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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:

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The World Mourns the Passing of Turkish singer Helin Bölek after 300-day hunger strike

Helin Bölek courtesy of Twitter for Android

“We are immensely saddened to learn of Helin Bölek’s passing. We strongly condemn the actions of the Turkish government that led to her death. Bölek was on a death fast because the Turkish authorities refused to guarantee this artistic group several of the most basic liberties necessary to a free and democratic society . . . ” Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America



The world mourns the death of Turkish singer Helin Bölek. Ms. Bölek died Friday after a nearly 300-day hunger strike. She was a member of the music collective Grup Yorum, which has faced ongoing persecution by the Turkish government for years. Bölek had been on a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment and that of eight other band members during 2019.


Ms. Bölek, originally the daughter of a family from Diyarbakır, worked in art during her youth. She took part in the group as a soloist. During a police operation in İdil Culture Center in Istanbul in November 2016, she was first detained with the seven members of the group on charges of “resisting the police, insulting and being a member of a terrorist organization” and then arrested. In addition to Ms. Bölek, Bahar Kurt, Barış Yüksel, İbrahim Gökçek (who is currently in day 291 of his hunger strike), and Ali Aracı announced that they started an “indefinite and irreversible” hunger strike on May 17, 2019, to end their pressures, concert bans, raids on cultural centers. On March 11, 2020, on the day of the conflict, İbrahim Gökçek on the 268th day of the death fast and Helin Bölek on the 265th day were taken out to the Umraniye Training and Research Hospital after the police raid that morning in their home in Küçük Armutlu, Istanbul. In a statement made by their lawyer Didem Ünsal, the two Grup Yorum members stated that they were taken to the hospital by ambulance and that they were admitted to the emergency room, where they declared that they did not accept the intervention and treatment.

Grup Yorum is a band from Turkey known for their political songwriting. Grup Yorum (Yorum means interpretation or comment in Turkish) has released twenty-three albums and one film since 1985. Some of the group’s concerts and albumswere banned over the years, and some of the group members were allegedly arrested or tortured.Yorum remains popular and their albums continue to sell well in Turkey and internationally. Yorum has also given concerts in Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, Greece and Syria. The group publishes an art, culture, literature, and music magazine entitled Tavir, and several group members manage a cultural center in the Okmeydanı neighborhood of Istanbul called İdil Kültür Merkezi.

 


Although Ms. Bölek was released on November 20, she continued her hunger strike with the intent to pursue it until her own death, alongside Grup Yorum member İbrahim Gökçek. Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America, said the following:

“We are immensely saddened to learn of Helin Bölek’s passing. We strongly condemn the actions of the Turkish government that led to her death. Bölek was on a death fast because the Turkish authorities refused to guarantee this artistic group several of the most basic liberties necessary to a free and democratic society: that Grup Yorum be allowed to make music in peace, that their cultural center not be raided again and again, that their concerts not be banned, and that their members not be imprisoned for merely making music. Artists take risks, but they should not have to risk their lives. Turkish authorities’ hostile attitude toward freedom of expression and their continued crackdown on artists, writers, thinkers, and activists, especially those working on Kurdish issues, must cease immediately, and Grup Yorum members still in prison must be unconditionally released. Bölek’s death makes the truth painfully clear: The very lives of artists are on the line.”

This post is complied courtesy of Wikipedia, PEN America, YouTube, and various news reports.

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you would like to learn more about Grup Yorum, please read ARC’s profile of the band. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.


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

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

Missed Moment, Mind Bumps and Locked Paddocks, a hybrid poem and essay by Mbizo Chirasha

”News is best in its absence if it’s not the birth of a child . . . ” Mbizo Chirasha



Calling the morning with a mournful urgency, sleep fell off the
routine checks of protocol and the gong silently, if urgently,
summoned a sermon of fleeting feet. A son beheld the sun’s shadow with
loving thoughts packed hurriedly into a strained back. The beauty of
smooth roads and distance hills failed dismally to tell the dreams on
a runway refusing crafts to land. Temporariness is a weed with long
tendrils as only those with healthy respect for shadows know. To part
with tomorrow’s hope to the hands of a paid Piper whose mission in
“his appointed career” is to poach livelihoods of passerby’s in quest
for a nights nest on this migratory routine is a pain bordering on a
tooth extraction without anaesthesia. That this accepted sin is
described in business lingo as lucrative is tearing off fresh from the
living and asking to be thanked.

And the revolutionary chant is not over!

Am blind and love it because that way I judge nobody.
Am deaf and trust it because that way I hear only hope from Angels from afar.
Am immune to cold and heat so the elements don’t scare me,
I am a lamp post planted by hands I can only guess at. Am a child and
a man honest enough to acknowledge God exists in the spirit of
creation and the heart of men however few.
When borderslam doors louder than an irate spouse demonstrating
disgust at an assumed slight by love, common sense stirs the soul for
an instinctive triple jump.
Am a son of the South where the sun rises with the song of the hills
and cattle calling milk to duty,
Milk is a source of life and it’s absence is a bitter song that speaks
kwashiorkor and other third rate needs unmet.
Am a product of great souls that the universe unites to clear the
morning smog with a heart’s torch.

