May 2018: Three troubling cases in Spain, Zambia and Egypt

25 May 2018

Troubling events in the world of artistic freedom

Zambian musician Chama Fumba, also known as Pilato, was released from detention on 21 May 2018 on a 30,000 kwacha (2,480 euros) bail after being arrested on 16 May 2018 at Zambia’s Kenneth Kuanda International Airport when he returned from a four-month exile stemming from threats over one of his songs that is critical of the ruling party and president. 

Pilato — along with five others who were also detained, but released earlier than the musician — will stand trial on 25 June 2018 over charges related to participation in a September 2017 peaceful protest.


Spanish rapper Valtonyc has been sentenced to three years and six months in prison and will have to serve the sentence in full as all efforts to appeal were denied. The rapper was charged with “grave insults to the Crown”, “glorification of terrorism and humiliation of its victims” and “threats” in his songs. 

After the 2015 legislative amendments to the Law on Public Security and Criminal Law, there has been an increase in the number of trials and imprisonments of artists in Spain over the same charges. Spain was the country that violated the freedom of musical expression the most in 2017 according to Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom report.


The military court sentencing of Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy has been postponed for a second time and is now due to appear at the end of June. He is facing charges of “spreading false news” and “insulting the army”—­sentences that carry a two-year and three-year prison term, respectively—related to the release of his latest book of poetry.

The poet is also facing a parallel civil case related to his lyrics being used in a song by Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, who himself has a warrant for his arrest over the song and accompanying video. In this case, the artists have been brought up on charges of insulting Islam and the current administration.  


Freemuse at ICORN General Assembly, RightsCon 2018, UNESCO report launch in Sweden and European Forum on Music

Freemuse presented its findings of The State of Artistic Freedom Report 2018 at the 2018 ICORN General Assembly held in Malmö, Sweden on 2-4 May 2018. On 3 May, Freemuse took part in a panel entitled Mechanisms of Oppression discussing the pressure artists, activists, journalists and others engaged in freedom of expression face in a shrinking space for civil society. Fellow panelists included Iranian writer Montaser Hassan, PEN International Executive Director Carles Tores Torner, Grants Coordinator Tommaso Mignani, and Human Rights Lawyer Dzimbabwe Chimbga at the South Africa Human Rights Defenders Network.

Freemuse Executive Director Srirak Plipat took part in a panel at RightsCon 2018 held in Toronto, Canada on 16-18 May 2018. On 17 May, Plipat took part in a panel entitled New Threats to Music and Sonic Culture in a Digital Age discussing the dichotomy between the internet and digital technologies making it easier to create and spread music while governments and other actors use the same tools to track and target the expressions of artists. Fellow panelists included Sonos Head of Social Impact and Policy Deji Bryce Olukotun, Creative Time Acting Director Jean Cooney and Future of Music Coalition Director Kevin Erickson.

On 21 May, Plipat was in Stockholm, Sweden for the Swedish launch of the 2018 UNESCO Global Report Reshaping Cultural Policies – Advancing Creativity for Development, which analyses progress achieved in implementing the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions since the first global report published in 2015. Among the speakers at the event were Head of Unit for Democracy and Human Rights, Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) Christine Johansson and Chief of Section of Diversity of Cultural Expressions and Secretary of the 2005 UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, UNESCO Danielle Cliche. Plipat took part in a panel discussion entitled Promote Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – Artistic Freedom with author Jude Dibia and Secretary General for PEN Sweden Anna Livion Ingvarsson.

On 8 June 2018, Freemuse will take part in a panel discussion on freedom of expression at the 8th European Forum on Music being held in Oslo, Norway on 7-10 June 2018. Panelists will include Iranian black metal musician Sina Winter, SafeMUSE Project Director Jan Lothe Eriksen, and UNESCO Expert on freedom of artistic expression Sara Whyatt.

Launch of The State of Artistic Freedom Report 2018

On 15 March 2018, Freemuse, in collaboration with PEN Sweden, launched The State of Artistic Freedom Report 2018 in Stockholm.

The event began with a short press conference followed by opening remarks from the Secretary General for PEN Sweden Anna Livion Ingvarsson and Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cultural Affairs Section Director Eiler Nils Fleischer. Vietnamese activist and singer-songwriter Mai Khoi, who cannot perform her music in her home country and is often targeted by authorities, then performed a song from her newest album released on Music Freedom Day 2018 in Norway.

A panel discussion was then held to debate the report’s findings. Panelists included Mai Khoi, Iraqi visual artist and art critic Ashraf Atraqchi who had to leave his home country due to threats, Secretary General for PEN Sweden Anna Livion Ingvarsson, Programme Specialist at the Unit for Democracy and Human Rights at Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) Maria Arnqvist, Civil Rights Defenders Programme Director Joanna Kurouz and Amnesty International Sweden Head of Policy Brittis Edman. The panel commented on the report’s findings, addressed the broader opportunities and challenges to artistic freedom, and the tools and methods required for artistic freedom of expression to be recognized, respected and protected at local, national and international levels. Panelists also took questions from the audience.

Read Freemuse’s The State of Artistic Freedom Report 2018 here.

Music Freedom Day 2018

On 3 March, Music Freedom Day 2018 placed the spotlight on women, LGBT and minority musicians to celebrate artistic freedom of expression and highlight the proliferating trend of silencing artists.
This year, Music Freedom Day 2018 was celebrated in 14 countries including events organised by local artists, event organisers, broadcasters, journalists and activists in Catalonia, Germany, Guinea, Italy, Kenya, Liberia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Senegal, Serbia and Sierra Leone. A variety of events were held as part Music Freedom Day 2018, including a live saxophone performance by Olota Seun in Nigeria, concerts organized by Turning Tables Myanmar, Turning Tables Germany and TDF (Takhleeq Development Foundation) in Pakistan, and an album launch organized by SafeMUSE in Norway.
Freemuse Executive Director Srirak Plipat was on hand in Oslo, Norway for a public discussion with SafeMUSE Project Director Jan Lothe Eriksen to talk about Freemuse’s State of Artistic Freedom Report and the troubling trends artists are facing for their expression.

Freemuse curated a Spotify playlist “Voices of the Silenced” presenting 21 songs by artists who have been silenced in the past and in 2017/2018, to highlight the importance of music freedom and spotlight voices from across the world.
For Music Freedom Day, Freemuse launched the social media campaign “Music Makes Me” where people worldwide participated by posting a picture on social media with a sign saying what music makes them feel or do, using the hashtag #MusicFreedomDay2018. See some of those photos here: InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

But Music Freedom Day isn’t over! On 1 June there is still one more event being held in Bologna, Italy! In the event’s 7th edition, artists will hold concerts, theatre performances and poetry readings to bring attention to music freedom. Check out the event here

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