Shortlist announcement for the Freedom of Expression Awards 2010
Honouring those who, often at great personal risk, have fought to expose censorship and abuse
Awards auction: Lots include villas in France & Italy, a Patrick Hughes painting and a guitar lesson with Mark Knopfler
11 Mar 10

The 10th annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards honour those who, often at great personal risk, have given voice to issues and stories from around the globe that would otherwise have passed unnoticed

The Guardian Journalism Award

This award recognises journalism of dogged determination and bravery

Ahmet Altan/Taraf (Turkey)

As editor-in-chief of independent daily newspaper Taraf, Ahmet Altan bravely takes on the Turkish establishment by challenging the army’s role in civilian affairs, chiselling at enduring taboos and publishing allegations of military misconduct. Taraf manages to regularly upstage rivals and dominate the news agenda with its commitment to freedom of information and defence of democracy. It was instrumental in uncovering the “sledgehammer” plot to overthrow the Turkish government in 2009, a story that hit international headlines. In 2008, Altan came under pressure to reveal sources and hand over material connected to the paper’s coverage of an attack against a military unit. Despite being charged in 2008 with “denigrating Turkishness” for publishing an article on the Armenian genocide, Altan continues his work, ignoring fears for his own safety and the safety of his colleagues. Taraf stands out in the Turkish media landscape for its fearlessness, independence and editorial integrity.

Al Ayyam (Yemen)

The popular Yemeni daily al Ayyam, based in Aden, is owned and edited by the Bashraheel family, who founded the paper in 1958. The paper provides critical coverage of the political scene combined with stories on social issues such as poverty and homelessness. In May 2009, Yemen’s information minister banned publication of al Ayyam and seven other papers on the grounds that they were “harming national unity” by reporting on deadly clashes between government troops and protesters demanding more resources for the country’s impoverished south. Al Ayyam delivery trucks were twice seized and set on fire by people the paper described as government sympathisers. On 15 July, Anis Ahmed Mansour Hamida, a reporter for al Ayyam, was sentenced to 14 months in jail. Campaigners regarded it as part of a major campaign by the authorities against the paper. “After applying indirect censorship, the authorities have gone to a new level in their harassment of this independent publication,” said Reporters Sans Frontières.

Suzanne Breen (Northern Ireland)

Suzanne Breen is northern editor for Dublin newspaper the Sunday Tribune. In April 2009, police officers arrived at Breen’s home, demanding to see her journalistic materials and threatening her with sanctions under the Terrorism Act 2000. Breen had interviewed a member of the Real IRA, which claimed to be responsible for killing two British soldiers and a former Provisional IRA member who had been revealed to be an agent for British security forces. Breen went to court to fight for her right to protect her sources and herself and on 18 June 2009, the Recorder of Belfast accepted her legal team’s argument that to give up the material would amount to a breach of her right to life under the European Convention on Human Rights. Breen noted: “We are not detectives or agents or informants for the state. We exist to put information into the public domain…It is up to reporters and photographers to fight for press freedom, not to capitulate at the first police phone call, letter, or other approach.”

Radio La Voz (Peru)

Operating in Bagua Grande in the Utcubamba Region of Peru, Radio La Voz was founded in 2007 by respected broadcast journalist Carlos Flores Borja and his sons. The aim of the station is to broadcast cultural programmes and information about environmental protection and human rights, fight political corruption and support local communities. Radio La Voz lost its licence in June 2009 after the government accused the station of ‘supporting violence against security forces’ when deadly clashes shook the area in mid-2009. Thirty-four people were killed as Amazonian communities protested about the opening up of huge tracts of land to foreign investment. To date no government representative has offered any evidence to support the veracity of its allegation against the radio station. Flores Borja says that La Voz was only doing its duty as an independent media source. He claims “the government took advantage of the moment to silence a voice critical of its policies”. On 16 February 2010, the case against Radio La Voz was dropped.

Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award

This award is given to lawyers or campaigners who have fought repression, or have struggled to change political climates and perceptions. Special attention is given to people using or establishing legal precedents to fight injustice

Netsanet Demissie and Daniel Bekele (Ethiopia)

Netsanet Demissie and Daniel Bekele wereimprisoned for two and half years for their efforts to ensure the 2005 Ethiopian elections were monitored legitimately, and for providing information and education about the election process to the electorate. They were convicted in April 2007 – alongside journalists, politicians, and civil society leaders – in a trial internationally regarded as a sham. The pair chose not to sign a letter of apology to the government, which would have secured them an early release; instead they contested the charges in court. After they were released from prison in March 2008 they continued to protest against the government’s moves to make the expression of dissent illegal, despite receiving threats. They are outstanding campaigners for social justice and the eradication of poverty, committed to bringing free speech, free press and free elections to the forefront of debate in Ethiopia.

