Major new global free expression index sees UK ranking stumble across academic, digital and media freedom

A major new global ranking index tracking the state of free expression published today (Wednesday, 25 January) by Index on Censorship sees the UK ranked as only “partially open” in every key area measured.

In the overall rankings, the UK fell below countries including Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica and Japan. European neighbours such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark also all rank higher than the UK.

The Index Index, developed by Index on Censorship and experts in machine learning and journalism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe, giving a country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Key findings include:

  • The countries with the highest ranking (“open”) on the overall Index are clustered around western Europe and Australasia – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

  • The UK and USA join countries such as Botswana, Czechia, Greece, Moldova, Panama, Romania, South Africa and Tunisia ranked as “partially open”.

  • The poorest performing countries across all metrics, ranked as “closed”, are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates performed poorly in the Index Index but are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council.

Ruth Anderson, Index on Censorship CEO, said:

“The launch of the new Index Index is a landmark moment in how we track freedom of expression in key areas across the world. Index on Censorship and the team at Liverpool John Moores University have developed a rankings system that provides a unique insight into the freedom of expression landscape in every country for which data is available.

“The findings of the pilot project are illuminating, surprising and concerning in equal measure. The United Kingdom ranking may well raise some eyebrows, though is not entirely unexpected. Index on Censorship’s recent work on issues as diverse as Chinese Communist Party influence in the art world through to the chilling effect of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill all point to backward steps for a country that has long viewed itself as a bastion of freedom of expression.

“On a global scale, the Index Index shines a light once again on those countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates with considerable influence on international bodies and mechanisms – but with barely any protections for freedom of expression across the digital, academic and media spheres.”

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship policy and campaigns officer, said:

“With global threats to free expression growing, developing an accurate country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. With gaps in current data sets, it is hoped that future ‘Index Index’ rankings will have further country-level data that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers.

“As the ‘Index Index’ grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it will not only map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.”

Steve Harrison, LJMU senior lecturer in journalism, said: 

“Journalists need credible and authoritative sources of information to counter the glut of dis-information and downright untruths which we’re being bombarded with these days. The Index Index is one such source, and LJMU is proud to have played our part in developing it.

“We hope it becomes a useful tool for journalists investigating censorship, as well as a learning resource for students. Journalism has been defined as providing information someone, somewhere wants suppressed – the Index Index goes some way to living up to that definition.”

Index welcomes news of Nabeel Rajab’s release but all charges must be dropped


Nabeel Rajab at the 2012 Freedom of Expression Awards

Nabeel Rajab at the 2012 Freedom of Expression Awards

Index welcomes the news that Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab has been freed from prison. Rajab, the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award winner in 2012, had been held since 2016 and convicted of offences including “spreading fake news”.

Rajab had tweeted about torture in Bahrain’s jails and had criticised the war in Yemen. As Index wrote during one of his many appeals: “Those are not crimes. Opinions are not crimes.”

Rajab has suffered relentless harassment since his involvement as a peaceful activist during the Bahrain uprising in 2011, during which he was in and out of prison on numerous occasions. He was then in prison on a continual basis from June 2016, and was sentenced in all to seven years in prison across two separate trials. In February 2018 he was sentenced to five years in prison for tweeting, which was added to a two-year conviction in June 2017 for “broadcasting fake news” relating to television interviews he gave in 2015.

On Tuesday, Rajab’s lawyer said he would serve the remainder of his sentence in a non-custodial setting.

“This is amazing news. Index on Censorship has been pushing for this for a long time,” said Rachael Jolley, editor-in-chief at Index.

But while we welcome news of his release and reunion with his family, we still demand that all charges are dropped against Rajab, as well as all others who are imprisoned in Bahrain simply for their views and advocacy.

This year, one of the co-winners of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Campaigning category was Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a Bahraini activist currently living in exile in the UK who is the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy. As Alwadaei said when accepting the award in April:

“The price for expressing yourself in Bahrain remains very high. I myself ended up in prison for speaking to the press during the Arab Spring.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”3/4”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#IndexAwards20: Online ceremony reveals Freedom of Expression Awards winners

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”113272″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=””][vc_column_text]A Russian artist currently under house arrest for her work on gender and sexual equality and one of the first free investigative journalism and fact-checking websites in Poland are among the winners of the 2020 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards. The winners, who were announced today on Twitter as part of a digital gala hosted by BBC presenter Timandra Harkness, also include a prominent lawyer fighting for the release of activists and journalists unlawfully detained in Turkey, a Bahraini activist living in exile in the UK and an Arab non-profit promoting digital rights of Palestinians. 

