More Repression Than Expression in Law
Speaking about Human Rights, specifically Artist Rights, Freedom of Expression cannot be achieved without looking at the legal framework. Under its Advocacy mandate, Artwatch Africa have completed a survey to better understand the legal situation of the following countries.
For this pilot survey, Artwatch Africa invited six countries to be part of the survey: Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Mauritania, Nigeria, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Although the reality of each country is slightly different, freedom of expression is enshrined in their constitutions. However, upon closer inspection, most of the legal documents focus on freedom of expression for the media, as mentioned in the DRC report: "The legal documents are more about freedom of expression in general (freedom of speech) and freedom of the press (radio, television, print). Indeed, freedom of expression and that of the press are well regulated by the political regimes because of the possible consequences of the statements or information campaigns by politicians and journalists.”
However, even if this freedom seems to be guaranteed, states do not hesitate to limit this freedom by invoking state security as an excuse, for example in Swaziland with the "Suppression of Terrorism Act, 2008" and "The Official Secrets Act, 1968." Other countries, such as Zimbabwe and the DRC, have laws related to the arts sector that allow the state to maintain control over production and distribution, namely the National Commission for Censorship of Songs and Performances, Decree No. 003 of 21 February 2021 (DRC) and the Censorship and Entertainments Control Act, 1967 in Zimbabwe that states: "ACT to regulate and control the public exhibition of films, the importation, production, dissemination and possession of undesirable or prohibited video and film material, publications, pi c- tures, statues and records and the giving of public entertainments; to regulate theatres and like places of public entertainment in the interests of safety; and to provide for matters incidental to the foregoing."
A positive discovery to come from the Artwatch Africa Survey has been that most countries have laws pertaining to intellectual property and copyright. However, it must be acknowledged that the existence of these laws does not guarantee enforcement which renders them useless.
Limits of Freedom of Expression
On the subject of freedom of creative and artistic expression, the survey has also included all of the laws and rules that regulate the sector. Thus, the investigation shows that decrees and acts are in place to regulate public demonstrations and shooting in public places: National Arts and Culture Bill, 2014 (Swaziland), Prefectural order on the basis of the law of 1964 on associations (Mauritania), Ministerial Order n° 32 / CAB / MCA / 0019/2007 of the 8th of September (DRC).
Under the auspices of the survey, Artwatch Africa has also attempted to report on the state of artist’s rights violations. This part of the investigation was more complex and it was difficult to get precise information from authorities and artists themselves. Swaziland reported that "the artistic sector faces several threats by society, intimidation, and force." For example, 24 violations perpetrated by the state and security forces were recorded in Mauritania. This figure shows the vulnerability of artists in several countries where they struggle without legal support.
Using the findings from the survey, Artwatch Africa will analyse the legal situation of each country and use the results to lead future advocacy campaigns that include the authorities. The survey will continue next year with the inclusion of other countries.
To find the legal texts, visit the The Network page on our website here.
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