It’s not about having the Balls to say it. It’s about having the right.
For the first time ever the Secret Policeman's Ball will be staged in New York this Sunday. Thousands of avid comedy and music fans are expected to pack Radio City Music Hall in New York to see Russell Brand, Coldplay, Kristen Wiig, Jack Whitehall and several others sounding off for free speech. And thousands more will have a chance to watch it on Channel 4 a few days later.
Now I won’t be too surprised if I hear a few comedians lampooning the British monarchy or the US Government on Sunday. (Or even declaring a secret attraction for a Royal). But I would be seriously shocked if these comedians were to be dragged off the stage mid-performance and thrown into prison for their act.
We definitely take it for granted that comedians, actors and pretty much anyone can say what we like without fear of persecution, provided it’s not stamping on other people’s rights of course.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for the scores of people living in Iran at the moment as a new report by Amnesty International points out today. In recent months, ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections, scores of lawyers, journalists, students and professionals from non-governmental organisations have been arrested and harassed for exercising their basic right to freedom of expression.
Blogger Mehdi Khazali was this month sentenced to four and a half years in prison, followed by 10 years in “internal exile”. He was charged with a serious of ‘offences’, including “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting officials.”
Harassment, arrest and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including women’s rights groups, has really intensified in recent months and several NGOs have been shut down.
Abdolfattah Soltani, a founder member of the Centre for Human Rights Defenders, was arrested in September and is held in Evin Prison awaiting the outcome of his trial on charges which include his acceptance of an international human rights prize. He has been threatened with a 20-year sentence.
In many ways, most of us would find it incredulous that someone can be jailed for insulting an official. But as Amnesty and several other organisations are aware of each day, this a grim reality for many on a daily basis in several countries around the world, including Iran.
This is just one of the reasons why we’re so eager to put on a great Secret Policeman’s Ball. That night some of the world’s finest talent are going to join forces to raise the roof with hilarious sketches, incredible music and some really funny gags. And it’s all going to be done in the name of free speech.
The great Mark Twain once said ‘against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.’ To a degree, Mr Twain.
But the bitter reality for many activists, performers and general citizens who are being persecuted in Iran and other repressive states around the world, sometimes this is simply not a laughing matter.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.