And the struggle song is not over!

What is Man but a product of Man?
I refuse to reject humanity and I do it with humility.
Where I am is a location whose dust reminds me of my earliest form and
my final formlessness.
I am a journey on a travel and now is time to chant an old tune,
That no struggle is without cause and course if it’s the one that chose you,
And in the beauty of such times as we are living in, islands within,
Am counting thousands of breaths in gratitude for the spice that life
and living is.
For spice true, is in the variety,
Not only of terrain but of origin,
But also the hand that tended it,
The hand that picked and packed it,
As such,
Making the whole a part of the bits and vice versa.
Cycles refuse to rest, like a month in flight, a soul flies in the
night leaving a sad dream on a prodigal sons wet eyelids,

And the liberation vibe is not far!

Who can say the taste of life is anything but mysterious and hard at its best?
News is best in it’s absence if it’s not the birth of a child,
Am awake to all truths even the most banal and morbid,
Am human enough to weep at wickedness and laugh at jest,
But tell me fair men of this land that “ unlanded” me how to virtually
bury my own,
Tell me like am a three year old how to grieve with dignity this
vehicle that bore me to your shores and must now bid a silent goodbye
in my blinded monastery upon this cavernous existence,
And the redemption thunder is rumbling more closer!!!

Am flesh and flesh has demands to weep and touch it’s own in making
and unmaking,
Who will roll this mist back a day and allow a wish to plan a shared hug?
Am a child of the universe bleeding hard on the winds that make
commandments of demented bafoonery,
I fall on these weakened knees sending this mute anguish up into the
bloated clouds,
If I see tomorrow it’s all because silence has given me a route to
walk in this barren vacuum of misplaced hunger of human touch,
That voices sprout hands that feed my sanity with a purity only angels
know, am grateful,
And some day, when the grass has grown over that mound that settled unto itself,
This boy with a grey beard shall come back to plant a fruit tree on
the home square and name it “ Silver” in honor of all dawns and dusks,
And the tender hands that give me dew upon this journey at the
earliest of arrivals.
Am all that because you are all that, even as you now ride the stars
in the silence of night and the wind of days.
And the revolutionary chanters are chanting still
Its not yet uhuru . . .

Aluta Continua, the fight and chant for freedom continue.

© 2020, Mbizo Chirasha (Mbizo, The Black Poet)

MBIZO CHIRASHA (Mbizo, The Black Poet) is one of the newest members of The BeZine core team. He is the founder of Womawords Literary Press, which is dedicated to giving space to the voices of women and girls and is a partner in The BeZine International Poetry Month,a blog event. He is a multi-award winning poet from Zimbabwe who is on the run. We have been coordinating in the search for safe harbor. In part I am posting this today to remind everyone that while we’ve made progress with funding, we still need to find a host for Mbizo, preferably Germany. Open to suggestion.  Connect with me if you are able to help, have leads, or have questions. You can read more about Mbizo and his story: Zimbabwean Poet in Exile: Award-Winning Poet Mbizo Chirasha, A Life on the Run, Interview.


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

The Poet by Day officially endorses Bernie Sanders for President.

The New New Deal

“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Bernie Sanders



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

“The BeZine” Call for Submissions, International Poetry Month

To mark International Poetry Month April 2020, we at The BeZine blog invite submissions of poems on the current pandemic. To paraphrase R. Buckminster, think globally but write locally. Write from your context about your experience during this Time of Coronavirus, but at the same time, reflecting to larger global contexts. Write about glimmers from within the crisis that illuminate ourselves, our world, and the world(s) possibly coming to us afterwards.

This event is co-hosted by Womawords Literary Press.

We especially look for poetry that projects changes (positive or negative) that may evolve from this crisis:

• worldwide coordination/collaboration
• resources of one sort or another—old, new, emerging; shared or fought-over
• the impact the pandemic might have on:
° women and the role they play in assuring good health and hygiene
° the poor and low-wage or middle class workers
° water and the environment
° war and conflict, and
° addressing the climate issues that contribute significantly to this and looming pandemics.

What about the communities—perhaps yours—that have no running water and are also therefor ravaged by typhoid, cholera, and dysentry?

Guidelines HERE.

Email Word files to  thezinesubmissions@gmail.com (Please not this is our new email address)

Womawords Literary Press HERE.

In the spirit of love (respect) and community,
Michael Dickel, Co-Manging Editor, The BeZine
Mbizo Chirasha, Curator of Womawords Literary Press, Co-Host of The BeZine International Poetry Month
Jamie Dedes, Founding Editor and Co-Mnaging Editor, The BeZine