The women who paid the ultimate price

Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, an opportunity to reflect upon the role of women in society. In the midst of a war in Europe and global economic crisis it is easy to focus on the immediate, on the current existential crisis, but there is an onus on us to remember what is happening further afield.

On Wednesday for International Women’s Day I addressed students on behalf of the Anne Frank Trust. I highlighted the importance of not only telling women’s stories but also the power of amplifying their lived experiences, wherever they may be. Collectively we all made a promise that this week – and I hope in future weeks – we would seek to tell the stories of the women who have made a mark and ensure that the world knows their names.

I seek to deliver on that promise.

I am proud to be the Chief Executive of Index on Censorship, a charity which endeavours to provide a voice to the persecuted, which campaigns for freedom of expression around the world. I work daily with dissidents who risk everything to change their societies and their communities for the better. Men and women. But today I would like to highlight the names of some of those women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the last year for the supposed “crime” of doing something we take for granted every day – using the human right of freedom of expression.

  • Deborah Samuel – a student brutally murdered in Nigeria after being accused of blasphemy on an academic social media platform.

  • Nokuthula Mabaso – a leading woman human rights defender in South Africa and leader of the eKhenana Commune. She was assassinated outside of her home, in front of her children.

  • Shireen Abu Akleh – a veteran Palestinian-American correspondent for Al Jazeera who was killed while reporting on an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

  • Jhannah Villegas – a local journalist in the Philippines was killed at her home. The police believe this was linked to her work.

  • Francisca Sandoval – a local Chilean journalist was murdered, and several others hurt when gunmen opened fire on a Workers’ Day demonstration.

  • Mahsa Amini  – a name all too familiar to us, as her murder inspired a peaceful revolution which continues to this day. Murdered by the Iranian morality police for “inappropriate attire”.

  • Oksana Baulina – a Russian journalist killed during shelling by Russian forces in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

  • Oksana Haidar – a 54-year-old Ukrainian journalist and blogger better known under the pseudonym “Ruda Pani”, killed by Russian artillery, northeast of Kyiv.

  • Oleksandra Kuvshynova – a Ukrainian producer who was killed outside of Kyiv, while working with Fox News.

  • Petronella Baloyi – a South African land and women human rights defender gunned down while in her home.

  • Yessenia Mollinedo Falconi, a Mexican journalist who was the founder and editor of El Veraz. A crime and security correspondent, she received a death threat a fortnight before she was shot. She was killed alongside her colleague Sheila Johana García Olivera

  • Vira Hyrych – a journalist for Radio Free Europe’s Ukrainian service, killed by Russian shelling.

  • Yeimi Chocué Camayo – an Indigenous women’s rights activist, killed in Columbia when returning to her house.

  • Cielo Rujeles – wife of social leader Sócrates Sevillano, shot and killed alongside her husband in Colombia.

  • Luz Angelina Quijano Poveda – a delegate of the Community Action Board in Punta Betín, Colombia, murdered at her home.

  • Sandra Patricia Montenegro – a PE teacher and social leader was shot and killed in front of her students in Colombia.

  • Melissa Núñez – a transgender activist shot dead by armed men in Honduras.

  • María del Carmen Vázquez – a Mexican activist and member of the Missing Persons of Pénjamo, murdered by two men at her home in. She was looking for her son who disappeared last summer.

  • Blanca Esmeralda Gallardo – activist and member of the Collective Voice of the Missing in Puebla, who was assassinated on the side of the highway in Mexico as she waited for a bus to take her to work. She was searching for her 22-year-old daughter who vanished in 2021.

  • Yermy Chocue Camayo – treasurer of the Chimborazo indigenous reservation in Colombia, and human rights defender, killed as she headed home.

  • Dilia Contreras – an experienced presenter for RCN Radio in Columbia, shot dead in a car alongside her colleague Leiner Montero after covering a festival in a local village.

  • Edilsan Andrade – a Colombian social leader and local politician, shot and killed in the presence of one of her children.

  • Jesusita Moreno, aka Doña Tuta – a human rights activist who defended Afro-Colombian community rights. Facing threats against her life, she was assassinated whilst at her son’s birthday party.

