fear of music
Drone strikes and unexplained explosions on the Russian-annexed Criman Peninsula have prompted the Moscow-controlled administration to urge citizens to hunt for possible saboteurs. This comes amid widening repression on civil society, especially targeting the Crimean Tatar people. On Sept. 15, a local court jailed at least four people involved in a Tatar wedding in Bakhchysarai for performing a Ukrainian patriotic song, "Red Kalyna." Each accused performer was held for several days.
Inmates at Burma's Insein Prison launched a protest on July 25 in response to the announcement by the ruling junta that four political prisoners who had been held in the Yangon facility were executed. Several people who took part in the uprising were physically assaulted by prison authorities, and some 15 were removed to isolation cells separate from the general population, according to a source within the facility. Among the executed were two of Burma's leading dissidents—Ko Jimmy, 52, a veteran of the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, and Phyo Zayar Thaw, 41, a hip-hop star and former MP with the National League for Democracy (NLD). The two longtime activists were sentenced to death in January for allegedly plotting to carry out attacks on regime targets. Amnesty International said it believes the charges against them were politically motivated.
The Popular Municipal Court of Central Havana on June 24 sentenced artists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Pérez to five and nine years in prison, respectively. Activist artist Otero Alcántara was sentenced for contempt, public disorder, and "insulting symbols of the homeland"—a reference to his public performances involving the Cuban flag. Rapper Maykel Castillo was found guilty of contempt, public disorder, and "defamation of institutions, heroes and martyrs." The latter charge relates to a meme Castillo posted on social media last year criticizing Communist Party leaders. The two have 10 days to appeal their sentences.
Moscow police on the night of April 13 broke up a concert by pianist Aleksey Lyubimov and singer Yana Ivanilova at the city's Rassvet Cultural Center. The official reason for the raid was an anonymous bomb threat on the venue. But concert organizers noted that the program included songs by the Ukrainian composer Valentin Silvestrov, which had apparently been chosen as an implicit anti-war statement. Lyubimov continued to play the song he was in the middle of even as uniformed police took over the stage and hovered over him menacingly. As the classical music news site Slipped Disc stated: "Lyubimov's final chord was an act of defiance." Moscow Times reports that police then ordered the premises cleared, but applause from the audience drowned out the officers' words. After the theater was evacuated, police brought in dogs and had it searched for two hours. No explosives were found.
In the latest escalation of its crackdown on opposition, Russia on Dec. 30 designated a disparate group of activists, satirists, and others as "foreign agents." A statement released by the Ministry of Justice listed the high-profile figures as designated "foreign agents," a controversial term with Cold War-era implications of espionage that carries burdensome reporting responsibilities and exposes designees to hefty fines. Among those named were Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Veronika Nikulshina of the activist group Pussy Riot.
Supporters of imprisoned Cuban rap artist Maykel Castillo Pérez, better known by his stage name "El Osorbo," warn that his life is in danger one week into a hunger strike, and that he has been removed to a "punishment cell" where he is being held incommunicado. Academic and fellow dissident Anamely Ramos said that when she last heard from him, he was being taken to a prison doctor with swollen lymph nodes. Castillo is a leader of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of Cuban dissident artists and intellectuals, and co-author of the viral song "Patria y Vida," which became an anthem of the mass protests across the island in late July. He has been repeatedly arrested since 2015, including for protesting the controversial Decree 349, which places restrictions on artistic expression. He has been held at the maximum-security Pinar del Río prison since his May 31 arrest for the vague crimes of "resistance" and "contempt." He launched his total hunger and thirst strike on Nov. 11, in protest both of his own detention and the general crackdown on freedom of expression in Cuba. (CiberCuba, Periódico Cubano, PEN America)
The Taliban killed an Afghan folk musician Aug. 29, days after stating that they would ban music from being played in public places. Fawad Andarabi was shot dead by Taliban fighters who arrived at his farm in the village of Kishnabad, Andarab district, in the southern part of Baghlan province. The district is near the Panjshir Valley that harbors a resistance force rejecting Taliban rule. Four days earlier, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times: "Music is forbidden in Islam, but we're hoping that we can persuade people not to do such things, instead of pressuring them."
Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Aug. 2 charged pro-democracy activist Au Nok-hin and Cantopop singer Wong Yiu-ming, AKA Anthony Wong, with "corrupt conduct" for allegedly breaching election laws by having Wong perform two songs at a rally for Au in his 2018 run for the Legislative Council. The ICAC cited provisions of the Elections Corrupt & Illegal Conduct Ordinance, which define as corrupt conduct meeting "all or part of the cost of providing food, drink or entertainment for another person for the purpose of inducing a third party to vote or not vote for a particular candidate at an election." Hong Kong's Department of Justice withdrew the charges against the pair two days after Wong was arrested, but they were both placed under a "bind-over order." Under terms of the order, they each put up a $2,000 bond and will face no criminal charges if they maintain "good behavior" for a period of 24 months. "Hongkongers keep singing, Hongkongers keep going," Wong told reporters as he left the courtroom.