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Art Under Threat in 2016 – A Worrying Increase in Attacks on Artists

Chris Bowen
| February 27, 2017

art under threat web edInternational agency Freemuse reports that global artistic freedom took a hit in 2016, with a doubling of attacks on artists and violation of their rights across 78 countries. The recorded data includes censorship and the more concerning ‘serious violations’ which included artists killed for practising their craft, as well as abductions, attacks, imprisonments, prosecutions and persecution.

Danish based Freemuse is an independent international organisation committed to defending artistic freedom. Their annual report, Art under Threat, documents 1,028 attacks on artists and violations of their rights in 2016. This included 188 total serious violations of artistic freedom and 840 acts of censorship, a 119% increase over 2015. Music was the artform suffering the most serious violations of artistic freedom, with three people killed including a 15 year old boy executed by ISIS for listening to western music.

The report notes that the increase is partly attributable to a rise in reporting as documentation methods improve, and an increase in world attention on artistic freedom. However, it also notes a high degree of under reporting, “the sad reality is that the real number of attacks on artistic freedom and violations of artists’ rights is much higher. It is nearly impossible to report on closed societies or determine the number of acts of self-censorship carried out by artists due to intimidation, cultural and social pressure, or living under regimes that threaten punishment for artistic expression of any or all kinds.”

Most of the countries are those embroiled in domestic conflict or repression, with Iran as the worst violators, a trend that has continued since Freemuse began collecting this data in 2012. Iran is followed by Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Russia, Malaysia, Syria, Tanzania and Uzbekistan.

However, challenges to artistic freedom are not limited to the developing world. The US interestingly comes in at number eight in Freemuse’s list of top ten of censoring countries, the only western country to earn such a place. Many US cases “stemmed from non-state groups including religious and minority groups claiming discrimination, blasphemy, of feeling offended by particular artworks and events” the report notes.

In a separate report on the Freemuse website, referring to the US immigration ban by the incoling Trump administration, the agency reports on a joint statement where they and thirty global cultural and human rights organisations have expressed “grave concern that the Executive Order will have a broad and far-reaching impact on artists’ freedom of movement and, as a result, will seriously inhibit creative freedom, collaboration, and the free flow of ideas.”

Read the full Freemuse Report here.

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