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Iranian artists demand end to concert cancellations

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Ali Khamenei] and his religious institutions, where permissions to hold concerts given by the Ministry of Culture are withdrawn by religious authorities,” wrote the organisation.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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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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