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Artistic expression is under attack across the globe, warns new report.

By BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZIOverzealous security officers in northern Uganda have ordered radio stations not to play Lucky Otims song titled Mac Onywalo Buru on grounds that its message is misleading.The song criticises politicians and members of Parliament from northern Uganda, especially the opposition converts to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM).

The Daily Monitor newspaper reported on June 5, 2018, that Mac Onywalo Buru (meaning fire produces ash in Luo) became a sensation for its no-holds-barred lyrics, which some critics say defy common decency, and the song has gained incomparable airplay on FM radio stations. It frames politicians as turncoats.

At its meeting on June 1, 2018, the Kitgum District Security Committee, chaired by the Resident District Commissioner, William Komakech, resolved to ban the song on radio stations, discotheques and other public places.Its on the grounds of inciting violence that we are stopping the reproduction of more copies of the song, Komakech said.

I was exposing the leaders who run away from people and side with selfish interests, which is wrong for any leader who is authentically elected, Otim, who is commonly known as Bosmic Otim, said.In the month of April 2018, two Ugandan artists, David Mugema and Jonah Muwanguzi, felt relieved when the Director of Public Prosecutions discontinued charges of offensive communication against them, in a case where they were accused of frustrating the peace of President Yoweri Museveni.

Mugema, a musician, was facing one count of offensive communication alongside his music producer Muwanguzi at the Buganda Road Court in Kampala.Muwanguzi was also charged with aiding Mugema in producing the said song, which annoyed Museveni.

This is to inform the court that the DPP has decided to discontinue charges against Mugema and Muwanguzi, the letter from the DPP presented in court in April 2018 reads in part.Prosecution alleged that Mugema and Muwanguzi, between 2015 and 2017 at Salama Road in Makindye, Kampala, unlawfully repeatedly composed, recorded, produced and electronically communicated through social media a Luganda song titled Mzee Wumula (translated as take a rest old man), in which they attacked and disturbed President Museveni without a legitimate reason.

Speaking to Daily Monitor newspaper, Mugema said that they are happy that the DPP has realised that they were totally innocent as the song had nothing to do with President Museveni.Late last year, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) banned a song by Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, titled "Freedom", on allegations of containing content inciting violence.

In Freedom, released in October 2017, Bobi Wine sends a strong message to President Yoweri Museveni and his government on the sad affairs in Uganda and advises the President to change course or retire from the top office.The distress that Lucky Otim and Bobi Wine have suffered, and Mugema and Muwanguzis tedious court experience, confirm Freemuses warning of the emergence of a new global culture of silencing others, where artistic expression is being shut down in every corner of the globe, including in the traditionally democratic West.

Freemuse is a global organisation that advocates for freedom of artistic expression by artists. Freemuses first-of-its-kind report assessing the global state of artistic freedom, indicates that 48 artists were serving combined sentences of more than 188 years in prison in 2017.FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIONThe report, titled the State of Artistic Freedom 2018, says Spain imprisoned 13 rappers mdash more musicians than any other country last year.

On average, one artist per week in 2017 was prosecuted for expressing themselves. Egypt, Russia and Israel accounted for one-third of violations against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) artists and audiences.

Seventy per cent of violations against women artists and audiences were on the grounds of indecency, a rationale used in 15 countries across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa. And artists from minority groups suffered violations of their artistic freedom in a near 50/50 split between countries in the global North and South, the report adds.

The report is a research product comprised of 553 documented cases of violations of artistic freedom monitored in 78 countries in 2017, combined with an analysis of legal, political and social developments that shed light on the motivations and rationale behind the violations.The report identifies 18 countries, including China, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Poland, Spain, Turkey and the US, that have exhibited alarming developments in how they treat artists and their freedom of artistic expression, and are ones to keep a watch on throughout 2018.Freemuse launched the report recently online and at an event in Stockholm, Sweden, in partnership with PEN Sweden.

Writing in the foreword of the report, Freemuse executive director, Dr Srirak Plipat, notes that freedom of artistic expression and creativity does matter. It is recognised as a human right in key international human rights laws.

But what makes artistic freedom matter is that it makes us who we are as a human being in society.Imagine if you could not express yourself, your anger, your worldviews, your sadness, your humour, your freewill, your inspiration, your passion, your disappointment, your love, your desire.

The humanity in you would appear to be incomplete perhaps broken. While many of us enjoy this essential freedom and find our own voices in the world, hundreds of others cannot, and thus become the voiceless, Plipat adds.

According to the report, though government authorities continue to be the main group of violators of artistic freedom, curtailing expression is increasingly being taken on by other actors, including religious groups, political associations, criminal gangs, private individuals and the artistic communities themselves. This disturbing geographical spread and growing group of violators is enabled by weak accountability mechanisms that fail to hold authorities to task and continue to create a wide space for impunity, Freemuse observes.

Freemuse further observes that governments, as the key artistic freedom violators, obstruct oppositional and critical voices through a variety of methods, including implementing vague laws that allow for wide interpretation, declaring states of emergencies that suspend laws, or by simply ignoring their obligation to international human rights treaties they are party to. Further, in a growing culture of impunity toward matters of freedom of artistic expression, authorities implement direct intimidation tactics toward artists and their families or bring criminal charges to silence voices in a way that does not raise flags for observers and human rights activists.

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Publication:Daily Nation, Kenya (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:6UGAN
Date:Jun 15, 2018
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