21 Apr 2009

awards1The winners of the 2009 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards were announced last night at a ceremony at Kings Place, London

The ceremony, hosted by Index on Censorship Chair Jonathan Dimbleby, with a keynote speech by Sir David Hare, honoured those who had made a contribution to free expression in five categories: books, films, journalism, new media and law and campaigning.

Speaking at the event, Jonathan Dimbleby said: ‘Freedom of expression helps to define our essence as human beings and citizens. Everywhere this right is under growing threat. The Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards are a chance to celebrate those who against all odds have made distinguished contributions to this vital cause – to protect and enhance liberty in Britain and around the world.’

The recipients of the awards for 2009 are:

The Guardian Journalism Award: The Sunday Leader – Sri Lanka
The Sunday Leader and its journalists have been subject to continual threats and brutal harassment since it was launched 15 years ago. The assassination of the Sunday Leader‘s editor and co-founder Lasantha Wickrematunge in January provoked protests and vigils around the world. His brother Lal has since bravely taken on the position of editor, continuing the important work of the newspaper.

The Economist New Media Award: Psiphon
Psiphon is a revolutionary software programme that allows Internet access in countries where censorship is imposed. The programme turns a regular home computer into a personal, encrypted server, capable of retrieving and displaying web pages anywhere. Psiphon was developed as a human rights software project by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. One of its aims is to design software that is easy to use, so that those with limited technical abilities can take advantage of the technology.

The TR Fyvel Book Award: Beijing Coma – Ma Jian
Spiked with dark wit, poetic beauty and deep rage, Beijing Coma takes the life (and near death) of one young student to create a dazzling novel about contemporary China. In May 1989, tens of thousands of students are camped out in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But what started as a united protest at the slow pace of their government’s political reform has begun to lose direction. People from all over China are coming to join the demonstration, but the students at its heart are confused by the influence they suddenly wield, and riven by petty in-fighting. One of them, Dai Wei, argues about everything from democracy to the distribution of food to protesters, little knowing that, on 4 June, a soldier will shoot a bullet into his head, sending him into a deep coma.

The Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award: Malik Imtiaz Sarwar – Malaysia
Malik Imtiaz Sarwar is a leading human rights lawyer and activist and the current president of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM). Imtiaz has been a central figure in fighting lawsuits brought against journalists and bloggers, and was the lead counsel for Raja Petra Kamaruddin, popular blogger and editor of Malaysia Today, whose release he secured last year. In August 2006, a poster declaring him to be a traitor to Islam and calling for his death was circulated in Malaysia. He has proposed setting up an inter-faith council, and spoken in a series of public forums on the need for religious freedom.

The Index on Censorship Film Award: The Devil Came on Horseback
Using the exclusive photographs and first-hand testimony of former US Marine Captain Brian Steidle, Directed by Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern The Devil Came on Horseback takes the viewer on an emotionally-charged journey into the heart of Darfur. Steidle had access to parts of the country that no journalist could penetrate; he was unprepared for what he would witness and experience, including being fired at, taken hostage, and being unable to intervene to save the lives of young children. Ultimately frustrated by the inaction of the international community, Steidle resigned and returned to the US to expose the images and stories of lives he believed were being systematically destroyed.

There to collect awards were Lal Wickrematunge the editor the Sunday Leader, Nart Villeneuve the CTO of Psiphon, Ma Jian the author of Beijing Coma, Peter Noorlander on behalf of Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Annie Sundberg the director of The Devil Came on Horseback.

Also in attendance were nominees for the Bindmans Law and Campaigning award Harry Roque and Harrison Nkomo as well as Guardian Journalism award nominee Sanjuana Martinez.

Radio interviews by the BBC recorded in the run up to the awards with Lal Wickrematunge, Nart Villeneuve, Harrison Nkomo and Sanjuana Martinez can be found on our website in the coming days.


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