A Russian artist currently under house arrest for her work on gender and sexual equality and one of the first free investigative journalism and fact-checking websites in Poland are among the winners of the 2020 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards. The winners, who were announced today on Twitter as part of a digital gala hosted by BBC presenter Timandra Harkness, also include a prominent lawyer fighting for the release of activists and journalists unlawfully detained in Turkey, a Bahraini activist living in exile in the UK and an Arab non-profit promoting digital rights of Palestinians.
Awards were presented in four categories: arts, campaigning, digital activism and journalism. The winners are: Russian artist Yulia Tsvetkova (arts); Turkish lawyer Veysel Ok and Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei (campaigning); Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, also known as 7amleh (digital activism); and OKO Press (journalism).
Selected from hundreds of nominations from across the globe – a list of some of the most inspiring and courageous individuals and organisations operating today – the winners of the awards represent those who have had a significant impact fighting censorship. Now celebrating their twentieth year, previous recipients of the awards include activist Malala Yousafzai, Chinese author Ma Jian and journalists Anna Politkovskaya, Rafael Marques de Morais and Mimi Mefo.
“Today we acknowledge the winners of the Index 2020 awards as amazing people who do amazing things, while overcoming incredible challenges in difficult times. They fight for freedom of expression when others can’t,” said Rachael Jolley and Matt Townsend from Index on Censorship.
“This is the 20th year of the Index on Censorship awards, and we would also like to mark the winners of the previous ceremonies here today. It’s a highly unusual ceremony this year. We were forced to move online at the last minute, but it has meant that people from across the globe can join us today in noting the work that our winners 7amleh, Veysel Ok, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, Yulia Tsvetkova and OKO Press have done,” they added.
Each winner is now part of a year-long fellowship, which involves them working closely with Index who offer long-term, structured support. The goal is to help winners maximise their impact, broaden their support and ensure they can continue to excel at fighting censorship and free expression threats on the ground.
This year’s panel of judges included New York-based artist Molly Crabapple, award-winning Guardian journalist Amelia Gentleman and Cindy Gallop, founder of social sex video platform MakeLoveNotPorn. Speaking on the awards, Gallop said:
“I am in awe of all of the candidates we were asked to review for these awards and just blown away by what they are doing around the world. And I am thrilled that the Freedom of Expression Awards exist to celebrate that courage and those triumphs at a time when the need could not be greater.”
All of the winners spoke of how the awards had given them hope.
“It shows that our work has found support from the international community,” Ok said, while Nadim Nashif of 7amleh said the award would motivate them “to work more to advance digital rights and to achieve our vision of a safe, fair and free digital world”.
“The award pretty much reminds me that not everything is that bad. That there are still people who believe that [what I do] is important. For me, it changes pretty much everything. So thank you,” said Tsvetkova, who explained that over the last year she had received death threats and found it hard to focus on why what she was doing was important.
They also spoke about the greater challenges posed as a result of the coronavirus crisis. Alwadaei said:
“During the coronavirus crisis, I would like to pay tribute to those imprisoned in Bahrain for speaking out against the regime. This award is very special to me because my dear friend, Nabeel Rajab, was awarded this prize in 2012. Nabeel is currently serving 5 years in prison for criticising the government on Twitter.”
He added: “In these difficult times, it is more important than ever that freedom of speech is protected and that independent, critical voices are heard.”
But looking ahead OKO Press sounded a note of optimism:
“We believe the danger will wane, both epidemic and political. We will wake up in a healthier world.”