Shortlists announced for the 2023 Freedom of Expression Awards

For the last 22 years Index on Censorship has been proud to host the annual Freedom of Expression Awards. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the brave artists, journalists and campaigners from around the world who fight for freedom of expression in the most challenging of circumstances. There are some truly incredible nominees for the awards this year, who more than ever, are challenging the repressive regimes they live under to fight for the rights of ordinary people.

2023 has seen the continuation of Russia’s war on Ukraine with its horrific consequences for the people of Ukraine and the severe repression for those speaking out against the war in Russia. The CCP in China continues to repress journalists, particularly those who attempt to uncover the crimes against the Uyghur people, and activists and protesters for women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan face vicious attacks from the authorities.

The shortlisted candidates for the Arts award are Visual Rebellion, a platform for sharing the work of photographers, filmmakers, and artists documenting the protests in Myanmar; Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who sings about injustice and the abuse of civil society by the authorities, for which he has been imprisoned; and Ukrainians, curator Maria Lanko and artist Pavlo Makov, who have worked to protect Ukrainian art in the face of Russian war crimes.

The shortlisted candidates for the Campaigning award are Matiullah Wesa from Afghanistan who has worked to ensure all children, but especially girls, have access to education and educational materials; Russian student Olesya Krivtsova who has publicly opposed Russia’s war on Ukraine and has fled the country to avoid up to 10 years’ imprisonment; the Xinjiang Victim’s Database, which records the incarceration and persecution of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province; and the Africa Human Rights Network which works to support and protect human rights defenders across the Great Lakes region of Africa.

And the shortlisted candidates for the Journalism award are Bilan Media, Somalia’s first women-only media organisation and newsroom; Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the Indian fact-checking platform Alt News which has led to threats after challenging misinformation; and Afghan Mortaza Behboudi, in exile in France, who continues to travel to Afghanistan every month to work with different media outlets to ensure the voices of Afghans are heard.

The Freedom of Expression Awards are a time to remind ourselves of the importance of freedom of expression and to commit ourselves to protecting our own freedom of expression. It is easily lost but hard fought for. We must not forget that.

Nominees for the 2023 Freedom of Expression Awards – Journalism

Bilan Media (Somalia)

Bilan Media is Somalia’s first women-only media organisation and newsroom, which aims to challenge gendered threats against women in journalism, as well as covering under-reported issues. 

It is incredibly dangerous to be a journalist in Somalia. In 2022, Somalia topped the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index for the eighth year running. Journalists are a specific target of militant Islamist groups, especially Al Shabaab, and are regularly shot, imprisoned and physically harmed by the authorities and other powerful groups. Women face a range of other significant threats that prevent many from being able to work safely. In a society where women are marginalised and in a country where huge swathes of territory are controlled by groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State, Bilan Media believed the only way female journalists can fight censorship and find a degree of freedom of expression was to set up the country’s only all-women media house. In addition to distributing their films and reports on Somali TV, radio and websites, they have established partnerships with international media outlets, such as The Guardian, BBC and El Pais.  

As a career for women in Somalia, journalism is considered to be “the bottom of the pile”. This perception shaped how Bilan approached the type of journalism they focused on. In order to reduce verbal and sexual harassment and the threat of physical attack, Bilan decided to work as “Mobile Journalists” where they use mobile phones and other small equipment for their reporting so they are less visible to a hostile public and could escape the scene quickly if needed. 

Bilan focuses on stories that are not represented in the broader media coverage in Somalia. These include stories about people living with HIV/AIDS, girls who have recently undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); orphans who were abandoned when their orphanage closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic only to return with babies of their own after being raped or forced into temporary marriages; female opioid addicts; the mistreatment of people living with albinism; underage girls sold into marriage and young children forced into hard labour to earn money for their families.

Mohammed Zubair (India)

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of AltNews. Photo: Mahesh Shantaram /

After co-founding the leading Indian fact-checking platform, Alt News, Mohammed Zubair faced significant threats after challenging mis/disinformation propagated by influential members of the ruling party.