  • Maria Piedad Aguirre – a Colombian social leader who was a defender of black communities, violently murdered with a machete; she was found at home by one of her grandchildren.

  • Elizabeth Mendoza – social leader, was shot and killed in her home in Colombia.  Her husband, son and nephew were also murdered.

  • María José Arciniegas Salinas – a Colombian indigenous human rights defender, assassinated by armed men who said they belonged to the Comandos de la Frontera group.

  • Shaina Vanessa Pretel Gómez – who was known among the LGBTIQ+ community for her activism, including work to establish safe spaces for homeless people and a passion for the arts, was shot dead early in the morning by a suspect on a motorbike.

  • Rosa Elena Celix Guañarita – a Colombian human rights defender was shot while socialising with friends.

  • Mariela Reyes Montenegro – a leader of the Union of Workers and Employees of Public Services was murdered in Colombia.

  • Alba Bermeo Puin – an indigenous leader and environmental defender in Ecuador was murdered when five months pregnant.

  • Mursal Nabizada – a former female member of Afghanistan’s parliament and women’s rights campaigner murdered at her home.

This is not an exhaustive list by any stretch of the imagination. Compiling the names and profiles of women who have been killed as a result of their right to exercise freedom of expression is almost impossible, not least because of the nature of the repressive regimes which too many people live under. But every name represents thousands of others who day in, day out put their lives at risk to speak truth to power. They were mothers, grandmothers, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, sisters, aunts, friends, partners, wives.

To their families, they were the centre of the world. To us, today, their stories bring fear and inspiration in equal measure. They are heroes whose bravery we should all seek to emulate.

COP26: A Review

In a recent interview with the Guardian, the president of COP26 Alok Sharma expressed concern that the agreements made at the Glasgow summit will end up as “a bunch of meaningless promises”. Two months on from the summit, it is timely to take stock and reflect on the road ahead. What are the key takeaways from the discussions in Glasgow? Who got to speak, and who did not? How can we keep up the momentum from COP26 to ensure positive and inclusive outcomes? 

Focusing on the voices of indigenous peoples as a starting point, this event invites activists, experts and legal professionals to review COP26 and reflect on the future of climate action. The conversation will be chaired by Index on Censorship’s CEO Ruth Smeeth and features Darren Jones MP, Kate Gibbons, and Roger Leese with contributions from indigenous activists.

About the speakers: 

Darren Jones MP 

Darren Jones is the Labour Member of Parliament for Bristol North West and the Chair of the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. He sits as a member of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy and the Liaison Committee, which scrutinises the work of the Prime Minister. As Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, Darren also scrutinises the Government’s delivery of COP26, the use of its national security and investment powers and monitors regulatory reform across the whole of Government. 

Kate Gibbons

Global Knowledge Partner and Finance and Capital Markets Partner, Clifford Chance

Kate Gibbons is Clifford Chance’s Global Knowledge partner as well as being a Finance and Capital Markets partner from which she leads the Practice’s Knowledge function. In these capacities she chairs the Firm’s Knowledge Committee and Thought Leadership Board and is a member of its London and Global Legal Opinion Committees, the Global ESG Board and the London Graduate Recruitment Partner Committee. She is a member and director of the Financial Markets Law Committee, considers issues of security reform and legal opinions for the City of London Law Society, is a distinguished practitioner of Harris Manchester College Oxford and a member of the Chatham House Council.

Roger Leese

Litigation & Dispute Resolution Partner, co-head of Business & Human Rights practice and member of the ESG Risk Leadership Group, Clifford Chance

Roger is a Partner in the firm’s Litigation & Dispute Resolution practice, co-head of the firm’s Business & Human Rights practice and a member of the ESG Risk Leadership Group. Roger advises on a range of ESG-related issues, including the development of policy, due diligence (particularly in the context of M&A), training and shareholder/NGO activism.  Roger advises clients across a range of sectors, notably financial institutions and Private Equity. Roger is also a member of the firm’s ESG Board, which co-ordinates the firm’s work for clients in this space. Roger is also a member pf the firm’s Responsible Business Board. In that context Roger has Global responsibility for the Firm’s pro bono and community work and also for delivering on the Firm’s Net Zero 2030 commitment.  Roger is the Chair of the UK legal charity, Advocates for International Development (A4ID). During his time as Chair, Roger has encouraged A4ID’s focus on business and human rights, alongside the Sustainable Development Goals

