Nominees for the 2022 Freedom of Expression Awards - Campaigning
Meet the three shortlisted campaigners and campaign groups for this year's award
16 May 2022
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
Venezuela Inteligente (VE inteligente) is a non-profit organisation which works to empower civil society and media organisations in Venezuela. They fight for freedom of expression and civic engagement online and offline.
The situation for democratic institutions in Venezuela has deteriorated dramatically in the last few years with harsh crackdowns on independent media and political dissent. In response, activist Andres Azpurua established VE Inteligente to investigate and monitor internet censorship in Venezuela. VE Inteligente seeks to increase civic engagement and access to reliable information. They monitor media freedoms online and provide individuals and civil organisations with the tools needed to navigate online spaces safely. VE Inteligente has provided reports on internet censorship and other online threats in Venezuela to UN bodies and has collaborated with election observation missions to the country.
Through various workstreams, VE Inteligente aims to protect civic rights and freedom of expression online. Their watchdog project VE sin filtro (Venezuela without a filter) monitors online censorship and surveillance and their campaign ‘Como Votar?’ (How to vote) offers step-by-step instructions on voting processes and voters rights. VE Inteligente also creates tools, tutorials, and training on how to avoid censorship and how to communicate securely online.
VE Inteligente have recorded that the media landscape in Venezuela is increasingly restrictive. 40 news websites are currently blocked in Venezuela and misinformation is prevalent. VE Inteligente hopes to mitigate the restrictions and help encourage free expression and media freedom in Venezuela.
Malcolm Bidali is a labour rights defender and blogger from Kenya. In 2021, Bidali was arrested after writing about the realities of being an immigrant worker in Qatar.
Malcolm was working as a security guard in Qatar and grew frustrated with poor living and working conditions. In order to speak out about the situation, Malcolm reached out to Migrant-Rights.org and began writing for them about his experiences under the pen-name Noah. He also began his own blog and social media accounts with the handle ‘Noah articulates’. He wanted to document and expose the exploitation and human rights violations migrant workers are subjected to in Qatar.
Malcolm was writing anonymously, and he had to be very careful about revealing information about his online activity to friends, family, or colleagues. In March 2021 he posted a blog post discussing Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers working on a particular project that she frequented. Soon after, he was detained. Malcolm was denied access to a lawyer and spent 28 days in solitary confinement. He was finally released after three months in detention. He was forced to pay a fine and asked to leave Qatar. He fears that he will be detained again if he ever returns to Qatar.
After being released, Malcolm returned to Kenya where he continues to advocate for migrant rights. He has worked with Amnesty Kenya as a trainee and consultant and he hopes to set up an NGO run by and for former migrant workers in the Gulf countries
Malcolm compares activism to an extreme sport – there are risks involved, but it gives him purpose. He feels compelled to speak up on behalf of those who are silenced.
OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project documenting political persecution in Russia. With the help of a hotline, they collect information about detentions at public rallies and other cases of political pressure, publish news and coordinate legal assistance to detainees.
The organisation was set up in 2011 to document arrests during the widespread anti-fraud protests. Initially, groups of journalists and specialists collected and published information about the arrests on social media. As the organisation grew and became more structured they eventually set up a website. The organisation has now evolved to offer legal guidance and support to people arrested at peaceful protests in Russia.
Over the last year, censorship has increased in Russia with many media sites blocked. In September 2021, OVD-Info was labelled as a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian authorities. This means that the organisation must add a disclaimer to any work they publish: “THIS NEWS MEDIA/MATERIAL WAS CREATED AND/OR DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.” Their website was later blocked by Russian authorities because they claimed that news about detained people glorified terrorism and extremism.
During the ongoing war in Ukraine and associated anti-war protests in Russia, OVD-Info’s work is more important than ever. Within the first 10 days of the war, OVD-Info registered more than 13,000 arrests at anti-war protests in Russia. In March 2022, Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted the Russian state Channel One while holding a sign saying “Stop the war. No to war.” Following her on-screen protest, OVD-Info released a pre-recorded video by Ovsyannikova where she explained her motivations.
Despite a highly unpredictable situation and persistent censorship, OVD-Info continue to support detained and persecuted protesters in Russia.