The recent arrest and subsequent release on bail of Yonas Berhane Mewa, a highly regarded filmmaker and founder of the prestigious Gumma Film Awards in Ethiopia, has sparked a wave of concern and urgent appeals from the artistic community.
They are calling on authorities to embrace and support artists, ensuring their freedom to express thoughts, ideas, and perspectives without fear of retaliation.
Artists have long been recognized as the mirrors of society, reflecting its beauty, struggles, and aspirations. Through their artistic creations, they possess a unique ability to capture the essence of the human experience.
In the case of Mewa’s arrest, authorities cited his connection to Lij Magna, a TikTok artist whose powerful makeup symbolized the prevailing silence and fear experienced by Ethiopians amid escalating violence.
It is precisely because of this symbolism and the responsibility artists carry that their voices become crucial during times of societal unrest.
When artists find themselves in positions of influence, they have a moral obligation to speak on behalf of the masses, shedding light on their struggles and advocating for change.
Artistic expression is not merely entertainment; it is a means of amplifying the voices of the marginalized, challenging the status quo, and sparking vital conversations that lead to positive transformation.
By arresting and suppressing artists like Mewa, authorities not only stifle artistic freedom but also silence powerful voices capable of inspiring empathy, provoking thought, and inciting positive change.
To foster a thriving creative culture, artists must be allowed to express themselves as long as they do not violate the rights of others. In line with this, PANAF strongly condemns Mewa’s arrest and rejects the notion of holding him accountable for the artistic expressions of others at the event.
The network calls on local authorities to drop the charges against him and advocates for a more inclusive and supportive environment for all citizens, including those in the cultural sector.
By ensuring artists can create without fear, Ethiopia can cultivate a vibrant creative culture that enriches society and contributes to national growth. However, artists must also recognize their responsibility to avoid inciting violence or discrimination.
Peaceful and thought-provoking artistic expressions, such as Lij Magna’s makeup highlighting societal issues, should not be grounds for arrests.
PANAF stands in solidarity with Lij Magna and urges civil society and human rights organizations across Africa to monitor the government’s restrictions on freedom of expression.
Protecting artistic and creative expression is crucial, both in Ethiopia and beyond. It is imperative that we recognize and safeguard the invaluable role that artists play in society, granting them the space and freedom to fulfill their responsibility of speaking truth to power and being the vanguards of societal progress.