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The winners – Freedom of Expression Awards 2010

By Emily Butselaar / 25 March 2010

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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 Winners

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

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.

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

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.”

The Guardian Journalism Award

This award recognises journalism of dogged determination and bravery

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.

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

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.

Special Commendation

Heather Brooke (UK)

Without journalist Heather Brooke’s tireless campaign to uncover details of MPs’ expenses, we might never have discovered the details of MPs’ duck houses, moats and trouser presses. Her dogged five-year freedom of information battle was later made into a film by BBC4. In 2008, Brooke won a High Court case against the House of Commons authorities for full details of MPs’ second home allowances. The court said: “We have no doubt that the public interest is at stake. We are not here dealing with idle gossip, or public curiosity about what in truth are trivialities. The expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs’ salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers.” Brooke is the author of The Silent State and Your Right to Know, a citizens’ guide to using the Freedom of Information Act. She is a consultant and presenter on Channel 4 Dispatches documentaries and a honorary professor at City University’s Department of Journalism.

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.

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