Nominees for the 2022 Freedom of Expression Awards - Journalism
Meet the three shortlisted journalists for this year's award
16 May 2022
BY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP
Sonya Groysman is a Russian journalist and podcaster. Despite being labelled as a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian authorities she has continued to report on human rights issues and censorship in Russia.
Sonya Groysman was working for the investigative outlet Proekt in 2020 when the site was labelled as ‘undesirable’ by Russian authorities. Soon after, Groysman and many of her former colleagues were labelled as ‘foreign agents’. Groysman is now required to attach a disclaimer to all published work – including social media posts: “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.”
Facing significant challenges working as a journalist with the ‘foreign agent’ label, Groysman and her colleague Olga Churakova set up their podcast titled “Hi, You’re a Foreign Agent” in 2021. The podcast combines dark humour (how does one’s boyfriend or grandmother react to having a loved one named “foreign agent”? does one have to identify her “foreign agent” status on Tinder?) with personal stories and journalism.
Groysman has continued to face legal issues related to her reporting. In August 2021 she was arrested in front of the F.S.B building in Moscow for participating in a peaceful protest in support of independent media. She was released soon after.
Groysman has managed to maintain an active career as a journalist despite the ‘foreign agent’ label. Days before the invasion, Groysman was reporting from the Russian/Ukrainian border for the independent TV station TV Rain. Like most other independent news outlets in Russia, TV Rain was shut down by the authorities for allegedly spreading misinformation about the war. Fearing legal persecution as an independent journalist, Groysman decided to flee to Turkey. She continues to produce her podcast and report on human rights issues in Russia from abroad.
Bilal Hussain is a journalist based in Srinagar in Kashmir. He focuses his reporting on freedom of expression issues.
Despite internet shut-downs and a day-to-day fear of persecution and censorship, Hussain continues to report on the conditions in Kashmir. He has been particularly concerned by the increasing censorship as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In February 2022, the Kashmir Press Club was shut down by authorities. The independent body had done important work to offer legal support to journalists and to establish a sense of community among Kashmiri journalists. Hussain views this as another important blow to media freedom and free expression in Kashmir. Hussain has witnessed colleagues being imprisoned for doing their job and reporting on the conflict in Kashmir. Despite the threats, he continues to report on the situation and fight for free expression through independent news publications and social media.
Recent developments in Kashmir severely limit press freedom. Reflecting on this, Hussain says: “There have been many cases where journalists have been threatened with UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]. These actions hamper the work of journalists and stop them from discharging their normal duties.”
Hussain is a regular contributor to Voice of America News and NIKKEI Asia among other publications. Through his reporting, Bilal brings international attention to the ongoing conflict and media rights situation in Kashmir.
Sophia Huang Xueqin (黄雪琴)
Huang Xueqin is an activist and journalist who has worked with several domestic Chinese media outlets. She has reported extensively on the MeToo movement in China.
Huang Xueqin played a significant role in covering the MeToo movement. In 2017, she surveyed hundreds of female journalists across 15 provinces in China on their experience of workplace sexual harassment. She published her findings in a report in March 2018. She also assisted Luo Xixi, one victim of sexual harassment, to publicly submit a complaint against her professor. Her work sparked national discussions on sexual harrassment on campuses.
Huang has worked to promote women’s rights, and to document and expose sexual harassment against women and girls. Unfortunately, she has faced legal challenges because of her work as an activist and journalist. She was detained between October 2019 and January 2020 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after writing about mass protests in Hong Kong.
On 19 September 2021, Huang disappeared and stopped responding to phone calls from family and friends. Two months later, in November, it was confirmed that she had been detained along with labour activist Wang Jianbing and charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. She was due to travel to the UK to study development studies at the University of Sussex after receiving a Chevening Scholarship. She remains in detention and is now held in the No. 1 Detention Centre in Guangzhou.