Campaigners for LGBT recognition in the heart of Africa, a group supporting long-term detainees in Turkmenistan, an exiled critic of the Bahraini government whose family have been imprisoned back at home and a lawyer who provides pro-bono legal support to Turkish journalists, activists and academics have made the shortlist for Index on Censorship’s 2020 Freedom of Expression Awards.
Botswana’s LEGABIBO, the Prove They Are Alive! campaign, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei and Veysel Ok have campaigned fiercely for freedom of expression in the past 12 months and are shortlisted in the campaigning category in the awards, which are celebrating their 20th year.
The winner will be announced at an event at The May Fair Hotel in London on 30 April. Campaigning is one of the four categories that will be recognised at the awards, alongside digital activism, journalism and the arts.
Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals of Botswana was officially recognised in 2016, allowing LGBT people the right to freely assemble in Botswana for the first time. The group played a crucial role in the fight to decriminalise homosexuality in the country in 2019 – a striking victory on a continent where homosexuality is illegal in the majority of countries.
LEGABIBO’s five-year plan includes healthcare for transgender people; improving mental health and unemployment rates for LGBT people as well as decriminalising discrimination.
Prove They Are Alive! is a campaign to protect the rights of a large number of detainees serving long-term sentences in Turkmen prisons.
Enforced disappearances of people sentenced to long prison terms is one of the most acute human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Prove They Are Alive! has documented hundreds of cases of this practice going back to the 1990s. At least 27 individuals have died in custody.
Thanks to significant pressure from Prove They Are Alive, ex-prisoners are now more likely to be allowed to leave the country and some disappeared prisoners have even been granted visitation rights.
Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei is a Bahraini activist currently living in exile in the UK. He was forced to flee Bahrain in 2011 after being arrested for taking part in anti-government protests. The Bahraini government revoked his citizenship and launched a smear campaign, labelling him a terrorist. His family have also been subjected to numerous human rights violations by the Bahraini authorities, including arbitrary detention, unfair trial, ill-treatment and possible torture.
Veysel Ok is a prominent Turkish lawyer providing pro-bono legal support to journalists, activists and academics who have been subjected to intimidation, surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment. His work has been instrumental in the release of several unlawfully detained journalists and writers.
Ok is one of the first to challenge the Turkish laws of accreditation which determine whether a journalist meets official requirements to do their job.
As part of his work, Ok received a five month suspended sentence for criticising the independence of the Turkish judiciary. He has been subject to surveillance and harassment ever since.
In 2019, the winner of this category was Cartoonists Rights Network International, which challenges threats and abuses against editorial cartoonists worldwide.
The winner of the 2020 award for campaigning will be chosen by a panel of judges which includes Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn, the world’s first user-generated, human-curated social sex videosharing platform