Happy New Year!
At the start of every year, I have a renewed sense of hope – that maybe, just maybe this year will be different. That the news won’t be filled with egregious breaches of our human rights. That our leaders will embrace their responsibilities to their citizens and that the values outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be the minimum standards adopted around the world, rather than an aspiration.
This naïve wish typically lasts until I turn the news on.
We are hardly one week into 2022 and already dozens of democratic protesters in Kazakhstan have been brutally murdered, thousands hurt and 3,000 people have been arrested for initially campaigning against the cost of fuel. Russian military forces have been deployed to put down the riots and an internet blackout implemented; Nigerian journalists have received suspended jail sentences for publishing reports of organised crime in Niger; In Sudan military efforts to stop democracy protesters have led to one fatality, numerous injuries and restrictions to the internet and communications systems.
Then there is Hong Kong. There a pro-democracy campaigner has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for trying to organise a vigil to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre and the pro-democracy website Citizen News has closed following the raid on StandNews at the end of last year. They fear a similar fate, and their closure represents another sign of the end of media freedom and plurality in Hong Kong.
Finally, images of the Capitol riots from a year ago are dominating the news, reminding us of when protest became criminal and deadly at one of the iconic centres of liberal democracy.
These stories are those of just the last week, the stories that have managed to break through our ongoing Covid horror.
The situation in totalitarian regimes from Afghanistan to Nicaragua, from Belarus to Kashmir and too many others remains grim. There are simply too many regimes that seek to exploit and suppress their populations.
Our role at Index is to make sure that the voices of the persecuted are heard. That every effort to silence them is countered and that every day they know that they are not alone, that there is support and solidarity with their plight.
Because we must never forget that behind each of the headlines is a person, a family, a story of a life lived and in too many cases a life threatened or taken.
The year 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Index on Censorship magazine – 50 years of telling the stories of those who cannot tell their own stories. Fifty years of documenting attacks on free speech and free expression in every corner of the globe. In the coming months Index will be celebrating our birthday, but also commemorating those that we have lost in the fight for free speech during our history. We will telling some extraordinary stories – and we will need you to help us amplify them.
Happy New Year and I hope you and yours have a safe and happy 2022.