Mohammed Zubair and others decided to found, a portal dedicated to busting fake news to address flaws in the Indian media ecosystem, such as overt political pressure on media outlets and opaque methods by which government funding was awarded to media outlets. Alt News’ goal was to dismantle propaganda networks in a manner that could be used by other publishers. Alt News’ approach focuses on political fact-checking to scrutinise claims made by political parties, leaders and other persons in positions of authority; debunking social media rumours; and examining media misinformation and bias.

Alt News aims to foster a stronger and more vibrant media environment by amplifying dissenting voices and creating barriers to prevent mis/disinformation from spreading. As a result, the outlet has faced considerable social, litigious and political pressure to halt their work. Using both his personal twitter account, as well as the outlet’s website, Mohammed Zubair and his colleagues have reported on inter-communal violence in India, the actions of vigilante groups, as well as the use of social media platforms to amplify hate speech. 

In June 2022, following a tweet exposing a national spokesperson of the BJP making hateful and Islamophobic utterances on national TV, Mohammed Zubair was arrested by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh state police. Based on an earlier satirical tweet posted in 2018 and reported by another user, Zubair was charged with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc." and “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. It has been reported that whenever Zubair was granted bail on one case another FIR (or First Information Report) would be lodged against him. This led to six FIRs being lodged against Zubair, resulting in him being caught in a 24 day cycle of arrest, bail and re-arrest. The following month, the Indian Supreme Court granted Zubair bail and ordered his release, as there was no justification for keeping him in custody.

Mortaza Behboudi (Afghanistan/France)

After being forced to leave Afghanistan in his youth due to previous threats as a result of his reporting, Mortaza Behboudi was detained by the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence on 7 January 2023 in Kabul.

At the age of two Behboudi’s family fled Afghanistan to live in Isfahan in Iran. In his early twenties, As a result of his work, Behboudi received a number of death threats from the Taliban, which resulted in him having to leave the country for France. After learning French, he continued his work, helping to co-found Guiti News, the first refugee and French-led news media in France, for which he was coined one of Forbes 30 under 30 in the media category.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Behboudi had been travelling back to Afghanistan every month to work with different media outlets, such as Business Insider, France 2, TV5 Monde, France 24, Liberation, La Croix, and many more. Notable works include "They will not erase us, the Fight of the Afghan Women", which was produced in 2022 and broadcasted on Mediapart and Arte, and "Les petites filles afghanes vendues pour survivre" for France 2.
On 7 January 2023, members of the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) detained Behboudi in Kabul. According to CPJ, Behboudi was detained in the GDI’s headquarters in Kabul. On 6 February Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to Voice of America that Behboudi was detained by the GDI, saying that details of his case could not be made public “but he is fine and he was treated well.”