Awards were presented in four categories: arts, campaigning, digital activism and journalism. The winners are: Russian artist Yulia Tsvetkova (arts); Turkish lawyer Veysel Ok and Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei (campaigning); Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, also known as 7amleh (digital activism); and OKO Press (journalism).

Selected from hundreds of nominations from across the globe – a list of some of the most inspiring and courageous individuals and organisations operating today – the winners of the awards represent those who have had a significant impact fighting censorship. Now celebrating their twentieth year, previous recipients of the awards include activist Malala Yousafzai, Chinese author Ma Jian and journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Rafael Marques de Morais and Mimi Mefo.

“Today we acknowledge the winners of the Index 2020 awards as amazing people who do amazing things, while overcoming incredible challenges in difficult times. They fight for freedom of expression when others can’t,” said Rachael Jolley and Matt Townsend from Index on Censorship. 

“This is the 20th year of the Index on Censorship awards, and we would also like to mark the  winners of the previous ceremonies here today. It’s a highly unusual ceremony this year. We were forced to move online at the last minute, but it has meant that people from across the globe can join us today in noting the work that our winners 7amleh, Veysel Ok, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Yulia Tsvetkova and OKO Press have done,” they added. 

Each winner is now part of a year-long fellowship, which involves them working closely with Index who offer long-term, structured support. The goal is to help winners maximise their impact, broaden their support and ensure they can continue to excel at fighting censorship and free expression threats on the ground. 

This year’s panel of judges included New York-based artist Molly Crabapple, award-winning Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman and Cindy Gallop, founder of social sex video platform MakeLoveNotPorn. Speaking on the awards, Gallop said: 

“I am in awe of all of the candidates we were asked to review for these awards and just blown away by what they are doing around the world. And I am thrilled that the Freedom of Expression Awards exist to celebrate that courage and those triumphs at a time when the need could not be greater.”

All of the winners spoke of how the awards had given them hope.

“It shows that our work has found support from the international community,” Ok said, while Nadim Nashif of 7amleh said the award would motivate them “to work more to advance digital rights and to achieve our vision of a safe, fair and free digital world”.

“The award pretty much reminds me that not everything is that bad. That there are still people who believe that [what I do] is important. For me, it changes pretty much everything. So thank you,” said Tsvetkova, who explained that over the last year she had received death threats and found it hard to focus on why what she was doing was important.

They also spoke about the greater challenges posed as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Alwadaei said:

“During the coronavirus crisis, I would like to pay tribute to those imprisoned in Bahrain for speaking out against the regime. This award is very special to me because my dear friend, Nabeel Rajab, was awarded this prize in 2012. Nabeel is currently serving 5 years in prison for criticising the government on Twitter.”

He added: “In these difficult times, it is more important than ever that freedom of speech is protected and that independent, critical voices are heard.”

But looking ahead OKO Press sounded a note of optimism:

We believe the danger will wane, both epidemic and political. We will wake up in a healthier world.”[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”113163″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Winning in the Arts category was Yulia Tsvetkova, a Russian artist and activist promoting women’s well-being and LGBTQ awareness. Her work has brought about positive change in discussions towards body positivity and gender stereotypes in Russia. But this acclaim has also made her a target. In 2018 she began a campaign promoting body positivity which resulted in her being named a suspect in a criminal pornography distribution case. Tsvetkova, currently under house arrest, could face up to six years in prison if convicted. In March 2019, her youth arts festival was cancelled after officials accused Tsvetkova of illegally trying to hold a gay pride event under the guise of a youth theatre festival. 

The award for Campaigning went to two individuals. The first is Veysel Ok. Ok is a prominent Turkish lawyer providing pro-bono legal support to journalists, activists and academics who have been subjected to intimidation, surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment. His work has been instrumental in the release of several unlawfully detained journalists and writers. Ok is one of the first to challenge the Turkish laws of accreditation which determine whether a journalist meets official requirements to do their job. As part of his work, he received a five month suspended sentence for criticising the independence of the Turkish judiciary. He has been subject to surveillance and harassment ever since.

