Murdered for music

Censorship of musicians is increasing across the world. In December, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, popular Pashto singer Sardar Yousafzai and 11 members of his orchestra were ambushed and shot at by an armed group, on their way home from a wedding performance. Five of the musicians were seriously injured, and the harmonium player Anwar Gul died. The attackers remain at large.

Gul was a victim of the Taliban’s violent campaign against musical expression. His son Naveed, who is also a musician, fears that no-one else in his family will now think of adopting music as a career. ‘My family is facing hard times these days. I don’t know how to survive in this suffocating environment. We are helpless,’ he says.

The past few months have seen a number of stories of music censorship come to light around the world.

There's Bülent Ersoy, a transsexual singer from Turkey, who has been charged with ‘turning the public against military service’ over remarks on a popular TV show criticizing Turkey’s incursion into Northern Iraq and saying that if she had a son, she would not send him to war.

In Yemen, singer and comedian Fahd al-Qarni is facing renewed charges of ‘insulting the President’. The charges date back to September 2006, when al-Qarni made cassette tapes that mixed traditional folk songs with comedy and criticism of government policies. Although al-Qarni was pardoned in September 2008, he is being charged again for the same crime. Also that month, Cameroonian singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga – known as an outspoken critic of the Government – was sentenced to three years in prison for allegedly inciting an anti-Government riot through one of his songs.

Their stories are just some of the reasons why 3 March was Music Freedom Day.
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New Internationalist issue 421 magazine cover This article is from the April 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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