Music Freedom Day 2023

3 March Music Freedom Day - Imprisoned, on trial, facing execution and killed – musicians in peril

Today, as we celebrate World Music Freedom Day, Freemuse remembers musicians around the world who are facing execution, have been killed, imprisoned and who are on trial for the expression of their views, as well as audience members who died in a military attack on a concert.

Iran and Nigeria: singers face execution.

Iranian rap singer Toomaj Salehi was detained in October after he filmed himself at protests against the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, who been arrested for not wearing a hijab. He posted the videos on social media along with raps criticising Iran’s religious leaders. In November he was charged with ‘corruption on earth’, a charge that carries the death penalty.

In August 2020, Sufi singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu was sentenced to death by a Shariah court in Kano, northern Nigeria after he had shared an improvised song on social media, accompanied by a speech considered blasphemous. He has appealed against the sentence to the Supreme Court.

Ukraine: Allegedly killed by Russian occupiers for refusing to perform.

In October, the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture reported that Yuriy Kerpatenko, principal conductor of the Gileya chamber orchestra at the Kherson Regional Philharmonic was shot dead at his home on 1 October by members of the occupying Russian forces. The Ministry states that the Russian occupiers had planned to hold a concert to celebrate 1 October International Music Day as a propaganda effort and featuring Gileya on the program. Kerpatenko is said to have refused to take part.

Cuba: Imprisoned for pro-democracy protest.

In Cuba, Maykel Osorbo is serving a nine-year sentence for his part in pro-democracy protests. He is a co-author of the song “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”) which became the anthem of the protest movement and for which he won two Grammys in 2022. 

Türkiye: On trial for “denigrating religion”.

Turkish pop singer Gülşen was arrested in August after she made a joke on stage about religious vocational schools in Türkiye and was detained for “denigrating religion” and “inciting hatred and animosity within society”. She was freed from house arrest in September and is now on trial and is banned from leaving the country.

Myanmar: Musicians and festival goers killed in a military strike.

On the night of 23 October Burmese military jets carried out a targeted airstrike on a music festival in Kachin State where there is a long-standing conflict between the army and an independence movement. More than 100 people were reportedly killed, including at least two musicians, and many festival goers. Some were killed instantly, and others died from their injuries as military checkpoints prevented them from escaping the area to seek medical treatment.

Freedom of expression, which encompasses artistic freedom, is a fundamental right protected by international law, as is the right to be part of peaceful actions towards change. Musicians and audiences alike should be free to enjoy and take part in music, and all forms of creative expression, without fear of repercussion. Members of the music community from across genres and working in all aspects of its production stand up in support of others under attack.


Join MFD on March 3rd by sharing an article, a censored song or by making a statement.

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Link to online Symposium event

WHEN & where

3 Mar at 12.00 –11.59 CEST