ART UNDER THREAT IN 2016: IRAN
SERIOUS VIOLATIONS: 30
ACTS OF CENSORSHIP: 9
Iran continues to intimidate, persecute, imprison and ban artists, cultural producers and publishers, bringing it up from the second country with the most serious violations in 2015 to first in 2016.
In 2016, Freemuse registered 30 serious violations on artistic freedom of expression in Iran, including 19 artists behind bars, the prosecution of six artists, persecution of or threat to four artists and attack on one artist. Iran also carried out nine acts of censorship, for a total of 39 violations on artistic freedom of expression in 2016 – seven more cases than Freemuse registered for the country the previous year. Alarmingly, Iran in 2016 more than tripled the amount of artists it imprisoned or detained in comparison to 2015 – from six to 19.
The repressive environment for artists in Iran stems from an ongoing and internal power struggle within the country’s political, religious and social institutions. Music has landed in the middle of the battlefield between President Rouhani’s administration and the Supreme Leader and his religious institutions, where permissions to hold concerts given by the Ministry of Culture, are withdrawn by religious authorities. Thus, the Revolutionary Guards continue to have extensive power over the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, which is supposed to be the official agency in charge of approving any artistic creation before publication and giving permission to cultural events.
In late August 2016, the Tehran prosecutor recommended new rules for concerts in the capital that would include police recording all concerts and ensuring the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, as well as the provincial governor, takes more responsibility for the content of concerts.
Concerts by Kayvan Kalhor, an internationally renowned master kamancheh (traditional string instrument) player, planned in Neyshabour on 10 and 11 May 2016 were cancelled by the local prosecutor, who cited “complaints from the families of martyrs”; this despite the artist holding all the necessary permits from the provincial governor’s office and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.
Female artists in particular face discrimination, with specific rules on how they can perform publicly or even record privately, including not being able to share a stage or sing with men. In provinces such as Isfahan no women musicians are allowed on stage.
Artists are often charged with and sentenced for “insulting the sacred”, “propaganda against the state” or “spreading depravity”. Iranian courts use the “assembly line” method for prosecuting artists and other citizens, and barbaric methods, such as lashing, to punish convicts. On 5 November 2016, Iranian singer Amir Tataloo was sentenced to five years in prison and 74 lashes after being found guilty of “spreading Western immorality”.
Imprisoned artists are often mistreated and denied medical help and medicine. Currently, musician Mehdi Rajabian and his brother, filmmaker Hossein Rajabian, are behind bars in Tehran’s Evin Prison serving a three-year sentence for “insulting the sacred” and “propaganda against the state” through the production and promotion of underground music. Both have been on hunger strike twice, because Mehdi was denied medical help and because the brothers were separated when Mehdi, while still ill, was moved to the section for political prisoners.
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