Ruth Smeeth

CEO, Index on Censorship

Ruth Smeeth is the CEO of Index on Censorship. Ruth was a British Labour Party politician and a Member of Parliament from 2015 until 2019 representing the Potteries. Prior to that she was deputy director of anti-racist organisation, HOPE not hate. Ruth is a passionate campaigner and is usually found with a cup of tea in hand (mug made in Stoke-on-Trent obviously). 

When: 18.00-19.00, Monday 17 January 2022

Where: Online, register for a free ticket here

Index on Censorship, Clifford Chance

Playing with Fire: How theatre is resisting the oppressors

How is Turkish theatre resisting censorship and oppression? Join Meltem Arikan, Kaya Genç, and Kate Maltby for a recital and Q&A.

Join us for the launch of the new Index on Censorship magazine, Playing with Fire: How theatre is resisting the oppressor. In this edition we are engaging with the writers, playwrights, and actors using the theatre to resist oppression and censorship.

With a particular focus on Turkey, this launch event looks closer at the potential of the theatre, the impact of censorship on culture and literature, and the risks of speaking out. The conversation will be facilitated by Kate Maltby, deputy chair of the Index on Censorship Board of Trustees.

About the speakers:

Kaya Genç is a contributing editor for Index on Censorship based in Istanbul. Kaya is a novelist and journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, The Paris Review and The London Review of Books among others. He has a PhD in English literature and his first novel, L’Avventura (Macera), was published in 2008. His latest book is The Lion and the Nightingale, which tells of his extraordinary quest to find the places and people in whom the contrasts of Turkey’s rich past meet.

Meltem Arikan is a Turkish/Welsh author. Arikan is known for her sharp critique of society and fearless and outspoken voice in her novels, plays, poems and articles. Arikan has written 11 books including nine novels and five plays. Her fourth novel Yeter Tenimi Acıtmayın (Stop Hurting My Flesh) was banned in early 2004 by the Committee to Protect Minors from Obscene Publications. The ban was eventually lifted and Arıkan was awarded with “Freedom of Thought and Speech Award 2004” by the Turkish Publishers’ Association. She has received several awards and was short-listed for the Freedom of Expression Award in 2014 by Index on Censorship for her play Mi Minör which the Turkish authorities claimed was a rehearsal for the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013. Their subsequent hate campaign, fuelled by state sponsored media, forced her to leave Turkey to start living in Wales. In 2019 Turkish courts accepted the so-called Gezi Indictment which seeks life sentences for 16 people including her.

Kate Maltby is the deputy chair of the Index on Censorship Board of Trustees. She is a critic, columnist, and scholar. She is currently working towards the completion of a PhD which examines the intellectual life of Elizabeth I, through the prism of her accomplished translations of Latin poetry, her own poems and recently attributed letters, and her representation as a learned queen by writers such as Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

When: Monday 13 December, 13.00-14.00 GMT


Tickets: Free, advance booking essential

It’s in our nature to fight

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”117715″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]Ecuador is not a safe country for environmental defenders. They are criminalised, threatened, attacked and even assassinated for attempting to uphold the rights of nature decreed in the constitution.

While the overt incitement to hatred against environmental activists ended when Lenin Moreno replaced Rafael Correa as president in 2017, and some imprisoned indigenous leaders were freed, the intimidation and threats continue.

In 2018, there were several attacks against members of the Collective of Amazonian Women who work to defend the Amazon region from oil and mining. Margoth Escobar had her house set on fire and Patricia Gualinga, from Sarayaku, had rocks thrown through her bedroom windows at night. Others received death threats.

The same year, three water defenders – including Yaku Pérez Guartambel, then president of indigenous peoples’ organisation Ecuarunari – were kidnapped by mine workers, believed to have been following orders from above. An angry mob kicked, dragged and tortured Pérez Guartambel, accusing him of leading anti-mining efforts. They planned on crucifying him and started gathering materials until a group of journalists broke through with cameras and rescued him.

