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Popular Pashto singer Sardar Yousafzai and 11 members of his orchestra were on their way home from a wedding performance in December in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province when a group of armed men ambushed their cars and opened fire. Five musicians were seriously injured, and the harmonium (similar to a pipe organ) player Anwar Gul died two days later at a hospital in Peshawar. The attackers remain at large.

Gul is another victim of the Taliban's campaign against musical expression in northwestern Pakistan - and of the most extreme form of censorship: murder. On 3 March, Music Freedom Day, musicians and broadcasters worldwide will remember Gul and other targets of music censorship. The day is organised by Freemuse, a free expression organisation dedicated to musicians.

Gul's son Naveed fears that after the death of his father no one will think of adopting music as a career in his family. He himself plays the rabab, a string instrument originally from Afghanistan, but the recent attacks on musicians have left him with no choice but to change professions. "My family is facing hard times these days. I don't know how to survive in this suffocating environment. We are helpless," Naveed told Freemuse.

According to Freemuse, music censorship has become much worse and much more of a global issue than envisaged when the group first formed nearly 10 years ago. To mark a decade of existence, Freemuse recently published case studies in "Human Rights for Musicians".

In the past few months alone, Freemuse and IFEX members have documented a number of stories of music censorship from around the world.

There's Bülent Ersoy, a transsexual singer from Turkey, who was acquitted of charges against her for having made anti-military remarks during a TV programme broadcast in February 2008, reports IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET).

She was charged with "turning the public against military service" over her remarks on a popular TV show when she publicly criticised Turkey's incursion into Northern Iraq and said if she had a son, she would not send him to war. Military service is obligatory for men over the age of 20 in Turkey, and it is a crime to speak against it.

Now, the prosecutor in the case is appealing Ersoy's acquittal, based on her sexuality. He argues that Ersoy's biological inability to have children is an insult to Turkish mothers.

In Yemen, singer and comedian Fahd al-Qarni is facing renewed charges of "insulting the President", report ARTICLE 19 and Hood, a Yemeni rights organisation. 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 exact same crime, which ARTICLE 19 calls "a clear example of the censoring of artists who use their medium? as a tool to criticise politics."

International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) reports that Cameroonian singer-songwriter Lapiro de Mbanga was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2008, almost six months after his arrest and detention, for allegedly taking part in anti-government riots. Mbanga is known as an outspoken critic of the government, both as a songwriter and an opposition party member. WiPC fears his sentence was connected to his critical lyrics.

Now the government is accusing Mbanga of inciting employees through one of his songs to destroy a banana plantation, says Freemuse, and he faces a new trial on 20 March.

Their stories are just some of the reasons why on 3 March, Freemuse is asking radio stations, newspapers and musicians across five continents to focus on music censorship for Music Freedom Day. Play a controversial song, interview a censored musician, or dedicate your next song to freedom of musical expression.

Freemuse is offering free original radio interviews in broadcast quality, as well as high resolution video clips for use in radio and TV programmes. Check out Freemuse's website to share ideas and get inspired at:

Also visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19/Hood on Yemen:
- For ARTICLE 19 artist alerts, search for "artist alert" on ARTICLE 19's site:
- BIANET on Turkey:
- WiPC on Cameroon:
- Freemuse, "Human Rights for Musicians":
(Photo of Anwar Gul, courtesy of Asad Danish)

(18 February 2009)

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