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Artistic freedom under attack in 2016

There were 86 ‘serious violations’ of artistic freedom in music, including murders, abductions and imprisonments, worldwide in 2016, as the global industry came under attack from terror and state repression.

The alarming statistics come courtesy of Copenhagen-based NGO Freemuse, whose 2016 Art Under Threat report, released today, reveals the music industry was once again the target of more serious violations than any other artform (film, dance, literature, theatre, visual arts and mixed/misc.), and second only to film in ‘overall violations’, which also includes non-violent censorship.

Three people lost their lives in 2016 for musical activities: two musicians, Pakistani singer Amjad Sabri, who was killed by the Taliban, and Pascal Treasury Nshimirimana, shot by Burundian police, and a 15-year-old Iraqi boy, who was murdered by IS for listening to Western music.

In 2016, Freemuse registered 1,028 attacks – more than double 2015 – on artists in 78 countries, something the organisation says “continu[es] a worrying trend of artistic freedom increasingly coming under threat”.

Other music-industry casualties included those injured at a festival bombing in Ansbach, Germany, in July, Kurdish musician Kutsal Evcimen, who was sentenced to 11 months in prison for performing a song deemed insulting to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and K-pop artists and promoters, who faced an unofficial cultural boycott by the Chinese state.

The report also highlighted continued repression by Hany Shaker’s Musicians’ Syndicate in Egypt and its counterpart in Tunisia.

“With populists and nationalists on the rise globally, artists continue to play an important role in expressing alternative visions for society”

By country, Iran tops the list of the most serious violators, with 30 serious violations and nine incidences of censorship. As Freemuse notes, “artists are often charged with and sentenced for ‘insulting the sacred’, ‘propaganda against the state’ or ‘spreading depravity'” in a state where “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Ali Khamenei] and his religious institutions, where permissions to hold concerts given by the Ministry of Culture are withdrawn by religious authorities.”

Behind Iran were, in order, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Russia, Malaysia, Syria, Tanzania and Uzbekistan.

Commenting on its findings, Freemuse executive director Ole Reitov says: “Populists and nationalists, who often portray human rights as a limitation on what they claim is the will of the majority, are on the rise globally. As this phenomenon rises, artists continue to play an important role in expressing alternative visions for society.

“In 2016, artists were censored, tortured, jailed and even killed for their creative expressions. Claims of defending ‘traditional values’ or ‘the interest of the state’ were, in many cases, driving arguments behind the violations. […]

“With populist and nationalist leaders questioning the universality of human rights, now is the time to document violations and use those facts to defend and amplify threatened artistic voices.”


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