Freedom of Artistic Expression and Creativity

Labour Party

This week I spoke at an event where Farida Shaheed, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights for the United Nations, presented her report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity.

The report addresses the many ways in which the right to the freedom of artistic expression and creativity can be curtailed around the world. Ms Shaheed discussed the growing worldwide concern that artistic voices are being silenced. The report addresses laws and regulations restricting artistic freedoms as well as economic and financial issues significantly impacting on such freedoms. The underlying motivations are most often political, religious, cultural or moral, or lie in economic interests, or are a combination of those.

The report encouraged States to critically review their legislation and practices imposing restrictions on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, taking into consideration their obligations to respect, protect and fulfil this right.

In her report, Ms Shaheed has a number of specific recommendations to help combat the problem.

(a)   Artists and all those engaged in artistic activities should only be subject to general laws that apply to all people. Such laws shall be formulated with sufficient precision and in accordance with international human rights standards.

(b)   States should abolish prior-censorship bodies or systems where they exist.  Prior censorship should be a highly exceptional measure, undertaken only to prevent the imminent threat of grave irreparable harm to human life or property.

(c)    Classification bodies or procedures may be resorted to for the sole purpose of informing parents and regulating unsupervised access by children to particular content, and only in the areas of artistic creation where this is strictly necessary due in particular to easy access by children.

(d)   Decision makers, including judges, when resorting to possible limitations to artistic freedoms, should take into consideration the nature of artistic creativity (as opposed to its value or merit), as well as the right of artists to dissent

(e)   States should abide by their obligation to protect artists and all persons participating in artistic activities or dissemination of artistic expressions and creations from violence by third parties.

(f)     States should address issues regarding the use of public space for artistic performances or displays. Regulation of public art may be acceptable where it conflicts with other public uses of the space, but such regulation should not discriminate arbitrarily against specific artists or content.

(g)   States should review their visa issuance system and adjust it to the specific difficulties encountered by touring artists, their host organizations and tour organizers;

(h)   States should ensure the participation of representatives of independent associations of artists in decision-making related to art, and refrain from nominating or appointing cultural administrators or directors of cultural institutions on the basis of their political, religious or corporate affiliation.

What is striking about these recommendations and the report in general, is that it shows that restrictions on artists are not limited to authoritarian regimes.  Though the worst cases of artistic oppression happen in countries such as Iran and China, there is still a lot more we can do in Europe to ensure a vibrant and unrestricted culture.  It was a very interesting event and if you would like to read the full report, you can do so by following the link here.

The EU should keep talking to Iran

Labour Party

William Hague, along with all the other EU foreign ministers, was wrong to impose economic sanctions on Iran yesterday.

It is, of course, true that the Iranian government is disingenuous to talk about wanting a nuclear capability only for energy. With massive oil reserves this really does not ring true. Will their next argument be that Iran wants nuclear energy so it can go green?

I hasten to add that I do not support  the current government in Iran in any way shape or from, and particularly disapprove of the Iran’s treatment of women as second class citizens. I also apply my own personal boycott by not appearing on Press TV,  a television service supported by the Iranian government.

The difference though is that this is my personal decision, not a government decision.

The EU and the West in general needs to talk to the Iranian government.

We also need to plan for the inevitability that Iran, together with other countries, will obtain nuclear technology. Surely the experience of oil sanctions on Iraq should teach us that this way forward will not work. The sanctions will be breached. They will be used by the Iranian government to justify their actions.

We also run the risk of increasing oil prices at a time when the British and European economies are in poor shape following the transgressions of various bankers.

The EU imposition of sanctions against Iran seems a desperate last push to stop the inevitable. Governments in the West need to plan for a multipolar world recognising the inevitability of  nuclear weapons. This is not an easy position and one which I would find hard to accept, while at the same time understanding that it is what needs to be done. 

I say all this from the perspective of someone who has campaigned against nuclear weapons all of my political life.  I truly believe that Britain, and indeed the rest of the world, would be better off without destructive nuclear  capability.

