Freedom of artistic expressions and creativity: more than ever!

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Paris, May 18, 2020

“All persons enjoy the right to freedom of artistic expressions and creativity, which includes the right to freely experience or contribute to artistic expressions and creations, through individual or joint practice, to have access to and enjoy the arts, and to disseminate their expressions and creations.”1

In 2018, IMC Music Rights Champion Ramy Essam, “the singer of the Tahrir Square” who has been living in exile in Northern Europe since 2014, released a new song and video called “Balaha”. IMC raised its voice when his lyricist Galal El-Behairy was arrested in Egypt and both faced charges that included being a member of a terrorist group, spreading false news, the abuse of social-media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion and insulting the military. At that time, to preserve the safety of families, we had not publicised that other persons involved in the creation of the song and in its promotion had also been arrested, including Shady Habash, a young film director and photographer.

We are devastated to learn that Shady Habash died on May 2 in Cairo’s Tora prison. Shady deserved to live and be creative. He had chosen the challenging path of being a creator as his dream, his vocation for life. Thanks to his talent and hard work, he had already accomplished a lot despite his young age and deserves our full and unlimited appreciation and admiration.

While speaking to the audience at the World Forum on Music last September, Ramy had shared his fear for friends’ and colleagues’ lives. His words carry a tragic note today.

The International Music Council stands for its 5 Music Rights, which include the right for all children and adults to express themselves musically in all freedom. This right echoes the explicit provisions protecting the freedom of artistic expression and creativity that are to be found in article 15 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Similar provisions are contained in article 42 of the Arab Charter of Human Rights.

We are deeply concerned at the increase of attacks on freedom of artistic expression on a global scale, as documented in the Freemuse’s recent report “State of Artistic Freedom 2020”, which offers an in-depth analysis of 711 acts of violations of artistic freedom in 2019 in 93 countries. We are alerted by reports from colleagues all over the world pointing to the COVID-19 crisis exacerbating the situation as global nationalist populism continues to restrict expressions and emergency procedures are enacted which sometimes serve as mobile to silence dissident voices.

The exceptional situation of the pandemic should not and will not distract our attention from the brutal reality that artists are extremely vulnerable in a world dominated by oligarchies of power and money.

In the report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity (2013), to which IMC President Alfons Karabuda contributed as expert, the then Special Rapporteur of the UN in the field of cultural rights, Farida Shaheed, declared: “Artists may entertain people, but they also contribute to social debates, sometimes bringing counter-discourses and potential counterweights to existing power centres. The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant cultures and the functioning of democratic societies. Artistic expressions and creations are an integral part of cultural life, which entails contesting meanings and revisiting culturally inherited ideas and concepts.”

Contradiction and controversy are fundamental to our living together. IMC will never stop actively promoting and safeguarding artistic rights and freedom of expression. And above all, never, ever take them for granted.

5Music Rights


[1] Report on the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity by UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (2013)

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