Artists Faced Sharp Rise in Attacks and Censorship in 2016, Report Says

The US is amongst the 10 worst nations for censorship.

A demonstrator holds a placard reading
A demonstrator holds a placard reading "Censorship." Photo: Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images.

A new report on artistic freedom by the Danish free speech advocacy group Freemuse has recorded a sharp rise in attacks and censorship.

In its annual report, titled “Art Under Threat,” Freemuse documented 1,028 violations of artistic freedom throughout 78 countries in 2016. According to the group, the increase in registered cases between 2015 and 2016 amounts to a spike of 119 percent, rising from 469 violations.

The non-profit divides its findings into categories, including “serious violations,” for killings, attacks, abductions, imprisonments, and threats; and “acts of censorship.” In 2016 the organization counted 840 incidents of censorship and 188 serious violations.

Categorized amongst the serious violations are three killings, two abductions, 16 attacks, 84 imprisonments and detentions, 43 prosecutions, and 40 persecutions and threats.

Violations of artistic freedom in 2016. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

Violations of artistic freedom in 2016. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

Musicians were targeted most frequently, accounting for 86 cases of serious violations, followed by theatre with 32 serious violations, and visual arts with 27 serious violations. Meanwhile film was the most censored art form, amounting to 79 percent of censorship cases.

Iran, responsible for 30 cases, was once again the worst offender for serious violations of artistic freedom, making it the worst violator of artistic expression since Freemuse began recording data in 2012. Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, China, Malaysia, Syria, Tanzania, and Uzbekistan also recorded dismal artistic freedom records, collectively making up 67 percent of globally recorded serious violations.

Top 10 serious violators of artistic freedom. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

Top 10 serious violators of artistic freedom. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

The worst practitioner of censorship in 2016 was Ukraine, responsible for a staggering 577 registered acts of censorship. Freemuse attributes this to a blacklist of 544 Russian films banned in the wake of the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Other offenders making up the top 10 for recorded cases of censorship were Kuwait, China, Egypt, India, Russia, Turkey, USA, Pakistan, and Iran. Together these countries accounted for 88 percent of global censorship cases.

Top 10 practitioners of censorship. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

Top 10 practitioners of censorship. Graphic: courtesy of Freemuse.

Summarizing its findings, Freemuse explained that the drastic increase may be a consequence of rising global populism and nationalistic political views, resulting in a greater number of reported cases of artists being censored or persecuted. The organization also said that improvements in its own data collection and documentation methodologies, as well as its expanding network, resulted in a greater number of incidents being accounted for.

However the advocacy group stressed that the actual frequency and number of artistic freedom violations is almost certainly far higher. Factors including lack of public awareness, ability, political will, intimidation, cultural or social pressure, and the threat of punishment often prevent people from reporting serious violations and censorship.


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