NEW YORK: Major names in entertainment including Peter Gabriel and Johnny Depp launched a campaign to free jailed artists by appearing on T-shirts with the prisoners’ names. In an initiative of advocacy group The Voice Project, arrest-style mugshots of the celebrities emblazon the T-shirts. Instead of their own names, each star wears a board with information about a jailed artist. Gabriel wears a placard for Swedish-Eritrean journalist and author Dawit Isaak, missing since his 2001 arrest in a purge by iron-fisted Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki.
Depp used his presence to support Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was convicted of terrorism last year for arson attacks on pro-Kremlin party offices in Russian-annexed Crimea. Rage Against the Machine rocker Tom Morello backs Thai folk singer Tom Dundee, convicted over comments in a 2013 speech at a rally, while Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of punk rockers Pussy Riot – herself formerly imprisoned in Russia – supports Turkish Kurdish singer Nudem Durak. Hunter Heaney, co-founder and executive director of The Voice Project, said the campaign had twin goals – to build awareness and raise money for the group, which works to support freedom of expression.
Greater global attention can at least affect treatment of prisoners, with authorities less likely to abuse high-profile inmates without orders from superiors. “We tend to think that this type of intimidation happens in dark corners,” Heaney said. He said the campaign aimed at “making things uncomfortable for the administrators directly in charge of them at prisons, or higher government officials.” Heaney said that the group was looking to boost staff in anticipation of growing concerns in the United States, where President-elect Donald Trump has a tense relationship with media and authorities have cracked down on Native American-led protests against a North Dakota pipeline.