it does not protect hate speech or incitement to violence. That said, many other rights which are intrinsic to our daily lives build on and intersect with this protection for free thought and individual expression. Freedom of expression covers everything from satire to political campaigns to conversations in your own home. It’s a fundamental human right which allows for citizens to speak freely and without interference.” Ten Reasons Freedom of Expression is Important, The Legal Media Defense Initiative (UK)



It’s not news that in times of upheaval when confusion reigns, the power elite use that as cover or excuse for violations of human rights and the rule of law.  With the outbreak of COVID-19, we saw the beginning of this type of abuse relative to the virus when Chinese physician, Li Wenliang, conscientiously sounded an alert and was subsequently arrested and accused of “rumor-mongering” by Wuhan police. According to Worldometer.info, as of today deaths from this virus total 2,081,733. That number would include the good Dr. Wenliang and no doubt underestimates the total since testing is not widely available.

To one degree or another the curbing of the arts and of news articles related to COVID-19 is happening all over the world in both developed and developing nations. Certainly, in my own country (the U.S.), we’ve seen journalists, advisors, and politicians denounced, fired, or banned based on their reporting, advice, or political positions. Just yesterday Missouri Governor Mike Parson’s placed a ban on attendance by reporters at state briefings. Reporters are now required to email their questions one hour in advance of meetings for prescreening by officials.

Earlier this month three Burmese artists were arrested for painting a mural depicting the dangers of COVID-19.  “Zayar Hnaung, Ja Sai, and Naw Htun Aung were charged with violating article 295A of the Myanmar penal code, which criminalizes speech that ‘insults or attempts to insult’ religion or religious beliefs. The artists were arrested after painting a mural intended to raise awareness about the coronavirus epidemic.” reports PEN America. The intent of the mural was to urge citizens to stay at home. It depicted the grim reaper, which some Buddhists said looked like a monk. Hence the accusation.

On Monday, the Indian government filed a complaint against  Siddharth Varadarajan for reporting on one of Uttar Pradesh’ officials for not adhering to the national public lockdown.

This is by no means a comprehensive report. It is, however, a sad sample of the current state of affairs, especially sad when so many lives are in danger in the most absolute terms and in terms of quality of life.
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The resources for this post include: The Media Legal Defense Initiative (UK), PEN America, Kansas City News, and The Indian Express, 
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Some resources for journalists and artists at risk:
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Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton

Vintage Point, a poem . . . and your next Wednesday Writing Prompt

Courtesy of pixpoetry @blackpoetry, unsplash

“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



“Old” is not a pejorative,
We’re ripe not rotten
We’re flexible not fossilized,
We started out with typewriters,
Slide rules and comptometers,
Moved on to hand-held calculators
And word processing, transitioning
In time to sophisticated software, to
Wi-fi and laptops, and from slow mail
To social networking and Zoom

We hail from good years for people,
A crop of fine folk with a refined sense
of conscience, who knock on the doors
Of those who are asleep, those who
Lack scruples perhaps by nurture, by bent
Or sheer ignorance, our heroes are the
Ninety-nine percent who persist despite
Systemic inequalities, the unsung ones

We know what’s real, what matters,
And where to invest ourselves as the
Sentinels, strong and not silent, given
To sounding alarms, penning our warnings
Or marching in the streets, calling for humane
And accountable transparent governance
We write for op-ed pages, announcing our
Analyses, our perspectives, our distillations
Expressed in language muscular, sometimes
Lyrical, but always honest, prescient, and
Enduring, committed to justice, social and
Environmental, and to leveling the field

We’ve lived through recessions, drought, the
Cold War, we continue on, lively despite the
Unremitting devastation of violent conflicts
Twenty-four named genocides and that
Doomsday Clock (born when we were), now
A few ticks from midnight, still we endure, we
Give back to life as it has been given to us to
Be free, to be vocal, to be conscience, always
Stouthearted as the elders, venerable and
Adaptable, empathy and experience to counter
The follies of stupidity and greed, the king
And queen of the world’s pain and grief

© 2020, Jamie Dedes

WEDNESDAY WRITING PROMPT

This week we focus on maturity. What is the value-added as years go by?  You don’t have to be “old” or “elderly” to respond to this prompt. You have more years under your belt today than every before. So share your thoughts in your poem/s and

  • please submit your poem/s by pasting them into the comments section and not by sharing a link
  • please submit poems only, no photos, illustrations, essays, stories, or other prose

PLEASE NOTE:

Poems submitted on theme in the comments section here will be published in next Tuesday’s collection. Poems submitted through email or Facebook will not be published. If you are new to The Poet by Day, Wednesday Writing Prompt, be sure to include a link to your website, blog, and/or Amazon page to be published along with your poem. Thank you!

Deadline:  Monday, April 20 by 8 pm Pacific Time. If you are unsure when that would be in your time zone, check The Time Zone Converter.

Anyone may take part Wednesday Writing Prompt, no matter the status of your career: novice, emerging or pro.  It’s about exercising the poetic muscle, showcasing your work, and getting to know other poets who might be new to you.

You are welcome – encouraged – to share your poems in a language other than English but please accompany it with a translation into English.


Jamie Dedes:

Your donation HERE helps to fund the ongoing mission of The Poet by Day in support of poets and writers, freedom of artistic expression, and human rights.

Poetry rocks the world!



FEEL THE BERN

For Peace, Sustainability, Social Justice

Maintain the movement.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton