Members of the music community in Iran have written to the country’s recently reelected president, Hassan Rouhani, to demand an end to the arbitrary cancellation of concerts under pressure from religious conservatives.
According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, since 2013 – when Rouhani was first elected on a platform of a more open, liberal society – numerous popular singers have seen their concerts cancelled at the last minute, with shows by females particularly affected.
Rouhani’s Iran was the most serious violator of artistic freedom in 2016, found a study by Freemuse, with artists frequently sentenced for ‘insulting the sacred’, ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘spreading depravity’ by religious authorities. “Music has landed in the middle of the battlefield between President Rouhani’s administration and the Supreme Leader [cleric Ali Khamenei] and his religious institutions, where permissions to hold concerts given by the Ministry of Culture are withdrawn by religious authorities,” wrote the organisation.
Artistic freedom under attack in 2016
The Center for Human Rights in Iran, which describes itself as “working to protect and promote human rights in Iran”, says conservative Islamists have frequently “justified their attacks on musicians by quoting vague statements and decrees by senior religious leaders. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has himself often warned about the alleged dangers of music, saying it will ‘lead people away from the path of God’.”
The most recent cancellation was on 28 July, when singer Shahram Nazeri and his son, Hafez, were told their show in Quchan would no longer go ahead as the venue – a sports venue for local workers – “disrespects the sentiments of […] the people of Quchan” (no further explanation was given).
Just over two months earlier, Rouhani told state-controlled news agency ISNA he supports the music industry, saying his reelection proved “that everyone [in Iran] is at peace with music”.
The most recent appeal to the president was on 2 August, when musicians’ association House of Music wrote to Rouhani asking for his support.
“Are the cancellations of lawful concerts not a clear example of the violation of the rights of musicians?”
“Ever since accepting the heavy responsibility of being a president, you have raised the issue of citizens’ rights and the need for all to enjoy and defend their legitimate rights,” the letter reads. “This has been reassuring and a great source of hope for many, especially in the music industry.
“But the question is: Are the cancellations of lawful concerts not a clear example of the violation of the rights of musicians as citizens? Who is accountable for the trampling of these rights? The government should be transparent in its support for artists by exposing and prosecuting [those] responsible for preventing concerts.”
The House of Music letter follows another petition, signed by more than 500 artists and producers, sent to Rouhani on 31 July, which also asked for a fund to be set up to reimburse musicians who have seen their shows axed.
“Preventing licensed musical performances is clearly breaking the law and an act of sabotage, and the perpetrators must be prosecuted,” said the signatories.
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