Violations of musical freedom of expression in 2014


Freemuse monitored and documented violations of freedom of expression for musicians on in 2014.

Musicians around the world are facing imprisonment, attacks, and censorship in attempts by government and non-state actors to silence the music.

In 2014, Freemuse registered a total number of 90 attacks and violations against musicians’ rights to musical freedom of expression. The cases include:

• 1 musician killed
• 17 musicians imprisoned
• 9 musicians attacked and
• 14 musicians prosecuted

Russia tops the unflattering list with 15 cases followed by China with 13 and Turkey with nine cases, according to the Freemuse tally released today. Governmental pre-censorship practices in countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and North Korea severely damage music life but cannot be statistically measured.

“Silencing musicians with violence, imprisonment and intimidations not only violates the individual’s right to freedom of expression, it robs local and global communities of the joy and critical perspectives expressed through music,” said Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov.

“It is crucial that national governments respect their obligations to implement international human rights conventions.”

Daily threats
In Pakistan, Pashto singer Gulnaz was killed when gunmen entered her house and shot her dead. Attacks on female singers are not uncommon in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where music creators and music shops almost daily are facing threats on music life.

In China — one of the great violators of artistic freedom — you don’t get away with music and lyrics addressing the suppression of Tibetan cultural identity. China continues to detain and imprison musicians, who criticise Chinese cultural hegemony. Currently China keeps a dozen Tibetan musicians in detention and imprisonment.

Turkey and Russia — frequently with nationalistic and political overtones — continue to persecute musicians accentuating the troubling erosion of democracy and human rights in the two countries.

How do you register effects of threats and fear?
Analysing the 2014 Freemuse annual statistic on violations of musical freedom of expression, the absence of documentation from Afghanistan, Syria and Mali is striking. In Afghanistan hundreds of musicians live in constant fear of being targeted by the Taliban. In Syria music has come to a standstill in IS-controlled areas, and in northern Mali music activities are still heavily affected by threats from jihadists.

But Freemuse’s statistics only register recorded and verified attacks on individuals, events or shops. Statistics do not portray the fear of being attacked shared by musicians in many countries.

Once you have faced four masked men armed with Kalashnikovs entering your house telling you to ‘stop this filth’ — you have at least one serious reason to discontinue playing music. And once a wedding party celebrating the ‘event of their life’ with music has been threatened in a remote village, other families in the district planning wedding parties will think twice before engaging local musicians.

Widespread self-censorship
Our statistics do not portray the widespread fear of repression, which leads to self-censorship. And very few artists openly acknowledge having avoided addressing certain issues. In some countries such as Senegal you may criticise the president without being picked up by the police next morning, but as one of Africa’s most prominent rappers, Awadi, who frequently addresses controversial political issues, told Freemuse: “In Senegal it is difficult for me to talk about religion.”

In Morocco you neither criticise religion nor the King – not to mention police brutality or corruption. Morocco, a country portraying itself a moderate, modern state, has no tolerance for such criticism and has imprisoned several rappers in 2014, who dared confront the taboos.

Iran discriminates women artists
Iran with a corrupt censorship system and institutionalised discrimination against women artists should be in this “league” of abusers. But as hundreds of musicians do not even care trying to get permission to perform or publish their music in Iran, Freemuse is not able make even a slight estimate of the effects of censorship.

“We have said this before,” adds Ole Reitov. “The statistics only portray the tip of the iceberg. And unlike real icebergs, which are increasingly melting as an effect of global warming, our ‘icebergs’ seem to expand under the surface of statistics.”


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