It started as another day in the office at Freemuse – responding to e-mails, answering phone calls, talking to media, reporting to donors. Then, within hours, we received terrifying pictures of rappers in Angola and Sierra Leone, who had been seriously beaten…
We also learned about a video on the internet with two masked men threatening to kill Iranian singer Shahin Najafi. Several journalists called the office to talk about the fatwas on Shahin, who lives in exile in Germany and now hides in a ‘safe house’.
Others called Freemuse to ask about the proposals to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest and to get information about the artists who have fled Azerbaijan. On top of this, we received an update on the forthcoming court case against Arya Aramnejad, charged in Iran for a song which is considered critical to the regime.
Artists at risk On www.freemuse.org, Freemuse documents numerous music censorship issues and incidents of persecution of musicians, but a lot of our work is invisible to the outside world. You cannot read about it on our website.
Freemuse gives advice to musicians who seek shelter, legal support or simply don’t know how to deal with the security or censorship situation. We brief media, we talk to organisations. We do a lot of administrative work.
Some musicians fearing for their life do not want to go public about their situation, and they need to know that they can consult Freemuse in confidence. So when the organisation receives a grant for support of our work for artists at risk and for our network, which we recently got from the Roskilde Festival Charity Society, much of the funding goes into this kind of “invisible” work, which in some cases may safe lives, but doesn’t make any headlines.
At Freemuse this kind of funding is of great value to our core work.
When we report to a donor that we have assisted a certain number of musicians, the reports do not go into details about how many e-mails were written, how many phone calls were made, how many transfers of money were done, or how many journalists we talked to.
One “case” can amount to more than a thousand e-mails, dozens of hours of phone calls to lawyers, other human rights defenders, the family of the artist and the writing of letters and planning or campaigns. Other “cases” are settled within a week or two.
All of this is invisible to the public.
Whenever Freemuse writes a letter of protest to governments or appeals for the release of an artist, we always do our best to find the proper way of addressing this in collaboration with the artist, and in co-ordination with other human rights organisations. Some artists do not want these appeals to be public, and we respect this. Freemuse also informs relevant political bodies. This part of our work is also not visible to the public.
The value of networking Freemuse recently finished an 18 month SIDA/Swedish Government sponsored programme for network partners in West Africa, the MENA-region (Middle East and North Africa), Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The programme improved our network. But what exactly does this mean? How does a network respond to attacks?
When we receive a notice from a member of our network or other sources we need to verify stories of attacks, persecution or censorship incidents. Verification can take time as musicians may have gone into hiding, telecommunication is not always safe or available, witnesses may be afraid to speak, and word may stand against word.
This is where local and regional network partners come in. On the spot, our partners can verify information and inform artists about support mechanisms — including access to safe houses or legal support. Freemuse has developed an online manual in five languages, which our network partners have access to, but which is invisible to others.
Donations The freedom of expression situation for music creators continues to be severe in many countries. Musicians are frequently attacked because of their role as social commentators in societies where media and press freedom is non-existent.