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Spain leads 2018 music censorship rankings

No fewer than nine countries, including democracies like Spain and Tunisia, used anti-terrorism and/or anti-extremism legislation to stifle freedom of expression in 2018, according to Freemuse’s latest State of Artistic Freedom report.

The State of Artistic Freedom 2019: Whose Narratives Count? analyses 270 cases of violations of musicians’ artistic freedom in 55 countries in 2018. The Copenhagen-based NGO identifies key challenges for artists’ freedom of expression, as well as violation patterns and trends, and calls for accountability for these violations.

Artistic censorship was practiced in at least 60 countries in 2018, affecting 1,807 artists and artworks, both musical and non-musical.

While the most hostile places to be a musician were Nigeria, Russia and Turkey – with those three countries accounting for around a third of all documented violations – Spain led the pack for musicians imprisoned for political ends, jailing no fewer than 14 artists, beating Egypt and China (six each), Turkey (four), Iran (three) and Russia, Malawi and Tunisia (all one).

The fourteen Spanish artists – all leftist rappers – were charged with “glorifying terrorism” under Article 578 of the Spanish criminal code. They include Pablo Rivadulla (aka Pablo Hasél), Miguel Arenas Beltran (aka Valtònyc) and 12 members of the collective La Insurgencia, with Arenas and Rivadulla additionally charged with insulting the Spanish state and royal family. Rivadulla will spend two years in prison, and was also fined €24,300.

Globally, a total of two musicians were killed, 16 were prosecuted, 36 imprisoned, 24 detained, six attacked, 31 persecuted, 44 sanctioned/fined and 14 received threats or were harassed, according to Freemuse’s research.

The State of Artistic Freedom documents a pervasive human rights scandal involving counter-terrorism laws being used to silence artists”

Other notable musical violations in 2018 include:

Freemuse executive director Srirak Plipat says the State of Artistic Freedom 2019 illustrates the use of counter-terrorism legislation as a “troubling and growing method” of censoring musicians and artists.

“Freedom of artistic expression has been systematically restricted on illegitimate grounds both in the global north and south at alarming levels,” says Plipat, commenting on the report’s findings.

The State of Artistic Freedom 2019 documents a pervasive human-rights scandal involving counter-terrorism laws being used to silence artists who criticise governments or question societal mainstream values.

Read the State of Artistic Freedom 2019 report in full here.


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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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