(New York, NY) — Chilean authorities have brought a lawsuit against the feminist collective Las Tesis for allegedly inciting violence and hate against the country’s national police force, arguing that a recent performance amounted to a direct attack against the police. In a statement today, PEN America said the act was a blatant instance of state-sponsored censorship.

“The accusations against Las Tesis constitute a clear attempt to restrict freedom of artistic expression in Chile,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “The performance that police take issue with is a purely arts-based protest that calls for social change and justice. This lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to muzzle criticism and intimidate members of the collective into silence. We condemn these attempts to silence critical voices during the pandemic, and demand that the Chilean government act to guarantee the right of freedom of artistic expression in the country.”

In the performance, “Un violador en tu camino” [A Rapist in Your Path],” four members of Las Tesis appear dressed in red outside a police station in the port of Valparaiso. The activists criticize police violence and governmental repression, repudiating machismo culture and expressing solidarity with people on lockdown and health professionals working in at-capacity hospitals.

Police violence has been at the center of a massive social upheaval that began in October 2019 in Chile and has continued in recent months despite the lockdown. The upheaval has also led to an increasingly inimical climate to free speech, as artists and collectives are finding themselves censored and harassed at the hands of authorities. 

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. The first episode of ARC’s monthly podcast, “¡El Arte no Calla!” discusses the state of artistic freedom in Chile today. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.