Violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2014

18 February 2015


Freemuse annual statistics on violations of artistic freedom of expression 2014 shows that artists all over the world increasingly are facing attacks on their rights to freedom of expression.

In 2014 Freemuse registered a total number of 237 attacks and violations against artistic freedom. The violations range from killings and abductions to attacks, threats, prosecutions, detentions, imprisonments and censorship.

“Artists echo and comment social, cultural and political frictions of many societies. Some artists give voice to peoples’ frustrations and aspirations and are therefore targeted or even silenced,” says Ole Reitov, Executive Director, Freemuse. “Governments around the world must guarantee that artists can express themselves without fear of reprisal.”

Three artists were killed in 2014 and more than 80 artists imprisoned or detained, according to the annual statistics released today. China tops the list of states violating artistic freedom with 38 cases, followed by Russia (22), Turkey (16) and Iran (15).

Behind the statistics millions are affected
Violations of artists’ rights to artistic freedom of expression take many forms and are exercised by numerous different players for a variety of reasons. However specific trends stand out:

Artists in countries such as China, Russia, Turkey, Eritrea, Cuba and Morocco are commonly confronted by state authorities and detained, prosecuted and imprisoned for political reasons. China as well as Iran not only to a large extent detain and imprison artists, but also make use of travel bans as a means of censorship. Some artists like Ai Weiwei in China and Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who recently won the Golden Bear Film Award in Berlin for his road movie ‘Taxi’ succeed to have their works shown outside their home countries in spite of domestic censorship.

Religious motivated censorship is widespread, involves different religions, is represented by both state and non-state actors and is often interwoven with clashes within societies and an allegedly concern for public morals. In Iran religion and politics merged when artists were censored, imprisoned and even executed by the state. Islamist fundamentalists in Pakistan, Afghanistan and IS controlled areas in Syria and Iraq violently attacked musicians and cinemas; Hindu nationalists in India successfully managed to stop theatre performances and a “Bible comedy” considered blasphemous was stopped by a Christian dominated council in Northern Ireland.

Globally LGBT artists and artists working on LGBT issues are censored and persecuted by non-state actors and in countries where homosexuality is considered a crime persecuted and prosecuted by authorities. In 2014 Payam Feili a gay novelist from Iran’s Kurdish minority was arrested and detained for 44 days, and in Northern Ireland a council banned a painting by the artist Ursula Burke featuring a naked gay couple having sex.

Women artists are banned from public performances in many countries. Saudi Arabia continues to violate women’s rights and music continues to be banned in public space. Iran has institutionalised state discrimination of women artists.

Galleries, museums and organizers are increasingly reported listening and reacting to “concerns” from market forces and sponsors when it comes to presenting art that potentially might offend minorities, religious groups or other interest groups. In 2014 New York’s Metropolitan Opera cancelled an international simulcast of John Adams’ opera ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ due to “an outpouring of concern” that it “might be used to fan global anti-Semitism”.

Threats that cannot be measured
Although the statistics paint a grim picture they cannot fully measure the effects of attacks and threats such as the December 2014 suicide bombing inside a school auditorium in Kabul during the performance of, ‘Heartbeat: Silence After the Explosion’ featuring young drama and music students.

The statistics only register this as “one attack”, but fails to describe the side-effects of an attack – the numbers of people in the audience, who were injured, ‘simply chocked’ or continue to have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and the effects of artistic self-censorship that often follows. One of the injured persons in Kabul was Dr Sarmast, founder and Director of Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM) in Kabul. He came to watch his students perform. One of the immediate effects of the attack was the termination of activities at the Institute of Music; another was that other planned performances and concerts in Kabul were cancelled.

“When artists are attacked, threatened or persecuted – whether by jihadists or governments – whole societies are affected. Attacks on artistic freedom are crippling the vitality in many societies today with long term consequences,” says Ole Reitov.


About the statistics

Freemuse monitored and documented violations on artistic freedom of expression on in 2014. The compilation presents a glimpse of repression of artistic freedom worldwide in 2014 and includes cases from 56 countries across the fields of dance, film, music, theatre, visual arts and literature (journalists are not included) as they were documented on

The statistics present an overview of the situation for artists worldwide who were:

– Threatened/persecuted
– Attacked
– Abducted
– Killed
– Detained
– Prosecuted
– Imprisoned
– Censored

A total number of 237 cases of attacks on artists and violations of their rights have been registered. The cases include 3 artists being killed, 9 newly imprisoned, 33 imprisoned in previous years but still serving time, 2 abductions, 14 cases of physical attacks, 13 cases of threats or persecutions, 30 artists being prosecuted, 41 being detained, as well as 90 cases of censorship.

The statistics are based on reports published on in 2014 and include incidents taking place during 2014. They are not a complete survey and do not give full picture of the situation globally. Many artistic freedom violations are never made publicly known – whether they include the thousands of artists – not least musicians – who experience daily threats from fundamentalists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan or are victimised by the internal conflicts of Syria or Ukraine.

The following principles of statistical registration have been used:
The statistics include artists who are attacked, persecuted, killed, abducted, detained, prosecuted, imprisoned and censored because of their art. We consider a case “confirmed” only if we are reasonably certain that an artist was targeted in direct reprisal for his or her artistic work.

Freemuse conducts its own independent analysis based on various sources to determine the motive. When authorities make up false accusations such as economic fraud or drug possession in an attempt to silence an artist, the case is included in the statistics. Artists killed in a car accident or prosecuted for an actual crime unrelated to their artistic work are not included.

If an artist is threatened and attacked while abducted the case is only listed as “abducted” in the statistics. If an artist is detained, prosecuted and then consequently imprisoned for the same incident the violation is only listed as “imprisoned”. “Attacked” refers to an artist being physically attacked or e.g. a theatre performance being attacked by a suicide bomber.

Imprisoned artists are divided in two categories. Artists who were sent to prison in 2014 are listed in the category “newly imprisoned”. Artists who were imprisoned before 2014, but who remained in prison during 2014 are registered in the statistic category “still imprisoned”.

The “censored” category contains various kinds of incidents such as concerts being stopped and fans arrested, films, books and music being censored and banned and works of arts being removed from exhibitions.

Not a complete survey
The statistics reflect stories collated and published by Freemuse on during the past year and include attacks on authors, musicians, film makers, visual artists etc. but do not reflect attacks and killings of cartoonists and journalists as these are considered media workers and cases are monitored by other organisations.

The statistics are not a complete survey and do not give full picture of the situation globally. Many artistic freedom violations are never made publicly known and in many countries access to information is limited.

Only recorded and verified censorship cases and attacks on specific individuals, events, art venues, shops and artworks are included in the Freemuse statistics. Governmental pre-censorship practices, self-censorship by artists based on fear cannot be measured in numbers.

» Compare with previous year:
Violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2013

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» Hyperallergic – 26 February 2015:
2014 Was a Terrible Year for Artistic Freedom
By Laura C. Mallonee

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