A year in freedom of expression

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="120168" img_size="full" add_caption="yes"][vc_column_text]As we all start to think about the forthcoming holidays and the end of the year it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what happened in 2022. For regular readers you’ll know I have at various points over the last year despaired at the sheer volume of news. Too many crises, too many heartbreaking stories, too many people and families destroyed by the actions of tyrants. There has been so much news it is easy to forget the range of issues that have impacted human rights and freedom of expression around the world. So it would be remiss of me, in my last blog of the year, not to remind you of some the key events of 2022 (forgive me, there are many missing). The year started with Abdalla Hamdok resigning as the Prime Minister of Sudan after three years of pro-democracy protests, where dozens were killed. A few days later, a week of government clampdown in Kazakhstan led to the deaths of over 220 people with over 9,000 people arrested. In February we thought the biggest issue for Index would be the attempted sportswashing of the CCP as they hosted the Winter Olympics. Unfortunately that was not to be the most devastating act by a totalitarian regime in 2022. By the end of the month Putin’s government had launched an illegal invasion into Ukraine, causing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War Two. Nearly 7,000 civilians have been killed during the war and over 13,000 Ukrainian troops and over 10,000 Russian troops have made the ultimate sacrifice. In response to the war, media freedoms and freedom of expression have been completely curtailed in both Russia and Belarus with thousands detained. Events in Ukraine rightly continued to dominate the news agenda for the rest of the year. But this in turn provided cover for dictators and tyrants around the world to move against their people with limited global outcry. March brought more extremism and death. In Afghanistan an IS suicide bomber killed 63 people at a mosque. April was dominated by events in Ukraine and the impact on food and fuel inflation leading to sporadic protests around the world. In June a suspected IS attack on a church in Nigeria saw at least 40 people killed. In July anti-government protests in Sri Lanka led to the deaths of 10 protesters, with over 600 arrested. In August our friend Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked by an extremist. We are incredibly grateful that he survived and remain in contact with him as his long recovery continues. In September the United Nations published their report about the CCP’s treatment of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang province - declaring that their treatment may constitute crimes against humanity. September also saw clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border resulting in nearly 300 deaths in a three-day period. This was followed within days by similar clashes on the Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan border with dozens killed. On 16 September Masha Amini was murdered by state forces in Iran for not having her hair covered appropriately. This horrendous act of state terror has led to country wide protests, at least 448 people have been killed in the protests and over 18,000 people have been arrested across 134 cities and towns in Iran. These demonstrations continue today as the Iranian government begins executing protestors. These events are truly some of the most egregious of 2022 and we stand with Amini and all those protesting in her name. In October Xi Jinping was appointed for an unprecedented third term as general secretary of the CCP, consolidating his grip on power. And a couple of weeks later Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44billion, we still don’t know what the final effect on global free speech will be… At the end of October a terror attack in Mogadishu killed over 100 people. November saw the start of one of the most determined efforts at sportswashing of an appalling human rights record with the beginning of the football World Cup in Qatar. Protests were banned and football players were forbidden from wearing LGBT+ symbols while playing. And that gets me to December - in the last fortnight we have seen 1,700 people flee violence in South Sudan which has already killed 166 people. Chinese diplomats have left the UK after a protester was beaten by Chinese staff at a consulate in Manchester earlier this year. Twitter has banned journalists who have criticised Elon Musk and Jimmy Lai was sentenced to five years in jail in Hong Kong, as he awaits his trial for being a democracy campaigner. And yet there is still a fortnight to go before we close the door on 2022 - I pray that it’s a quiet fortnight for those on the front line. As we approach the end of 2022 my prayers will be with the people of Ukraine as they remain on the front line in the fight for freedom - especially as the temperature plummets. But the women of Iran won’t be too far from my thoughts too. So to you and yours from the Index family, Happy Christmas, Chag Sameach and Happy Holidays and here’s to a better 2023![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title="You may also wish to read" category_id="41669"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Temor en el aire

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text="Los guerreros islamistas de Al Shabab controlan una quinta parte de Somalia y tienen su propia emisora de radio. Ismail Einashe habla con los periodistas que arriesgan su vida retransmitiendo noticias sobre las actividades del grupo terrorista"][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]

Un periodista retransmite desde Radio Shabelle, una de las populares emisoras de Mogadiscio (Somalia), que corren peligro por pronunciarse contra la organización terrorista Al Shabab, Amisom Public Information/Flickr

Un periodista retransmite desde Radio Shabelle, una de las populares emisoras de Mogadiscio (Somalia), que corren peligro por pronunciarse contra la organización terrorista Al Shabab, Amisom Public Information/Flickr


Cada mañana, antes de ir a trabajar en Radio Kulmiye, en el centro de Mogadiscio, Maruan Mayu Huseín tiene que comprobar que no haya bombas en su coche. «Miro debajo de las ruedas, pero normalmente ponen las bombas debajo del asiento», dice. «Si me paro en algún lado de la ciudad, entonces tengo que volver a mirar, porque a veces me sigue gente».

Los periodistas somalíes como Huseín viven bajo la amenaza constante del poderoso grupo islamista Al Shabab, estrechamente relacionado con Al Qaeda. Para el grupo, colocar una bomba debajo del asiento de un coche y detonarla a distancia es marca de la casa a la hora de matar a periodistas somalíes. Huseín lo confirma: «Conozco gente muerta y herida por culpa de las bombas que les habían colocado en el coche».

