There is lots of information about journalistic repression, but much less about the artists who are killed or imprisoned. Free Muse collects data worldwide about artists under pressure and lobbies the United Nations and national governments to be more respectful of artistic freedom and to act against violations of the right to free cultural expression. Every year the organisation releases the report The State of Artistic Freedom. In 2018 they investigated 673 cases from 80 countries that involved violations of the right to artistic freedom. The report does not pretend to cover all violations that occur around the world, so the figures will actually be much higher.
Why this particular focus on art and artists? As Free Muse explains, “Arts and culture are crucial for developing vibrant societies, broadening people’s perspectives on different political, cultural and social issues as well as being important indicators of democratic health. Freedom of creative and artistic expression has been recognised as a fundamental human right. Yet, the violations of people’s right to express themselves through different art forms have been constantly registered in different corners of the globe, while artists are physically attacked, prosecuted, detained and in other ways intimidated because of the content of their artwork.”
Some figures for 2018
4 artists in 3 countries were murdered
157 artists in 29 countries were sentenced to prison or arrested
On what grounds were they arrested or imprisoned?
56% on political grounds
18% on suspicion of terrorism
12% on religious grounds
9% were part of a minority
It is surprising to discover that Spain has jailed the largest number of artists, in this case musicians, namely 14 persons. China is in second place with 11 artists.
What type of artist suffered a restriction of artistic freedom?
270 musicians in 55 countries
147 visual artists in 37 countries
108 film makers in 35 countries
70 actors and theatre makers in 24 countries
50 writers in 17 countries
14 dancers in 9 countries
14 other violations of artistic freedom in 2 countries
How often was censure applied in 2018?
No less than 1807 artists and art works were censured, with the local government acting as censor in 67% of all cases. Remarkably, censure is not applied only in authoritarian countries, but the majority of cases occurred in the United States. It is also interesting to note that in 82% of the cases, the censure was justified in terms of protecting sexual morals, and in 8% the censure was exercised by social media.