Freedom of Musical Expression

World Forum on Music and Censorship

The World Forum on Music and Censorship, (Freemuse for short), is an independent international membership organisation advocating and defending freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide. It has special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, since 2012. Freemuse was born of the First World Conference on Music and Censorship held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in November 1998. The alarmingly widespread nature of music censorship prompted the conference participants to initiate the creation of Freemuse. The Freemuse Secretariat was established in August 2000, and is still located in Copenhagen.

The Freemuse website describes the organisation with the emphasis on music censorship, and has extensive sections covering publications and media releases. There are specific lists for about 130 countries — about two-thirds of the current best estimate of the number of nations in the world (196).[1]

The Freemuse numbers do not pretend to be pure statistics. The 2014 report states that they are not a complete survey and do not give a full picture of the situation globally. A previous annual report call the compilations "representative of cases reported to Freemuse" rather than complete surveys. In that sense they present only the tip of the iceberg. In the context of the Knowledge Base, this article is labelled "statistics" but the shortcomings should be noted.

As statistics, the findings cover five categories:

  • Killed
  • Injured, tortured or physically attacked
  • Imprisoned, arrested or on trial
  • Threatened
  • Concerts that were stopped.

Main Findings 2011-14

Alt=Table 1

Freemuse has published four years of violations against musicians and composers (Table 1). We note that the number of incidents fell from 175 and 173, respectively, in 2011 and 2012, to 109 in 2013 and 90 in 2014. The fall in the number of detained persons was particularly large, from 64 in 2011 and 84 in 2012, to 16 and 14, respectively, in 2013 and 2014. This may reflect real developments but may also be associated with the statistical methodology and coverage. The statistics can be characterized as illustrative only. Footnotes to Table 1 reveal that the number of detained persons in Cameroon reached 63 in 2011, which is all but one of the observations shown in Table 1. However, each year lists of news items are shown for each country, which improves the information content significantly.

Supplementary Findings

The last section attempts to show some consistent patterns from year to year. The main table shows about 32 countries for each list from 2011 to 2014 (Table 2). Five countries appeared in each annual list: China, Iran, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey. Ten countries showed up three times: Belarus, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Morocco, Russia, South Korea, UK, US, and Vietnam.

Two countries appeared on the 2013 list and both its two predecessors: Mexico and Sweden (Table 3). Reading the Freemuse country chapter may help explain Sweden's position here. Table 3 also shows that India and Israel appeared twice each.

The two remaining tables show 18 countries listed in 2012 and three of these also in 2011 (Indonesia, Myanmar and Turkmenistan). Nine countries appeared only on the 2011 list.

In conclusion, these indicators are not statistical but may be expected to achieve more of that status if reporting methods can be improved.

Alt=Table 2
Alt=Table 3
Alt=Table 4


Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, 3 August 2015.


  1. Not all lists, including Freemuse's, are in complete agreement with the official global list of countries.
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