Nominees for the 2023 Freedom of Expression Awards – Journalism
Meet the people carrying out courageous, high-impact and determined journalism that exposes censorship and threats to free expression
22 Sep 23

Bilan Media (Somalia)

Bilan Media is Somalia’s first women-only media organisation and newsroom, which aims to challenge gendered threats against women in journalism, as well as covering under-reported issues. 

It is incredibly dangerous to be a journalist in Somalia. In 2022, Somalia topped the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index for the eighth year running. Journalists are a specific target of militant Islamist groups, especially Al Shabaab, and are regularly shot, imprisoned and physically harmed by the authorities and other powerful groups. Women face a range of other significant threats that prevent many from being able to work safely. In a society where women are marginalised and in a country where huge swathes of territory are controlled by groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State, Bilan Media believed the only way female journalists can fight censorship and find a degree of freedom of expression was to set up the country’s only all-women media house. In addition to distributing their films and reports on Somali TV, radio and websites, they have established partnerships with international media outlets, such as The Guardian, BBC and El Pais.  

As a career for women in Somalia, journalism is considered to be “the bottom of the pile”. This perception shaped how Bilan approached the type of journalism they focused on. In order to reduce verbal and sexual harassment and the threat of physical attack, Bilan decided to work as “Mobile Journalists” where they use mobile phones and other small equipment for their reporting so they are less visible to a hostile public and could escape the scene quickly if needed. 

Bilan focuses on stories that are not represented in the broader media coverage in Somalia. These include stories about people living with HIV/AIDS, girls who have recently undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); orphans who were abandoned when their orphanage closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic only to return with babies of their own after being raped or forced into temporary marriages; female opioid addicts; the mistreatment of people living with albinism; underage girls sold into marriage and young children forced into hard labour to earn money for their families.

Mohammed Zubair (India)

Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of AltNews. Photo: Mahesh Shantaram /

After co-founding the leading Indian fact-checking platform, Alt News, Mohammed Zubair faced significant threats after challenging mis/disinformation propagated by influential members of the ruling party.

Mohammed Zubair and others decided to found, a portal dedicated to busting fake news to address flaws in the Indian media ecosystem, such as overt political pressure on media outlets and opaque methods by which government funding was awarded to media outlets. Alt News’ goal was to dismantle propaganda networks in a manner that could be used by other publishers. Alt News’ approach focuses on political fact-checking to scrutinise claims made by political parties, leaders and other persons in positions of authority; debunking social media rumours; and examining media misinformation and bias.

Alt News aims to foster a stronger and more vibrant media environment by amplifying dissenting voices and creating barriers to prevent mis/disinformation from spreading. As a result, the outlet has faced considerable social, litigious and political pressure to halt their work. Using both his personal twitter account, as well as the outlet’s website, Mohammed Zubair and his colleagues have reported on inter-communal violence in India, the actions of vigilante groups, as well as the use of social media platforms to amplify hate speech. 

In June 2022, following a tweet exposing a national spokesperson of the BJP making hateful and Islamophobic utterances on national TV, Mohammed Zubair was arrested by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh state police. Based on an earlier satirical tweet posted in 2018 and reported by another user, Zubair was charged with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc." and “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs”. It has been reported that whenever Zubair was granted bail on one case another FIR (or First Information Report) would be lodged against him. This led to six FIRs being lodged against Zubair, resulting in him being caught in a 24 day cycle of arrest, bail and re-arrest. The following month, the Indian Supreme Court granted Zubair bail and ordered his release, as there was no justification for keeping him in custody.

Mortaza Behboudi (Afghanistan/France)

After being forced to leave Afghanistan in his youth due to previous threats as a result of his reporting, Mortaza Behboudi was detained by the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence on 7 January 2023 in Kabul.

At the age of two Behboudi’s family fled Afghanistan to live in Isfahan in Iran. In his early twenties, As a result of his work, Behboudi received a number of death threats from the Taliban, which resulted in him having to leave the country for France. After learning French, he continued his work, helping to co-found Guiti News, the first refugee and French-led news media in France, for which he was coined one of Forbes 30 under 30 in the media category.
Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Behboudi had been travelling back to Afghanistan every month to work with different media outlets, such as Business Insider, France 2, TV5 Monde, France 24, Liberation, La Croix, and many more. Notable works include "They will not erase us, the Fight of the Afghan Women", which was produced in 2022 and broadcasted on Mediapart and Arte, and "Les petites filles afghanes vendues pour survivre" for France 2.
On 7 January 2023, members of the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence (GDI) detained Behboudi in Kabul. According to CPJ, Behboudi was detained in the GDI’s headquarters in Kabul. On 6 February Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid confirmed to Voice of America that Behboudi was detained by the GDI, saying that details of his case could not be made public “but he is fine and he was treated well.”