A female journalist training reporters from within war-torn Syria, and a group busting online censorship in China are among this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards winners.
The winners, announced on Wednesday evening at a gala ceremony in London, also included a Yemen-based street artist and campaigners from Pakistan battling internet clampdowns.
Awards are presented in four categories: arts, journalism, digital activism and campaigning. The winners were: Yemeni street artist Murad Subay (arts), Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim (journalism), transparency advocates and circumventors of China’s “Great Firewall” GreatFire (digital activism) and the women-led digital rights campaigning group Bolo Bhi (campaigning).
“These winners are free speech heroes who deserve global recognition,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “They, like all of those nominated, face huge personal and political hurdles in their fight to ensure that others can express themselves freely.”
Drawn from a shortlist of 20, and more than 400 initial nominations, the winners were presented with their awards at a ceremony at The Unicorn Theatre, London, hosted by comedian Shazia Mirza. Music was provided by Serge Bambara – aka “Smockey” – a musician from Burkina Faso who won the inaugural Music in Exile Fellowship, presented in conjunction with the makers of award-winning documentary They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The award was presented by Martyn Ware, founder member of the Human League and Heaven 17.
Actors, writers and musicians were among those celebrating with the winners. The guest list included actor Simon Callow, academic Kunle Olulode, and journalists Lindsey Hilsum, Matthew Parris and David Aaronovitch.
Winners were presented with a framed caricature of themselves created by Malaysian cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Haque (“Zunar”), who faces 43 years in jail on sedition charges for his cartoons lampooning the country’s prime minister and his wife.
Each of the award winners becomes part of the second cohort of Freedom of Expression Awards fellows. They join last year’s winners – Safa Al Ahmad (Journalism), Rafael Marques de Morais (Journalism), Amran Abdundi (Campaigning), Tamás Bodoky (Digital activism), Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat (Arts) – as part of a world-class network of campaigners, activists and artists sharing best practices on tackling censorship threats internationally.
Through the fellowship, Index works with the winners – both during an intensive week in London and the rest of the awarding year – to provide longer term, structured support. The goal is to help winners maximise their impact, broaden their support and ensure they can continue to excel at fighting free expression threats on the ground.
Judges included human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow QC; Bahraini campaigner Nabeel Rajab, a former Index award winner; pianist James Rhodes, whose own memoir was nearly banned last year; Nobel prize-winning author Wole Soyinka; tech entrepreneur Bindi Karia; and journalist Maria Teresa Ronderos, director of the Open Society Foundation’s independent journalism programme.
Ziyad Marar, global publishing director of Sage Publications, said: “Through working with Index for many years both as publisher of the magazine and sponsors of the awards ceremony, we at Sage are proud to support a truly outstanding organisation as they defend free expression around the world. Our warmest congratulations to everyone recognised tonight for their achievements and the inspiring example they set for us all.”
This is the 16th year of the Freedom of Expression Awards. Former winners include activist Malala Yousafzai, cartoonist Ali Ferzat, journalists Anna Politkovskaya and Fergal Keane, and human rights organisation Bahrain Center for Human Rights.
2016 Freedom of Expression Awards: The acceptance speeches
Bolo Bhi: “What’s important is the process, and that we keep at it”
Zaina Erhaim: “I want to give this award to the Syrians who are being terrorised”
GreatFire: “Technology has been used to censor online speech — and to circumvent this censorship”
Murad Subay: “I dedicate this award today to the unknown people who struggle to survive”
Smockey: “The people in Europe don’t know what the governments in Africa do.”