On 15 August 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and occupied the Presidential Palace in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Four days later, they declared the creation of the ‘Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’.
In the wake of this change of the political regime, members of the artistic community in Afghanistan have expressed fears concerning their personal safety, basics rights and liberties, including their right to freedom of artistic expression. The status of cultural actors is mired with uncertainty and there are concerns regarding discrimination against women artists, especially for those who advocate for women’s rights, members of minority religious and ethnic communities as well as artists who were associated with the previous government. Further, Afghan musicians have expressed deep concerns about the potential ban on public performance of music and musicians’ rights across the country, considering it was outlawed during the Taliban’s previous stint in power. Experts on heritage and culture preservation have also expressed apprehension over the potential destruction and targeting of cultural artefacts and tangible heritage in Afghanistan.
Freemuse research demonstrates the link between the dissolution of democratic institutions and the denial of the right to enjoy cultural rights and artistic expression. Artists in Afghanistan might face severe infringements on their right to freedom of expression through censorship, attacks on their physical integrity, threats, intimidation and harassment, suspensions from cultural professional bodies, as well as damages or destruction of their works. On 28 August 2021, celebrated Afghan folk singer Fawad Andarabi was shot dead at his home in the Andarab Valley in the northern Baghlan province. This incident occurred two days following the announcement by Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid that music was ‘forbidden in Islam’.
Further, on 4 August 2021, poet, historian and member of PEN Afghanistan was taken from his house in the Chora district of Uruzgan, following which he was tortured and shot dead. Two days later, on 6 August 2021, Dawa Khan Menapal, journalist and director of Afghanistan government’s Media and Information Centre, as well as a PEN Afghanistan member, was killed in a targeted attack by the Taliban in Kabul. These cases are demonstrative of a trend to silence voices of writers, academics and artists who could pose a threat to the manner in which the Taliban plan to rule the country.
Freemuse stands in solidarity with artists and cultural actors of Afghanistan and in full support of their right to freedom of artistic expression. Protests by Afghan women to reclaim their right to education, employment and free movement stand testimony to their strong commitment to demanding democratic values in the country. Their resilience in the face of repression and censorship, as well as their commitment to using their artistic expression to challenge oppression, is testimony to the importance of art and culture in promoting democratic values and civil liberties.
Notwithstanding their value for democratic engagement, arts and culture are crucial for the personal development, mental and physical well-being as well as social cohesion in society, and any political action to deny them should be condemned unequivocally by state actors as well as civil society across the world.
Freemuse is closely monitoring the situation in Afghanistan region and is committed to advocating for artistic freedom and cultural rights in the region.