Climate of fear: The silencing of the planet’s indigenous peoples

The fight for the future of the planet and the fight for free speech are intertwined and interdependent. But, like any healthy ecological system, this relationship also needs constant nurturing.

This is the aim of the Autumn issue of Index on Censorship, themed around the struggle for environmental justice with a particular focus on indigenous campaigners. In advance of the United Nations climate change conference (COP26), held in Glasgow in November, we have decided to concentrate the cases of people whose voices are too easily forgotten in this debate. Emily Brown interviews Yvonne Weldon, the first aboriginal candidate for Mayor of Sydney, who is fighting on an environmental platform. Meanwhile, Kaya Genç examines the conspiracy theories and threats swirling around green campaigners in Turkey. Issa Sikiti da Silva exposes the openly hostile conditions faced by environmental activists in Uganda and Beth Pitts talks to two indigenous activists in Ecuador on declining populations and how they are using modern campaigning methods to save their culture and fight the extraction companies. The issue also contains an exclusive piece on press freedom by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Russian businessman jailed for nine years when he fell foul of the Putin regime and an interview with a second Putin opponent, the US financier Bill Browder by celebrated British journalist John Sweeney. A critical role of this publication is to remind the world of conflicts and regime abuses that have faded from international attention. As courageous demonstrators continue to take to the streets in Belarus, the regime is systematically closing down organised opposition in the country, including all but the most loyal media organisations. This is why we are proud to publish letters from Lukashenka’s prisoners to remind people of the brave struggle for democracy. Index went to press as Kabul fell to the Taliban. It is therefore right that we pay tribute to the artists and writers in Afghanistan who have built a flourishing cultural legacy over the past two decades. We are proud to publish two poems by the award-winning British Afghan writer Parwana Fayyaz from her recent collection Forty Names. These include Her Name is Flower Sap, a remarkable poem about Sharbet Gula, the green-eyed girl who stared out from a 1995 edition of National Geographic magazine and became a symbol for her country’s suffering. This extract stands as an epigraph to this edition of Index: ‘Her eyes have the magic of good and bad.’ ‘The light of her eyes can destroy fighter jets.’ So went Afghan children’s conversation in the aftermath of 9/11. ‘But could she take down The Taliban jets,’ we wondered, as the jets crossed the skies in one song. But Flower Sap could never answer us. For she had disappeared like our childhood.

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky
John Sweeney
Kelly Duda
Activist and producer


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