Rashid Hajili (Azerbaijan)

Rashid Hajili is the chair of the Media Rights Institute in Azerbaijan, which monitors free expression and works for the protection of journalists and bloggers. In a country with an ever-worsening record on press freedom, Hajili is one of a small group of individuals who defends the rights of journalists and advocates for greater access to information. He has defended a number of prominent journalists, including imprisoned editor Eynulla Fatullayev. A leading voice in the campaign for media law reform in the country, Hajili is a prolific writer and tireless campaigner, who has drafted legislation on protection of sources and broadcasting freedom. In December 2009, he worked with the organisation Article 19 on a case in the European Court of Human Rights to decriminalise defamation. “A country where freedom of speech is suppressed cannot have a positive image in the international community”, says Hajili. “Lack of tolerance to criticism means that democratic principles and values do not function in this country.”

Human Rights Centre Memorial (Russia/Chechnya)

Human Rights Centre Memorial is a Russian campaign group that monitors and highlights human rights violations. It brings criminal cases to court, compiling lists of missing people, and investigating kidnappings and disappearances. In July 2009, one of its most respected and courageous activists, former journalist Natalya Estemirova was abducted and brutally murdered. Estemirova worked in the Grozny office of Memorial, she was a tenacious investigator of torture and human rights abuses in Chechnya. In a region where the murders of journalists and human rights defenders often go unpunished, there is little hope of bringing the killers to justice. Following the murder, the organisation suspended its work in Chechnya, but it has since resumed operations despite the extreme dangers of working in the region. The organisation is committed to keeping Chechnya on the international human rights agenda. “Memorial and this group of activists have set the standard for human rights work in Russia”, says Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch.

Charter 97 (Belarus)

Charter 97 is a campaign movement dedicated to principles of independence, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. In Belarus its website is the main independent source of information on human rights and free expression activities in the country. The site comes under constant attack by hackers thought to be working for the country’s secret service and Charter 97 are regularly forced to move offices. Along with her team, Head of Press Natallia Radzina works to bring to light the cases of arrest, detention and harassment of critical journalists and human rights activists, despite being arrested on a regular basis. “Only because of such courageous and talented people like Natallia Radzina and the whole team of Charter 97, devoted to truth and morality in journalism, do we Belarusians and the whole world know what is happening in the last dictatorship in Europe”, says Natalia Koliada of the Belarus Free Theatre.

New Media Award supported by Google

This award recognises the use of computer or internet technology to foster debate, argument or dissent. Nominations can also include those who enhance online freedom through the use of new technologies

Emin Abdullayev and Adnan Hajizade (Azerbaijan)

Emin Abdullayev – known as Milli – and Adnan Hajizade are two young Azeri bloggers who were charged with ‘hooliganism’ and sentenced to four years imprisonment in November 2009 after it was alleged they were involved in a fight. Both men had been actively using social media to mobilise opposition against the government, speaking out on a variety of issues, including government corruption, misuse of oil revenues, censorship and education. Several weeks prior to their arrest, the pair posted a video on YouTube mocking the government’s decision to spend a vast amount of money on importing two donkeys from Germany. Locals believe the tongue-in-cheek video angered the regime and was the real reason for their arrest. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe voiced concerns about the sentences and the ‘inevitable chilling effect on freedom of expression in Azerbaijan’. Their convictions were upheld in a March 2010 appeal hearing.

Yoani Sánchez (Cuba)

Writer Yoani Sánchez is best known for her Generation Y blog – a critical portrayal of life in Cuba under its current government. In November 2009, US President Barack Obama applauded her efforts to “empower fellow Cubans to express themselves through the use of technology”, he said her blog “provides the world [with] a unique window into the realities of daily life in Cuba”. In January 2009, Sánchez launched Voces Cubanas. This citizen journalism project seeks to provide a multimedia platform to independent bloggers in Cuba. She explained: “It is a website where all those who want to express ideas, put their projects online, can do so… I have the feeling that the Cuban blogosphere will play an important role in the democratisation of Cuba.” In November, Sánchez and three others were violently detained by men she claims were state agents. The vicious attack prevented them from attending a march against violence.

Twitter (USA)

Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read messages with a 140-character limit. Twitter was thrust to the fore of international politics during the contested 2009 Iranian elections. During the huge protests that followed, the site played a pivotal role in mobilising protesters and facilitated a direct line of communication between demonstrators, news outlets and engaged people around the world. Maintaining its service in the face of a totalitarian regime, Twitter demonstrated how social networking can have a direct impact on the world stage. It was used as a powerful tool in protecting free expression in the UK when solicitors Carter-Ruck, acting on behalf of Trafigura, the multi-national oil company, tried to prevent the press from publishing details of a parliamentary question about a report into the alleged dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast. Within hours ‘#trafigura’ and ‘#carterruck’ were the site’s most popular topics.

