Artistes facing more threats for their creativity

Saturday August 05 2023
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British novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie poses during a photo session. PHOTO | AFP


Artistes are still facing death threats, including becoming victims of war or misuse of laws from their own governments, reflecting the dangers facing those in the creative industry.

A recent report, The State of Artistic Freedom released by Freemuse, an NGO advocating freedom of artistic expression and cultural diversity, shows that 2022 was a year of a decline in freedom of expression, and artistes suffered for publishing work seen as a threat by authorities.

This report focuses on 10 key countries selected for the extent of attacks on artistes and illustrates some of the most extreme measures taken to suppress creative resistance.

These are China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Myanmar, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine.

Execution is the ultimate form of censorship and in 2022, three countries sentenced artistes to death. In Nigeria, Sufl singer Yahaya Sharif Aminu, arrested in 2020, is appealing against a death sentence issued against him for blasphemy.

Read: OBBO: We’re being punished for sinning against our best writers


Two young men in Nigeria were sentenced to the extraordinarily harsh penalty of flogging for defaming a local official in a TikTok skit.

In Thailand, a young woman was sentenced for her sardonic dressing up as the country’s queen. In Iran, Toomaj Salehi, charged with "corruption on earth" for challenging the authorities, could also face the death penalty.

In Ukraine, in the city of Kherson, Yuriy Kerpatenko, a conductor, was reportedly killed in October for refusing to take part in a concert organised by Russian occupiers.

Politicians and power mongers are frequently the subject of satire, be it in imagery, on stage or in song. It is widely accepted that those in high positions should tolerate greater levels of scrutiny, even if it is expressed as ridicule, as part of the democratic process and the principle of freedom of expression. But many are thin-skinned, finding such expressions threatening, and resort to courts to suppress critics.

Laws protecting religion from blasphemy or insult are used to penalise commentary of challenges to religion and religious leaders. To be denounced as a ‘blashemer’ not only brings the risk of trial, imprisonment and even death, it can also incite individuals and groups to violence, often with tragic consequences. This was starkly illustrated by the attack on author Salman Rushdie in August, as he was about to give a talk about safe havens for writers.