Home | 2009NEWS | Banned singer to attend the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in Norway

Banned singer to attend the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in Norway

image Viomak

Zimbabwe protest musician Viomak has been invited to participate at the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression (GFFE) lasting from 1 June through to 6 June 2009 in Oslo.

The protest musician cum political activist who is the only woman protest singer in Zimbabwe and well known for her courage to confront the Zimbabwean political situation with hard hitting musical lyrics is a great  advocate for freedom of expression and opinion. This is said to be the only Forum event of its kind, and it will gather activists from different regions and sectors, from different professions and cultures, working with different problems and in different political contexts, but joined by a common interest in the freedom of expression.

Viomak who courageously uses her music to expose human rights abuses and promote freedom of expression will definitely find her involvement in this Forum a very relevant and conducive platform for her to share with others her unbearable experiences as a censored and banned artist who uses her music to resist Mugabe’s oppressive regime. As one writer said, when human rights are violated, and people are denied the right to live in a free and just society, music will always be a peaceful form of resistance.

According to the invitation letter signed by the Chief Administrator for The Global Forum on Freedom of Expression, Viomak‘s participation is considered to be of great importance.

“Mrs Vio Mak’s participation in the Forum is considered to be of great importance and the Forum has decided to sponsor her costs. The forum will cover all expenses including return flight to Oslo, accommodation and per diem while in Oslo for Mrs Vio Mak, who will participate in the plenary sessions of the Global Forum from June 3 to June 5.”

Representing a country like Zimbabwe at such a major conference will be a great platform for Viomak to discuss with a large audience how in Zimbabwe, the Government passed draconian laws such as POSA and AIPPA to silence critics. POSA (Public Security Order Act) became law on 22 January 2002. Even with GNU in place POSA is still being used to ban any form of protest. It imposes severe restrictions on civil liberties and criminalizes activities associated with the freedoms of expression, assembly, association and action. It doesn’t allow activists to speak out against the president. It also requires that police be notified in advance of any public gathering of more than two  people, and prohibits those which police believe could cause public disorder.

The Global Forum on Freedom of Expression is a partnership initiative organized jointly by the Freedom of Expression Foundation, Oslo, Norwegian PEN and International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX). The Forum’s main supporters are the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Freedom of Expression Foundation. Norwegian PEN is the Forum’s principal host.  IFEX is an international network of over 80 member organizations defending and promoting freedom of expression and opinion worldwide. IFEX develops the capacity of free expression organizations and is active in more than 55 countries. By raising awareness of the dangers faced by individuals and by exposing violations, IFEX helps build the foundations of vigorous democracies. Norwegian PEN is the Norwegian division of International PEN, the world’s largest writers- and freedom of expression-organization, and the Global Forum’s host. The main purpose of Norwegian PEN is to fight for the right to freedom of expression for writers, journalists, translators, playwrights and publishers. The freedom of expression Foundation,Oslo (Institusjon Fritt ord) is the Forum’s co-host. The institution’s main purpose is to protect and promote freedom of expression by encouraging debate and the courageous use of free speech. The Freedom of Expression Foundation helps fund projects related to Media and Democracy, e.g. the Index on Censorship and Article 19 and the Democratic Voice of Burma. The Foundation organizes regular seminars and conferences devoted to freedom of expression and related issues. 

Viomak said her participation at the Forum is well timed and very relevant to her work and her country. The singer who has so far produced five protest music albums all of which are banned in Zimbabwe is thrilled that her participation at the forum will continue to expose the severe lack of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe specifically to political activists and protests musicians like her who are only left with the option of selling their music from their inside pockets with no state radio airplay to talk about.

In Zimbabwe the Broadcasting law, Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) is being used to maintain a state monopoly of the airwaves .Through this Act, the State  is preferring  a charge of ‘distributing, displaying or selling any recording that is undesirable’ under the draconian piece of law called  The Censorship and Entertainment Control  Act. Music is censored basing on reasons stipulated by the censorship board with the aid of the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act of 1967, revised in 1996 and what the public broadcaster deems unfit for public consumption. Under AIPPA (Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act), journalists and media houses are punished if they write what the Act describes as “falsehoods”, on the basis that they violate freedom of expression.Such laws silence Viomak’s voice as a political and musical activist since it bars her from criticizing Mugabe and his government. Her music speaks against these unjust laws too since what she sings is in conflict with what Mugabe wants to hear.Available information to date says, the forum consists of organizational meetings, open conference sessions, keynote lectures, training workshops and festival events.

