Index on Censorship is an international organisation that promotes and defends the right to freedom of expression. The inspiration of poet Stephen Spender, Index was founded in 1972 to publish the untold stories of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain. Today, they advocate in the fight for free speech around the world, challenging censorship whenever and wherever it occurs.
Index uses a unique combination of journalism, campaigning and advocacy to defend freedom of expression for those facing censorship and repression, including journalists, writers, social media users, bloggers, artists, politicians, scientists, academics, activists and citizens.
The Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards for 2015 were celebrated yesterday (Wednesday 18th March) in London, recognising the outstanding contributions and sacrifices that individuals make across four categories identified by the Index committee: journalism, arts, campaigning and digital activism. “Our shortlisted nominees are all tackling direct and serious threats to stifle free speech,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We were humbled and inspired by their stories, and their dedication to ensuring we can all speak freely.”
The winners were Saudi journalist Safa Al Ahmad and Angolan reporter Rafael Marques de Morais (journalism – jointly awarded); Moroccan rapper “El Haqed” (arts); Kenyan women’s rights campaigner Amran Abdundi (campaigning); and Hungarian freedom of information website Atlatszo (digital activism).
In the journalism category, Safa Al Ahmad was recognised for her documentary Saudi’s Secret Uprising, which exposed details of an unreported mass demonstration in Saudi Arabia. Co-winner of the award, Angolan investigative reporter Marques de Morais, has been repeatedly prosecuted for his work exposing government and industry corruption and will go on trial on 23rd March charged with defamation.
The winner in the campaigning category, Amran Abdundi, is a women’s rights activist based in north-eastern Kenya and runs a group helping women along the dangerous border with Somalia, where terrorism and extremist violence dominate.
Arts category winner Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat is a Moroccan rapper and human rights activist whose music highlights widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges three times in as many years, most recently in 2014.
The digital award, adjudicated by public vote, went to Hungarian investigative news outlet Atlatszo.hu managed by Tamás Bodoky. The website acts as watchdog to a Hungarian government which has increasingly tightened its grip on press freedom in the country.
Recognition was also given during the award ceremony to honour the many Azerbaijani journalists and activists jailed or forced into exile or hiding following a recent crackdown by the government. Former award winner and journalist Idrak Abbasov, who was forced to flee Azerbaijan last year, accepted the award on behalf of all those facing persecution in the country. “I call upon the world community to help Azerbaijan, so that our colleagues might be released and that our country might become a normal state in which we and others might live freely,” Abbasov told the audience in a video speech.
The evening featured an exhibition of specially commissioned cartoons by international cartoonists, reflecting on the past 12 months for free expression. Most of the artists had direct experience of persecution over their work, including Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat – a former Index award winner – and Malaysia’s Zunar (featured in an OBServation article over his arrest for sedition). “In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we wanted to pay homage to the work of cartoonists who are so often the first to face censorship in any move to stifle free expression,” said Index’s Jodie Ginsberg.