Call for establishing Scandinavian safe havens for persecuted musicians


23 April 2012

Denmark, Norway, Sweden:
Call for establishing Scandinavian safe havens
for persecuted musicians

“Make Sweden a safe haven for endangered music makers,” suggests SKAP, Freemuse and the Swedish Arts Council, urging the Swedish government and regional and local politicians to allow the Swedish cities to receive threatened composers and musicians.


At the international conference ‘Right! Freedom of Music & Speech’, which took place at the Södern Theater in Stockholm on 21 November 2011, the Egyptian composer Ramy Essam appeared as a free man. In connection with his performance Ramy Essam was awarded with the 2011 Freemuse Award. For his music’s sake, he has been tortured and imprisoned by the former dictator Mubarak’s security forces. He shares this situation with many musicians around the world.

Sweden provides safe havens for persecuted writers. During a session at the conference which was entitled ‘A call for safe cities’, SKAP, the National Arts Council in Sweden, and Freemuse made a joint request to the Swedish Government and the Swedish municipalities: now also make Sweden a safe haven for musicians and composers.

On stage were Alfons Karabuda, President of SKAP – the Swedish Society of Popular Music Composers – and of ECSA – the European Composer & Songwriter Alliance, Marie Korpe, Executive Director of Freemuse, and Kerstin Brunnberg, Chairman of the National Arts Council.

Music and freedom movements
The music is often central to the protest movements and music creators censored, persecuted and imprisoned by authoritarian regimes. These circumstances were the theme of the music conference ‘Right! Freedom of Music & Speech’. During the day the participants were presented to a number of examples of how music has been central throughout history of freedom movements.

In Burma, musician Win Maw was sentenced to seven years in prison for having written songs in support of the opposition to the military regime. In 2007 he participated in the riots and has been in prison since 2008. Maws music is now banned in Burma.

In February 2010, was sentenced Gazin, a Kurdish singer, he sang two Kurdish folk songs. Now she risks up to one year in prison in Turkey, and a further five years if the court finds the songs to be “making propaganda for an illegal organisation”.

Democratic explosive music
In August 2011, the Tibetan singer and music student Hortsang Lhalung Tso was arrested by Chinese authorities shortly before she was to have participated in a Tibetan cultural festival.

Also, structural changes that make it impossible for musicians to work is common. Iran’s Ministry of Culture is currently preparing a new music censorship law, which will include new restrictions on public performances and music publishing.

Given the importance music has in our lives, it is not difficult to understand why authoritarian regimes see musicians and composers as a threat. The authorities fear the democratic explosive which music is, and will do anything to stop it.

In 2011, Freemuse, the international organisation that works against censorship and oppression of musicians around the world, registered more than 100 attacks on musicians, abuses practiced by governments or local authorities. It involves harassment and intimidation, prohibition of radio airplay, or appearance on stage, arrests and imprisonments of musicians. Solely because of the popular uprisings in the Arab world an unknown number of musicians have been murdered.

Safe havens for writers
Countries such as Sweden and Norway offer safe havens for writers who are persecuted in their homelands. The Swedish government has given the National Arts Council a mandate to be proactive in this, and for a number of years, the four municipalities of Stockholm, Uppsala, Gothenburg and Malmö have set up safe havens for writers, and more regions are currently showing great interest for a similar commitment.

Being a safe haven means that you receive a professional writer or writers who are persecuted in their homeland, offer them housing, subsistence and to work in peace for at least one year. The Arts Council offers support to provide the conditions for the author of the literary community and opens a dialogue with Swedish colleagues, readers and audiences. The intention is to increase the invited authors’ opportunities to become part of the Swedish public.

The criterias to be considered for such a safe haven refuge are hard. The author must either be at risk of being killed, abducted, subjected to physical violence or ‘disappearance’ by reason of their writing or because of their writing fear of persecution, to be tried or risk being sentenced.

Cultural policy objectives
There is an equal opportunity for composers and musicians. We know too many musicians who meet the criteria for the refuge accommodation offered to writers. Composers and musicians whose expression could be guaranteed in a Swedish refuge.

Free speech has a direct link to Sweden’s cultural policy objectives – culture is regarded as an ‘independent force with freedom of expression as a basis.’

Furthermore, the parliament of the cultural policy objectives decided to ‘promote international and intercultural exchange and cooperation’. During a refuge stay, we want to give Swedish musicians the opportunity to collaborate with ‘safe haven’ musicians, and thus increase the creativity, diversity and artistic quality, according to the cultural policy objectives will characterize our society’s development. In Norway, this work has already begun.

Make Sweden a safe haven for the silenced musicians!


Alfons Karabuda, chaired, 070-783 88 23
Marie Korpe, executive director of Freemuse, +45 33 32 10 17
Kerstin Brunnberg, chairman of the National Arts Council,
070-598 50 17





Musikernes Fellesorganisasjon – 9 April 2012:

‘MFO’s Safe Music Havens Initiative’

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