Since a 2019 uprising of indigenous peoples in the country, the government has more forcefully set its sights on the indigenous movement as the internal enemy to be defeated.

Indigenous leaders are repeatedly persecuted and intimidated. The repressive apparatus has been strengthened, with millions of dollars allocated for the provision of equipment for the police and military. The creation of a new legal framework in May 2020 would have enabled the deployment of the military to control internal order. This would have provided protection to strategic sectors such as mining, against which indigenous communities have been struggling for years.

In May 2021, right-wing banker Guillermo Lasso assumed the presidency in Ecuador, ending more than a decade of left-wing rule. Index on Censorship spoke to Franco-Brazilian academic and indigenous rights activist Manuela Picq about what the change means for censorship. After marrying Yaku Pérez Guartambel in an indigenous ceremony, Picq was herself censored by the government of Rafael Correa, which forced her into a three-year exile.

“There are many ways of censoring. We have seen traditional censorship mostly from the left in Ecuador, by Correa in particular, who implemented very repressive media legislation and enforced it with violent oppression. Then there are other forms of censorship, which are not traditionally recognised as such, the neo-liberal way of buying support. Under Lasso, journalists and media outlets are not fulfilling their critical role because they receive so much state advertising revenue. I see this as a form of censorship, when the public is left uninformed about the government’s activities, which happen largely in the dark. In this context, whistle blowers will play a critical role,” said Picq.

“This is a weak government that has been forced to ally with Pachakutik, the political party of Ecuador’s indigenous movement, which is currently presiding over congress. This means Lasso will carry out his agenda in the most discreet way possible, to avoid being overthrown. So, mining in indigenous territories, or the privatisation of the public sector will be labelled as “development”. We are relieved in Ecuador that we no longer have Correa-ism, with its traditional, explicit forms of censorship, but we should not underestimate the other forms of censorship that are more subtle and insidious.”

The multicoloured people

Jimmy Piaguaje is a young indigenous Siekopai defender from Siekoya Remolino, a community of 53 families living on the banks of the Aguarico River in the north-eastern Ecuadorian Amazon region.

The Siekopai (which means multicoloured people) are renowned for their shamanic acumen and knowledge of medicinal plants, with uses for more than 1,000 different plants.

The Siekopai are known as the multicoloured people, photo: Erin Deo

In the 1600s, when Jesuit missionaries arrived in Siekopai territory, there were 30,000 to 40,000 Siekopai in the zone between Putumayo, the Aguarico River and Napo.

Traditionally, the Siekopai lived communally in gigantic malokas (open sided wooden huts) with 40 to 60 families. This coexistence meant that people did everything together. Everyone got up at about 3am to prepare and drink yoko, twist threads of chambira (a palm from which the fibre is removed to make hammocks) and tell stories. The women would discuss what they would do that day, what the future would bring. The children would be there, too, learning from their parents and elders.

The missionaries brought illnesses such as measles, wiping out 90% of the population. Whole peoples and clans disappeared. The few who survived did so by hiding in the depths of the jungle. Then the rubber-tappers arrived and removed the Siekopai from there, too.

Currently only around 1,600 Siekopai remain – 900 in Peru and 700 in Ecuador, where they live in a 50,000-acre fragment of rainforest.

“We feel very threatened, very worried, because our territory is very small and we are surrounded by oil exploitation and monoculture agriculture,” said Piaguaje.

“I know from talking with my father, with our elders, how our territory used to be. Now we have almost no resources, almost no fish, no animals to hunt. Our rivers are contaminated by toxic waste from the oil palm industry. Lack of food sovereignty is a really big worry. These are the threats that we are facing.

“All of these things have made us think about where we are going. Will our culture survive another five, 10, 20 years? Or will we just die?”

The pandemic, too, has had a deep impact on the Siekopai.

“In the Ecuadorian Amazon, the Siekopai nationality was the first to confirm positive cases of Covid-19,” said Piaguaje. “A wise elder who died of Covid – a family member of mine – knew a lot about medicinal plants. That was major blow for the Siekopai because there aren’t many of us and we all know each other. Then a teacher died; he had long been involved in the struggle to defend our culture. It was a very difficult situation.”
The Siekopai sought help from the local and national governments but there was little or no response, although some organisations provided medicine, tests and accurate information.

