RUTH'S BLOG
Why the Freedom of Expression Awards matter

They remind us of the struggles people are prepared to fight for their beliefs

16 Apr 2021
BY RUTH SMEETH

Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, a 2020 Freedom of Expression Awards winner

This week we were interviewing for a new member of the team to help support our work on the Freedom of Expression awards. The joy of interviewing for a new role is that it makes you reflect on what you do and why, even as you’re speaking to the candidates. As I was outlining the importance of the awards, I was reminded of why they are so incredibly important and not just for the winners, but also for the team. The fact is they give us hope, we get to show real solidarity with people who are on the frontline, people who every day are demanding their rights and protections under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Those people shortlisted for an award are typically unknown outside their countries, their stories untold. They have been jailed for campaigning for free speech. Hounded for using their talents as artists and writers to explore people’s realities under totalitarian regimes. Threatened for being journalists exposing corruption and repression at a national level. They are also just people who have found themselves in horrendous situations which they are determined to help fix.

Our award-winners and all of those nominated are extraordinary. They are inspirational. And they honestly keep the team going when day in and day out we are exposed to some of the horrors of what people are facing in too many places around the world, from Myanmar to Kashmir, from Afghanistan to Hong Kong, from Belarus to Xinjiang, from Komsomolsk-on-Amur to Greece.

It can be emotionally exhausting just trying to keep on top of what is happening in too many countries by too many authoritarian leaders. Soul-destroying to say today we have to focus on Egypt rather than Iran because we don’t have enough resource. The guilt that we aren’t doing enough or that we aren’t providing enough support or that the world has moved on and we can’t get traction for someone’s story. The world can just feel too depressing.

The Index team is extraordinary and resilient – but we all need a little hope.

And that’s what our awards do – they provide hope. The remind us of the struggles that people are prepared to fight and allow us to celebrate those people are fighting the good fight – so they know they are not alone, and that people genuinely care what happens to them.

Our award nominees and the eventual winners are extraordinary individuals but for the team at Index they embody our mission – to ensure that we are a Voice for the Persecuted. They represent the best of us, and we honour and support them not just because of who they are and what they have done – but because of what they represent. Bravery, resilience and determination for a better world.

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