Happy New Year – I hope…
Entering a new year typically encourages us to reflect on the past 12 months and consider the impact of what is likely to happen in the next 12. Depressingly, 2023 was yet another year marked by authoritarians clamping down on freedom of expression and harnessing the power of digital technology to persecute, harass and undermine those who challenge them.
Not only did the tyrants, despots and their allies attempt to again crack down on any seemingly independent thought within their own territories, several also sought to weaponise the legal system at home and abroad through the use of SLAPPs. Several EU member states, especially the Republic of Ireland, as well as the United Kingdom have found themselves at the centre of these legal attacks on freedom of expression.
SLAPPs weren’t the only threat to freedom of expression in 2023 though – from the crackdown on protesters in Iran, to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the continuing repressive actions of Putin and Lukashenka, the end of freedom of expression in Hong Kong, the increasingly restrictions imposed by Modi, the latest war in the Middle East and the ongoing attacks on journalists in South America.
My depressing list could go on and on. However, we desperately need to find some hope in the world, so Index on Censorship ended 2023 with our campaign entitled “Moments of Freedom”, highlighting the good in the world so let’s carry on with that optimism. A new year brings new beginnings after all. So let’s focus on the new moments of light which will hopefully touch our lives this year.
Half the world’s population will go to the polls this year. That’s an extraordinary four billion people. Each with their own aspirations for their families, hopes for their country and dreams of a more secure world.
As a politician it should come as no surprise to anyone that I love elections. The best campaigns are politics at their purest, when the needs and aspirations of the electorate should be centre stage. Elections provide a moment when values are on the line. How people want to be governed, what rights they wish to advance and how they hold the powerful to account. These are all actioned through the ballot box.
There are elections taking place in countries significant for Index because of their likely impact on freedom of expression and the impact the results may have on the current internationally agreed norms, including Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Russia, Brazil, the European Union, the USA and the United Kingdom. And given current events we can only hope for elections in Israel to be added to the list. The list goes on with each election posing different questions and the results having a different impact on the current world order.
Many other human rights organisations will talk about the importance of these elections for international stability, and rightly so. At Index we will focus on what these elections mean for the dissidents, journalists, artists and academics. Our unique network of reporters and commentators around the world will allow us to bring you the hidden stories taking place and will highlight the threats and opportunities each result poses to freedom of expression. As with 2023, 2024 will be a year where Index hands a megaphone to dissidents so their voice is amplified.
The rallying cry for 2024 must be: “Your freedom needs you!” If you are one of the four billion remember that your ballot is the shield against would-be despots and tyrants. It is the ultimate democratic duty and responsibility and the consequences go far beyond your immediate neighbourhood – so use it and use it wisely.