Having said that,  I also believe governments have to be realistic about the extent and reach of nuclear proliferation across the globe and put forward sensible policies for damage limitation. It is inevitable that, as an increasing number of scientists gain nuclear knowledge, more countries will have the opportunity to develop nuclear capability.

As we know, several countries, not all of them stable democracies,  actually do have nuclear weapons.  Pakistan is a case in point.  It is also highly probable that Israel has them. The situation regarding Israel obviously has to be taken into account in putting forward  any policy on Iran . 

The EU imposition of sanctions against Iran seems a desperate last push to stop the inevitable.

For all our sakes the EU  needs accept the reality of the international situation rather than undertaking measures which could potentially  alienate dangerous regimes across the world.

Iranian Woman sentenced to Death by Stoning

Labour Party

Kobra Babaei, an Iranian woman, is feared to be at imminent risk of stoning to death after her husband Rahim Mohammadi was hanged for “sodomy” on 5 October.  According to an interview given by the couple’s lawyer Mohamad Mostafaei, earlier this year, they had turned to prostitution to support themselves financially after a prolonged period of unemployment.

Rahim Mohammadi and Kobra Babaei, who have a 12-year-old daughter, were both unable to find work for prolonged periods and were very poor.  Reports state that “they realised that certain officials were willing to help them in exchange for sexual relations with Rahim’s young wife” and had therefore turned to prostitution in order to support themselves.

They were both convicted of “adultery while being married”, which carries a mandatory sentence of death by stoning.  According to the lawyer, Kobra Babaei is at imminent risk of stoning now that her husband has been executed.

It really is totally unacceptable and completely appalling that both stoning to death for adultery and hanging for sodomy are still around in this day and age.  Please make your views known and try to save Kobra by signing the petition organised by Amnesty International here.


Labour Party

 Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize is a human rights activist who stole the show today at the PES (Party of European Socialists) roundtable discussion celebrating International Women’s Day.

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin Ebadi

Shirin gave a passionate account of the inequalities faced by women in Iran since the religious revolution.  In some regions women are not really regarded as human beings, being known as the mother of their son(s) eg Ali’s mother.  An Iranian man may have up to four wives and needs no excuse to divorce any of them.  A woman, on the contrary, finds it very difficult to even file for divorce.


Women need their husbands’ permission to work or travel and cannot get a passport without such agreement.  Women who are injured in accidents receive half the compensation paid to men and a girl inherits half the amount her brother receives.


In common with many Islamic countries, there is a general taboo on men and women spending time together. There is even segregation in the ski resorts.  Shirin told us that when she, her husband and their two daughters went skiing, she and her daughters were put into one designated area while her husband went elsewhere.


Yet there is a growing movement for equality, despite the Iranian government having arrested 50 women, some of whom suffered quite long prison sentences.  Shirin is convinced the movement is getting stronger and that young women are becoming increasingly involved.  The bravery of these women, and men in some cases, is astounding.  Western Europeans can hardly imagine what they are going through. 


They are all, as Shirin Ebadi said “brave women determined to achieve equal rights”. 


Entitled 50:50 From Quota to Parity, the PES event packed with both people (men as well as women) and flowers, was a huge success.  The co-hosts, Lissy Groener, the PES Co-ordinator (leader) on the Women’s Committee and Zita Gurmai, President of PES Women, deserve to be proud.  


In his introduction the PES President Martin Schulz highlighted the three Socialist campaigning points: 

·         the PES will no longer accept that women are paid less than men.  This is both scandalous and outrageous

·         Women are suffering more than men as a result of the current economic crisis.  The PES is aware of this and seeks to ameliorate the effect of the recession on women

·         As an internationalist organisation, the PES is fighting for women across the world, not just in Europe. 

We had a strong top table, the other speakers being Vladimir Spidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equality and Barbara Durkhopf, PES Vice-President as well as Lissy and Zita.  A truly inspiring seminar.  I hope we can have something similar next year.