According to the GFFE’s website, the forum is a one time gathering that will last one week and the programme begins with two days of organizational meetings for international network organizations and the opening of exhibitions and continues with the plenary global forum sessions on the remaining days. The global IFEX network, the International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, the International Human Rights House Network and the International Peace Journalism Research Network will all be in Oslo for their annual meetings during Monday 1 June and Tuesday 2 June, with a focus on free expression. This will be followed by three days of conference, training and networking sessions, and concluding with a day of public engagement in Oslo’s city center.

The week long conference will see leading organizations, activists, journalists, academics and thinkers discuss and network for free expression across different sectors and fields. Wednesday 3 June to Friday 5 June will bring these groups together with a host of grass roots activists, media professionals, donors and academics for open conference,traning and networking sessions.Training workshops will run continuously throughout conference days and will deliver applied skills training to small groups in various languages. Networking sessions will be organized throughout the Forum, to facilitate essential alliance building and coordination for actors across geographic and professional borders. 

Throughout the week, free expression issues will be highlighted through cultural exhibitions and performances, a film festival and various engagements. Conference sessions will aim to join free expression’s theory and practice in an exploration of assumptions surrounding this fundamental right, and a critical engagement with the most pressing challenges posed by today’s global realities. Keynote lectures by leading thinkers in the field will be delivered at the end of each day, in order to facilitate participation by the Norwegian public. Throughout the week, the Forum will also highlight the convergence of free and artistic expression through a series of exhibitions and performances.Theatre, concerts, photography and literature will bring art and politics together in a public space of free expression from Oslo’s waterfront, to the city centre to the Castle Park. 

The training workshops which will include topics such as Campaign Strategy Building, Web Activism and Getting Past Censors will be an eye opener for Viomak who has democratized cyberspace by continuing to perpetuate the relationship between art and activism, using the internet to propel socio-political movements and speak to the global community about the struggle for freedom of expression on her website. Her artwork explores the transformation of a country painted by years of human rights abuses into a global community that now proclaims that the way governments treat their people is a matter of international concern, and sets the goal of human rights for all people. Viomak who also set up an internet radio station VOTO (Voices Of The Oppressed) to promote protest singers whilst hiding away from Mugabe’s censorship reiterated that the training workshops are very relevant to her situation. 

“Zimbabwe is in a revolution and my music has always been a great part of this revolution .Ever since I offered my voice in support of respect for human rights and freedom of expression my music continues to speak on behalf of the oppressed masses and such a major conference will help promote my work and also allow me the opportunity to learn more about the politics of freedom of expression and opinion,” she said.

Throughout the Forum’s week of exploration, training and coordination, the Global Forum also seeks to celebrate free expression through a collection of exhibitions and performances. Concerts, visual art, film, literary events, theatre and multimedia story telling are all being planned for this week of free expression in Oslo .People are going to have the unique opportunity to connect with the thinkers and activists who are shaping the way censorship is understood and challenged across the globe.

More information specifies that the GFFE has added a number of exciting and inspiring people to their list of panelists and speakers to explore free expression from different perspectives. Through more than 25 different panels as well as numerous workshops, themes such as free expression in times of financial crisis, religion and free expression, challenges of technology to free expression and minorities’ right to expression, the Global Forum will address both prevailing and current issues to the right to free expression.

The Forum will close with festivities and ceremonies on the Oslo Waterfront in cooperation with the Nobel Peace Centre’s 4th Anniversary. Oslo Music Festival will cooperate with the Global Forum, to address the role of music and musicians for free expression. Oslo Music Festival is a public festival that sets up 30 stages throughout Oslo city centre, with a succession of free concerts, atracting up to 60,000 spectators on the first Saturday of June each year.

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