A new report on the effects of war and repression of musicians, performers and the public of Swat, Pakistan, published today, reveals how artistic life and the cultural industry is still suffering immensely after the Taliban were ousted more than seven years ago. To this day public concerts have almost ceased in Swat.
Prolonged unstable conditions have resulted in the dwindling of professional musicians’ families – once a major feature of cultural life in the region. The number of families has fallen drastically, from 80 in the 1980s to 25 today. Due to fear of terrorists, shopping complex owners no longer allow the trade of CDs. Close to 200 CD shops have closed in Swat, only a dozen remain open.
The report is written by Muhammad Rome and supported by Freemuse. It is published simultaneously by Freemuse and Pakhtunkhwa Cultural Foundation (PCF). The Peshawar-based organisation has also produced five videos with interviews with artists, organisers and shop owners. These are now available to the public.
Freemuse calls for counter narratives to religious extremism
On 22 June 2016, one of Pakistan’s most famous singers Amjad Sabri was killed by two gunmen. A spokesperson for a local Taliban group in the country said they targeted the singer because they consider his music to be blasphemous.
“We call on Pakistan to bring to justice those who are responsible for the killing and those who are continuing their hate speech against artistic freedom. These atrocities will not cease until Pakistan actively begins to engage in counter-narratives to the religious extremism in the school systems as well as in the media,” said Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov.
UN Special Rapporteurs urge Iranian government to free imprisoned artists
On 24 June 2016 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, and Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, issued a statement calling on Iranian authorities to free musicians Mehdi Rajabian and Yousef Emadi, and filmmaker Hossein Rajabian.
“Artistic expression is simply not a crime,” Ms Bennoune said. “These three artists were sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, which in turn results in unjustifiable restrictions on the right of all persons in Iran to have access to and enjoy the arts.”
The statement was endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, and the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez.
Freemuse co-initiated an international campaign in January 2016 for the three artists when they were due to appear in an appellate court to contest the charges against them and is still campaigning for their release.
For more than 10 years, Sida, The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, has been the main funder of Freemuse. In June, Freemuse and Sida entered into a new contract worth 10 million SEK – approximately one million euro. The agreement runs till the end of 2018 and ensures the core work of Freemuse.
“It is of outmost importance that Freemuse can continue to document violations on artistic freedom, support artists at risk and advocate for artists’ rights to freedom of expression. Without the support from Sida this would not be possible and we are most grateful for their confidence in our work,” says Ole Reitov, Freemuse Executive Director.