Periodistas como Hindia Hayi Mohamed, madre de cinco hijos, han sido víctimas de esta táctica de Al Shabab. Trabajaba para Radio Mogadiscio y la Televisión Nacional Somalí, dos medios estatales de noticias, cuando un coche bomba la mató a las puertas de la embajada turca en Mogadiscio el 3 de diciembre de 2015. Los integrantes de Al Shabab que la asesinaron habían colocado una bomba bajo el asiento de su coche. Era la viuda de Liban Ali Nur, director de los informativos de la Televisión Nacional Somalí y fallecido en la explosión de un atentado suicida de Al Shabab en septiembre de 2012, junto a otros tres periodistas, en una popular cafetería de la capital.

Los periodistas de radio como Huseín son vulnerables cuando salen de su casa, pues es fácil acribillarlos por la calle. Huseín es reportero para una popular emisora local que retransmite noticias a las partes sur y central de Somalia. Como cuenta a Index: «Si Al Shabab os ve a vosotros, no os dejan pasar. Si me ven a mí, me matan. Trabajar como periodista radiofónico en Somalia es muy duro. El problema es hoy puede haber un ataque terrorista aquí y, mañana, en cualquier otro lado».

La radio sigue siendo el principal medio de la gente para informarse y enterarse de las noticias en Somalia. Hay pocos periódicos impresos y un bajo índice de alfabetización. El somalí solo pasó a ser una lengua escrita en 1972 y, a causa de la guerra civil, no se publican muchos libros en el país. Internet es popular, pero se trata de un fenómeno en su mayoría urbano, especialmente entre los jóvenes y los que han vuelto de la diáspora. Los informativos de televisión existen, pero el acceso a televisores es limitado en uno de los países más pobres del mundo. Por todo ello, la radio sigue siendo crucial. Laura Hammond, experta en Somalia de la Facultad de Estudios Orientales y Africanos de la Universidad de Londres, explica: «La somalí es una cultura oral, y la transmisión de información a través de la radio es una extensión de la antigua tradición de la oración y el intercambio de información por medio de la poesía y la palabra hablada».

Las fuentes radiofónicas que gozan de mayor prestigio son el canal somalí de la BBC, que hace poco celebró su sexagésimo aniversario, y el servicio somalí de Voice of America. Pero al comunicar al público las noticias sobre lo que está pasando en su país, los periodistas somalíes se exponen a una violencia e impunidad de las más terribles en el continente africano. En el Índice de Libertad de Prensa de 2017 realizado por Reporteros sin Fronteras, Somalia ocupa el puesto 167 de 180.

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Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, el secretario general del Sindicato Nacional de Periodistas Somalíes, nos lo cuenta: «Somalia sigue siendo uno de los peores países para operar como periodista, una profesión que a menudo está en el punto de mira. Son víctimas de intimidaciones constantes, arrestos arbitrarios, tortura y, en ocasiones, asesinato».

Algunos periodistas somalíes se han visto forzados a esconderse por las amenazas continuadas que reciben de Al Shabab. Un periodista al que entrevistó Index, y que quiso permanecer anónimo por razones de seguridad, cuenta: «Mi vida está patas arriba desde que Al Shabab empezó a darme caza [...] Al Shabab me llama desde números desconocidos y me dice: “Tu vida está peligro.”»

El periodista es un conocido reportero de radio que cubre noticias sobre el grupo armado. Añade: «He recibido amenazas de Al Shabab. Escucharon mis reportajes sobre sus ataques terroristas y desde entonces me han amenazado de muerte». Lleva dos años ocultándose de ellos, temiendo por su vida.

En febrero de 2017, unos operativos de Al Shabab visitaron la casa de su madre. Relata: «Fueron a casa de mi madre. Le preguntaron: “¿Dónde está?” Ella les dijo que no estaba allí y le dijeron a mi madre: “La próxima vez que veas a tu hijo, estará muerto.” Le tiembla la voz al contarlo. Hoy, exhausto de pasar los días oculto de las balas de Al Shabab, añade: «Quiero recuperar mi vida, pero soy un periodista joven que vive bajo amenaza [...] No puedo dejar de ser periodista. No dejaré de usar mi voz».