The second winner in the Campaigning category is Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a Bahraini activist currently living in exile in the UK. He was forced to flee Bahrain in 2011 after being arrested for taking part in anti-government protests. The Bahraini government revoked his citizenship and launched a smear campaign labelling him a terrorist. As the director of advocacy at the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy, his work has become a vital resource for international media and NGOs. One such case was the discovery that institutions supported by UK taxpayers have been implicated in torture and other human rights abuses. Despite the danger faced by him and his family, Alwadaei continues his work as a prominent critic of the Bahraini government.

The Journalism award and Digital Activism award both went to organisations doing invaluable work in the digital sphere. One of the first free investigative journalism and fact-checking websites in Poland, OKO Press picked up the journalism award. OKO investigate and evaluate statements made by politicians, monitor public spending and fight for access to public information. In so doing they’ve paved the way for other news sources to follow suit. This has contributed to a safer and stronger public sphere, fighting for immunity from government propaganda. 

Their work also supports grassroots activism; crucial in Poland, a country which is sliding further and further into authoritarianism and censorship. Indeed, the environment in which they work is becoming increasingly hostile. Political polarisation, lack of transparency, suspicion, threats and withholding of information are common. In the face of this, OKO Press shows resilience and determination. As they said in their acceptance speech:

“We are honoured to receive the award, but also humbled but the fact that other nominees, from Hong Kong, Venezuela and Burundi are acting in much harder circumstances. Friends, we admire your courage, determination and quality of work. 

Kaczyński is no Maduro, Nkurunziza, Putin, or Erdogan, but apparently he takes his inspiration from them. We are not a dictatorship yet, though we are close to the so-called electoral authoritarianism, where all forms of public scrutiny, besides the elections, are being suppressed.

Finally, the Digital Activism award went to the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, or 7amleh as they’re known, a non-profit organisation focused on protecting the human rights of Palestinians in the online space. As Israel increases online monitoring, Palestinians are taking to social media to express disdain. 7amleh’s work protecting online safety and digital rights has been crucial. Through capacity building, research, advocacy and campaigning, 7amleh works to ensure that policies and companies are complying with human rights and are working towards greater accountability. Their campaign work with NGOs has seen huge numbers of participants. They’ve worked towards amendments in the Palestinian Authority’s Cybercrimes Law, the development of the first Arabic Digital Security Manual and digital training being implemented into the Palestinian education system.

If you believe in the work Index do please think about donating. For more information on how to donate click here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Bahrain must suspend Nabeel Rajab’s sentence

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]13 September 2019

H.E. Ali bin Mohammed Al-Rumaihi

Minister of Information Affairs

Email: [email protected]


Dear Minister Ali bin Mohammed Al-Rumaih,

We, the undersigned, write to you regarding the case of human rights defender Nabeel Rajab and ask you to consider the request of Mr Rajab’s lawyers to suspend his current sentence.

Mr Rajab is currently serving a five-year sentence related to tweets criticising alleged torture at Jau prison and the actions of the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen’s civil war.

In recent months, Mr Rajab’s legal team has appealed to the courts to suspend the sentence against him or to convert it to a custodial sentence, or a form of community service, but all their efforts were rejected. A hearing requesting that the Court overturn previous decisions to uphold the sentence will take place on 17 September 2019. 

We strongly urge you to support this request for the sentences to be suspended. In particular, we are concerned that Mr Rajab is not being treated according to international standards for prisoners. Mr Rajab is currently being held in a cell in Jau Prison with nine other prisoners who were convicted for prostitution offences. This is contrary to Rule 11c of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) which states: “The different categories of prisoners shall be kept in separate institutions or parts of institutions taking account of their sex, age, criminal record, the legal reason for their detention and the necessities of their treatment.”

Mr Rajab is a highly regarded human rights defender. He is the President of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR), Founding Director of GCHR, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH and a member of the Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa Advisory Committee.

His case has been raised repeatedly by the international community. In 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for Mr Rajab’s release and said the convictions were unlawful and violated his freedom of expression. Earlier this month, UK parliamentarians said the UK should be willing to use sanctions against countries that violate international standards on media freedom. 

Given this, we urge you to suspend Mr Rajab’s sentence.

Yours sincerely,

Index on Censorship 

English PEN

Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)


Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)

Article 19

Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)

European Center for Democracy & Human Rights (ECDHR)

Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)

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