Ai Weiwei (China)

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese political activist, artist, curator and architectural designer. Ai, who is the next artist to take on the Tate Modern’s annual Turbine Hall commission, is very politically active. After the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008 he began an investigation into why so many schools had collapsed in the quake. By April 2009, he had published on his blog the names of the all 5,385 school children who died in the disaster. He began to be intimidated by plain-clothes policemen, his family and associates were also targeted. His blog was closed soon after. In August he was assaulted by armed police in Chengdu while attempting to attend the trial of fellow activist Tan Zuoren, who had been detained and accused of ‘undermining the authority of the state’ after calling for an investigation into the collapse of schools in the earthquake.

His installation, Remembering, commemorating the deaths of the Sichuan schoolchildren, opened at the Haus der Kunst gallery in Munich in October. “I call on people to be ‘obsessed citizens’, forever questioning and asking for accountability. That’s the only chance we have today of a healthy and happy life” says Ai Weiwei.

Sage International Publishing Award

This award is given to a publisher who has given new insight into issues or events, or shown a perspective not often acknowledged, or given a platform to new voices

Afghan PEN (Afghanistan)

In 2009, Afghan PEN published seven books, one novel, two short story anthologies and four poetry collections despite extremely limited resources. It publishes books that would not be available otherwise and also arranges literary performances outside the capital in areas still affected by war. The organisation publishes literature and poetry from all ethnic communities in the country, it has more than 1,000 members in four sections – Dari, Pashto, Uzbek and Turkmen – which annually rotate the presidency.

As well as monitoring free expression in Afghanistan; campaigning on individual cases – such as the murder of Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi in Kunduz; – and hosting weekly literary events; Aghan PEN will play a leading role in the 2010 Kabul Book Fair in 2010. They plan to publish more writing by Afghan women writers and, with the support of the Goethe Institute, they will host the annual national literary festival.

Jama Musse Jama (Somaliland)

Dr Jama Musse Jama is a Somaliland activist, author, publisher and founder/organiser of Hargeisa International Book Fair. In 2009, Jama published Weerane (The Mourning Tree), biography of Mohamed Barud Ali, one of a group of political activists known internationally as the Hargeisa Self-Help Group, who were imprisoned under the late dictator Siyad Barre. Jama is editor of, the only forum dedicated to the exchange of views on Somaliland culture and literature in both English and Somali languages. The site also acts as online library and bookstore. Jama wrote and published Somali Writers’ Association 2008 book of the year, Freedom is Not Free, which explains to ordinary citizens the significance of Article 32 of the Somaliland constitution, which “guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of expression and makes unlawful all acts to subjugate the press and the media”. The book is part of a wider campaign in conjunction with Somaliland human rights groups for freedom of expression.

Yael Lerer/Andalus Publishing Press (Israel)

Founded in 2000, Andalus is a unique Israeli publishing house dedicated to the translation of Arabic literature and prose into Hebrew.

Saqi Books (Lebanon/ UK)

Saqi Books was founded in 1984 in London, publishing quality cutting-edge and authoritative voices from North Africa and the Middle East. Together with Dar al Saqi, its publishing house in Beirut, it has made a significant contribution to Arab cultural heritage around the world. Saqi has a reputation for publishing writing that challenges taboos and offers fresh perspectives on politics, current affairs and art. Its fiction and non-fiction lists encompass a diverse range of subjects – honour killings, food and drink in the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ states, homosexuality in the Arab world and the history of black Britain among them. One of its chief aims is to promote freedom of expression in the Middle East, often in the face of restrictive censorship laws, and though many of its books are banned in the region, it continues to publish controversial and groundbreaking material.

Freemuse Award

This award is given to a musician that highlights issues around censorship and freedom of expression

Iran has a vibrant underground music scene that explodes tired clichés about Iranian society, and Mahsa Vahdat is a fabulous example of this sub-culture. Vahdat continues to resist the pressures placed on female musicians by conservative sectors of Iranian society. In 2009, she recorded an album with American Mighty Sam McClain called Scent of Reunion – Love songs across civilizations. Mahsa was also featured in the powerful film on underground music in Tehran called No One Knows About The Persian Cats. She has shown courage and bold resistance in continuing to follow her artistic ambitions despite obstacles.

For almost three decades Turkish musician Ferhat Tunç has insisted on exercising his right to perform his music, ignoring several court cases and other threats against him in recent years. He has continued to sing in the minority language Zaza (Dimli) and in Kurmanci (Kurdish), as well as in Turkish. He has firmly refused to succumb to any form of intimidation, without expressing any hatred against its perpetrators. Through his brave stand against censorship, Ferhat has actively propagated the strengthening of human rights and democracy in Turkey.