“We started to realise that the medicine from outside wasn’t helping us,” said Piaguaje. “Faced with many cases of Covid, we started to look to medicinal plants. In the end, the majority of people who survived were treated with medicinal plants. And we’re still treating people with plant infusions, such as ajo del monte, chinchona and cedros, with good results.

“This has led to some very important reflections within the Siekopai communities; a rediscovery, appreciation and faith in our own ancestral medicines. And when everything collapsed in the outside world, although we were affected, we were more or less OK. This has been a deep reflection for us, seeing how the rest of the world is suffering and realising what is important.”

Just 1,600 Siekopai survive in a 50,000-acre fragment of rainforest, photo: Erin Deo

In response to the existential threats they face, Piaguaje and a group of other young Siekopai leaders have formed an organisation, Sëra, named after the spirit of heaven that arrives every summer to announce a new era. They have developed a number of innovative projects, safeguarding ancestral shamanic knowledge in video format and running environmental workshops with Siekopai youth.

“Ancestral knowledge is being rapidly lost,” he said. “Young people are no longer interested, due to the influence of the Western world. Our wise elders are dying without leaving a legacy.

“Together with another young Siekopai defender, I created a project to safeguard their knowledge with videos. We go out with them when they are harvesting plants and record them talking about how they identify and use them. This project brought our group of young leaders together.”

The group is now running school workshops to promote environmental awareness through intergenerational exchange between elders, parents and children.

“We talk about ancestral knowledge, the identification and uses of medicinal plants, the threats that we face. We ask, what is important to us, what do we want to preserve, as Siekopai? The aim is to instil in the children the consciousness that our territory matters, that they should have respect for the elders, for Mother Nature, for our own cosmovision [the worldviews shared by indigenous peoples].

“We know that the children are like seeds; if we plant in them the idea that they must cut down the jungle to plant oil palm, they will want to do that,” he said.

“But instead we are saying to them, ‘We must take care of the jungle, this is our wealth, there are other ways to do things, to survive’. That’s why I think education is so important.”

Piaguaje believes it can help combat climate change.

“The indigenous worldview is based on living in harmony with nature and other people, respecting everything around us,” he said.

“It is a model that does not require us to plunder all natural resources. We are taught that we are all part of Mother Nature, that it is our responsibility to use resources in a sustainable way.

“Mother Nature provides everything: medicine, food, water and air. We don’t need to destroy but to co-exist.
“This way of life is based on reciprocity. Even if the other person is different from me, we share. Sharing and co-operation. That is how our ancestors lived and that should be the model of how we live, too.
“I think a global shift towards these values could help to combat climate change.”

The People of Noon

José Gualinga is a leader of the Native People of Sarayaku, an indigenous Kichwa group with 1,400 inhabitants living in a remote part of Ecuador’s southern Amazon.

Known for their defence of the rights of nature and indigenous peoples, the Sarayaku call themselves the People of Noon, referring to an ancient prophecy of their ancestors claiming that they would be a pillar of resistance after other communities had surrendered – a beacon of light as strong as the midday sun.

In 2012, the Sarayaku won a historic victory at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which found that the Ecuadorian state had violated their rights by allowing an oil company to prospect in their territory without consultation.

Photo: Beth Pitts

A turning point in the case came when José’s father, Don Sabino Gualinga, the spiritual leader of Sarayaku and their most eminent yachak (shaman), then aged 92, took the witness stand. He was asked about the impact of the 1,433kg of explosives that had been planted in Sarayaku territory by the oil company, accompanied by armed military personnel. Referring to the invisible beings that had been disturbed by the explosions, Don Sabino said that “half of the masters of the jungle are no longer there”.

He added: “It is a living forest. There are trees and medicinal plants and all kinds of beings … Many hid, others died when it burst. They are the ones who maintain the jungle, the forest … All of those who wish to cause damage, they don’t understand what they are doing. We do understand it, because we see it.”