Según Angela Quintal, coordinadora de programación para África en el Comité para la Protección de los Periodistas, 62 de ellos han perdido la vida en Somalia desde 1992. Más de la mitad de ellos (43 en total) fueron asesinados, con Al Shabab bajo sospecha de ser responsable de la mayoría de las muertes. Pese a que los asesinatos de periodistas han disminuido desde 2012, en 2016 mataron a tres.

Los antecedentes son que, tras el colapso del estado somalí y la guerra civil de 1991, el país se sumió en una orgía de violencia y terrorismo, a lo que se añade una sequía reciente de efectos devastadores. En el vocabulario de la política internacional, Somalia era conocida como «el estado más fallido» del mundo, pero en los últimos años ha dado paso a la expresión «estado frágil». De entre todas las amenazas a las que ha hecho frente Somalia, Al Shabab, posiblemente la organización terrorista más potente de África, se lleva la palma.

En los últimos años, Al Shabab ha perdido algunos territorios en partes del sur de Somalia, como el puerto estratégico de Kismayo, así como mucho territorio en Mogadiscio. Pero aún controla amplias franjas de territorio en el país.

Al Shabab no solo ataca a periodistas radiofónicos somalíes, sino que tiene su propia emisora, llamada Al Ándalus, desde la que retransmiten propaganda yihadista con música devocional islámica, así como estridentes informativos sobre los “kafirs”, o infieles, y cuántos de ellos han matado. La emisora cuenta con un amplio alcance en las partes meridionales de Somalia y en las áreas bajo su control, y está disponible en internet.

Moalimuu dice que Al Ándalus aún funciona y emite en áreas controladas por Al Shabab.

Mary Harper, editora de BBC África e inmersa en la escritura de un libro sobre Al Shabab, afirma que las actividades radiofónicas de la organización terrorista les lleva «siglos de ventaja a Boko Haram».

En lo que respecta a sus ataques a civiles, al gobierno o a las fuerzas de la Unión Africana, según Harper, ofrece una visión bastante fidedigna, pero tiende a exagerar el número de muertos que provoca. Utilizan Al Ándalus como instrumento para suprimir la libertad de expresión y extender su propaganda radical islamista.

Moalimuu dice: «Al Shabab prohíbe la música en todas las áreas que aún controlan. Vigilan los teléfonos móviles de los jóvenes regularmente. Los smartphones y cualquier otro tipo de móvil con cámara están prohibidos en sus territorios. Esta norma sigue aún vigente en todas las áreas controladas por Al Shabab. La gente está muy frustrada, pero no les queda otra opción que obedecer si quieren seguir con vida».

Nur Hasán, un periodista y productor audiovisual retirado de Mogadiscio, explica: « Al Shabab prohíbe la música terminantemente. Si te pillan escuchando música en las zonas bajo su control, el castigo son 40 latigazos y la humillación pública».

Harper apunta que no todas las amenazas provienen de Al Shabab: «Los periodistas de Somalia están amenazados por todas las esquinas».

Pero Huseín sigue preocupado por la amenaza del grupo terrorista. Dice que algunos periodistas de radio están tan preocupados que pasan algunas noches en el estudio en lugar de dormir en sus camas. Él, por su parte, lo tiene claro: «No me preocupará la muerte hasta que venga a por mí». Hasta entonces, dice: «Seguiré mirando que no haya bombas cuando salgo de casa, pero mi destino está en manos de Dios».


Ismail Einashe escribe reportajes regularmente para la revista Index on Censorship desde el Cuerno de África. Nació en Somalilandia y es miembro académico del Dart Center de la Universidad de Columbia con una beca Ochberg.

Este artículo fue publicado en la revista Index on Censorship en otoño de 2017.

Traducción de Arrate Hidalgo.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row content_placement="top"][vc_column width="1/3"][vc_custom_heading text="Free to Air" font_container="tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left" link="|||"][vc_column_text]Through a range of in-depth reporting, interviews and illustrations, the autumn 2017 issue of Index on Censorship magazine explores how radio has been reborn and is innovating ways to deliver news in war zones, developing countries and online

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