RUTH'S BLOG
A year is a long time in human rights violations

Our CEO Ruth Smeeth looks back on 12 months with Index on Censorship

25 Jun 2021
BY RUTH SMEETH
Protests in Belarus in 2020. Photo: Jana Shnipelson

It’s a year since I joined the Index family.

I think for all of us the last 12 months have been an emotional rollercoaster. The impact of Covid-19 has been a cloud over our lives; we’ve lost people close to us, we’ve all feared the effect of a virus no one had heard of 18 months ago, we’ve missed our loved ones and we’ve looked on in horror at events both at home and abroad as political leaders have both failed to manage the pandemic and undermined basic human rights under the guise of public health protections.

Repressive leaders have moved against their citizens, we’ve witnessed coups, heard testimony from detention camps and totalitarian regimes have restricted freedoms to an even greater extent throughout the world. And we’ve seen some of the most important vehicles of media freedom undermined – from Rappler to the Apple Daily.

It’s been difficult not to feel impotent. We haven’t been able to travel to stand with those being oppressed. Democratic countries have understandably focused their efforts on their domestic challenges and the institutions we depend on to enforce our shared norms as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have been distracted by the global public health emergency. In other words, it has felt that totalitarian leaders have had a free pass to enforce even harsher restrictions on their peoples.

At Index, even despite the pandemic, we’ve strived to shine a spotlight on some of the most egregious attacks on free expression around the globe. In the last 12 months, we’ve supported journalists, writers, artists and academics in over two dozen countries. We’ve published reports on the impact of Covid-19, the current use of SLAPPs to undermine journalists and on online harms. Index has held events exploring the impact of 100 years of CCP rule in China, as well as on the untold stories hidden by Covid-19 and the impact of AI on social media content. And nearly three quarters of a million people have engaged with our work.

We’ve rebranded, redesigned the magazine and have completely changed our annual Freedom of Expression awards and we’ve started the celebrations to mark our 50th birthday. All of this and our team have only met in person three times, as we continue to do our work from home.

I’m so proud of the Index family, they have adapted and continue to push the envelope, making sure that no dictator can think that the world isn’t watching and that activists around the world know that we have their back. There is so much work to do in the months and years ahead in the ongoing battle for free speech, but after working with the team for a year I don’t doubt that we are making a positive difference, highlighting the bravest campaigners in the world and with your help – providing a voice for the persecuted.

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