Freemuse is one of the foremost organizations dedicated to tracking threats against musicians and artists worldwide. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Freemuse advocates for musicians at a number of levels, from highlighting attacks on individual artists to pressuring governments at the United Nations to protect them.


Srirak Plipat, Freemuse’s new Executive Director


The organization’s annual Art Under Threat report is closely scrutinized by human rights advocates every year to understand global trends. This year’s report tracked 1,028 attacks on artists across 78 countries in 2016. Freemuse’s dynamic research team also spotlights news, such as the unbanning of women musicians being aired on Saudi Arabia’s official cultural channel Al Thakafiya — for the first time in 30 years. We’re proud that Freemuse is an inaugural grantee of the Sonos Listen Better program.

We sat down with Srirak Plipat, Freemuse’s new Executive Director, in Sonos’s 101 Greene Street store in New York City to learn more about his life and work.

Tell us about your background.
I’ve been working in the field of human rights for quite a long time — about two decades.

In the beginning of my career, I created a television documentary on TV 5 in Thailand which documented the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. That’s when I first experienced censorship in my own work.

I interviewed a 14-year old girl whose parents sold her to a trafficker gang for $200 USD when she was twelve. Her parents were told she would get a nice job in Bangkok, and she was sent to a brothel. After two years she was skin and bones, and was sent home to die. By the time I interviewed her, she could not eat any more and she died some 10 days later.

Injustice tasted salty! I cried so much after that interview. It turned out the local police had “guaranteed” that the traffickers were the good guys and could be trusted. Later we found more reports on bribery and direct collaboration between the gang and the police. The girl’s story aired on television, but the part detailing the police’s involvement disappeared.

What attracted you to Freemuse?
The short answer is the nexus of arts and human rights. At first, I was drawn to Freemuse’s work with musicians and artists. The case work is usually inspiring as you work with real human beings, and not just improving laws and policies that don’t have faces. We assist artists when they need to flee a country for their safety by helping to place them in cities of refuge around the world. But more than that, Freemuse looks at broader issues and not just cases of individual artists into tradition, structural and emerging issues that limit freedom of artistic expression.

At the same time, we engage with international human rights bodies in order to shift global norms to create a better environment for artists to perform and work. Freemuse documents human rights commitments and holds governments accountable for those commitments. Artists are often too busy to focus on changing laws and norms. We bring whatever we can to the table to effect change.


An interview with Freemuse.


What are the main threats to artistic freedom in 2018?
There is a growing level of intolerance overall. This was generated by right-wing governments sending a message that any opinions outside the mainstream would not be tolerated. Artists have more difficulty sharing their work today – especially when their views are not in line with the narrative of those in power – politically, socially and religiously. They’re more likely to be targeted.

One job of artists is to scrutinize society’s values and to ask questions about our way of life. It’s in their lifeblood. If you ask these questions today, you can be threatened and killed in some countries.

We are seeing a climate where visas for international artists are not guaranteed in the United States, leading to a feeling that any differing viewpoints won’t be tolerated. There’s a rise in identity-based discrimination, including threats to LGBT and minority groups based on language and ethnicity. They’re in trouble. Freemuse documents these violations and we’ll be publishing this information in March 2018 in our Art Under Threat report.

The very notion of censorship is to shut off people who think differently than you do. We challenge this at Freemuse by arguing that you may stop people from saying things that we disagree with, but it only works temporarily.   In the long run a society will be healthier when we don’t shut down opinions.

You’ve said that artistic support tends to focus on individuals, and that we need to be more systematic.
NGOs like the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) and individuals help artists at risk move to a safer country. When things improve, they can move back. While these initiatives are crucial for safety reasons, they don’t address the root causes that force artists to leave in the first place – the laws, policies, and cultures. We need to do more to advocate on root causes, especially when it’s too difficult for artists to do so themselves. We don’t want to address the symptoms of these threats but the structural causes.

Can you tell us more about Music Freedom Day?
What would happen if you took away your favorite songs? What would the world look like without music? Music Freedom Day happens on March 3 every year. We founded Music Freedom Day to ask music lovers to come together and celebrate. We want people to understand that everyone has the right to enjoy music, especially when many parts of the world don’t respect cultural rights. Women still can’t sing or perform publicly.

Discrimination against women in music doesn’t just happen in developing countries. In Northern European countries, we’re still seeing that participation in the music industry by women is very low. We’re working with the organizers of the Roskilde festival to positively support women. It’s not only about performing music onstage. We need to ensure women are part of decision making processes in the production and performance of music.

You can follow Freemuse on Twitter and you can donate here.

Srirak’s Playlist

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