The same year, the Sarayaku created the Kawsak Sacha (Living Forest) Declaration asserting that, as a living entity, their territory is subject to legal rights and demanding that these rights be upheld. The proposal was presented at global climate change conference COP21 in Paris and to French president François Hollande in 2015, and to the Ecuadorian government in 2018 before winning the prestigious UN Equator Prize in 2021.

The Sarayaku have also launched a professional football team to spread the word about oil exploitation in the Amazon; sailed a canoe down the Seine; and created a documentary, Children of the Jaguar, which won best documentary at the National Geographic Film Festival in 2012. Their 2021 documentary, The Return, which tells the story of one family’s retreat into the Amazon to escape Covid, was made for The Guardian and featured at the 2021 Sheffield DocFest.

In 2021, the Sarayaku are once again under threat, with the government’s plan to auction three million hectares of largely virgin rainforest to oil companies, including nearly all the Sarayaku territory. To represent their peaceful resistance to extractivism and commitment to defend the Kawsak Sacha, the Sarayaku are planting a 100km-long perimeter of flowering trees around their territory known as the Sisa Ñampi; it symbolises the fragility of life and the ephemeral limit of existence between life and death.

Gualinga believes that the philosophical thought of the Sarayaku can help combat climate change.
“Climate change will be resolved only if we actively seek solutions,” he said. “Global citizens must undertake a long road to resistance and peaceful struggle, towards a different perspective that we call tiam. By itself this philosophical thought is only a form of knowledge, but it can be made reality if each and every one of us participates in the minga [collective community work].

“Tiam is a counterpoint to the dominant worldview, which sees nature as ‘other’, as an object for exploitation. This has led to imbalance and severe climatic changes, as well as the current pandemic. At the heart of our philosophy lies the understanding that we live as an embryo in the womb of the Pachamama [Mother Earth]. Only in this way will nature be respected, will we live harmoniously, benefiting from the resources that the Pachamama bestows on us.

“We believe that if the human being accepts this way of life, the pain of the planetary wound will be felt, healed, and life will be born again.”

He added: “Indigenous peoples are already contributing towards global climate change solutions by taking care of their territories, which are mega-diversities of living beings. The Sarayaku conceived the Kawsak Sacha life project as a powerful nucleus, so that through these invisible beings, who are conscious and therefore have legal rights, we can regulate the balance of the earth and together we can fight climate change.”

Many communities of indigenous peoples have been divided by oil companies but the Sarayaku have maintained unity, said Gualinga.

“The unity of the Sarayaku arises from the legacy of our ancestors, from the great stories and prophecies that have led us to consider ourselves as the People of Noon, descendants of the jaguar, children of Amazanga Runa,” he said.

“Other nationalities – let us call them ‘communities’ or ‘peoples’ – their unity is maintained in a superficial way, through an organisation. While the statute of the organisation may be recognised by the competent authorities, the people lack the background of using their history and wisdom as a strength.

“When the unity of a society – or let’s call it a ‘cultural civilisation’ – of the Amazon forest is founded on historical and cultural principle, the oil companies cannot break it.”

The people of Sarayaku are masters in the selective use of modern technology, such as digital resource mapping, and using social networks without losing their cultural identity.

“If well used, technology can serve to strengthen new processes of collective and organised adaptation,” said Gualinga. “Based on this logic and analysis, the people of Sarayaku have adopted certain tools, such as the internet, which we use to disseminate the processes resistance in defence of our lives; to make known the proposals that come from within the territory and from the deep jungle. The jungle society has always been in a state of interaction, actively looking for solutions for threats such as climate change.

“Historically, it was impossible to make visible Sarayaku’s proposals in a dominant, complex world, full of wars and devastating economic conflicts. Now, with these new technologies, we can successfully disseminate communications on history, culture, proposals, visionary projects to conserve and protect the balance of the land and ensure the continuity of the Living Forest.

“These technologies have also allowed us to safeguard the memories of art, culture and stories, so that future generations can continue learning.”

Help the Siekopai Indigenous Amazonian Youth Foundation through its crowdfunding campaign at

This article is based on interviews for Writers Rebel[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]