Fifty years of Index

An appeal for help
An appeal for help

An appeal is published in The Times from Pavel Litvinov, grandson of the former Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, and his wife Ivy, alongside Larisa Bogoraz, the former wife of writer Yuli Daniel. The appeal is organised by the poet Stephen Spender. It asks the world to condemn the rigged trial of two young writers and their typists on charges of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. It prompts a telegram of support and sympathy from 16 British and US luminaries, including W H Auden, A J Ayer, Maurice Bowra, Julian Huxley, Mary McCarthy, Bertrand Russell and Igor Stravinsky. A further letter is written by Litvinov, who asks for the creation of an “international committee or council that would make it its purpose to support the democratic movement in the USSR. This committee could be composed of universally respected progressive writers, scholars, artists and public personalities from England, the United States, France, Germany and other western countries, and also from Latin America, Asia, Africa and, in the future, even from Eastern Europe…. Of course, this committee should not have an anti-communist or anti-Soviet character. It would even be good if it contained people persecuted in their own countries for pro-communist or independent views…. The point is not that this or that ideology is not correct, but that it must not use force to demonstrate its correctness.”

Writers and Scholars International is formed
Writers and Scholars International is formed

Stephen Spender takes up Litvinov’s idea first with Stuart Hampshire (the Oxford philosopher), a co-signatory of the telegram, and with David Astor (then editor of the Observer). They set up a committee along the lines suggested by Litvinov. Among its other members are Louis Blom-Cooper, Edward Crankshaw, Lord Gardiner, Elizabeth Longford and Sir Roland Penrose, and its patrons included Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Sir Peter Medawar, Henry Moore, Iris Murdoch, Sir Michael Tippett and Angus Wilson. The chosen name for the new organisation is Writers and Scholars International. This process takes approximately three years. 

A bulletin of frustration? Index magazine announced

Author and translator Michael Scammel becomes the first director of Index. Under Scammel’s leadership, it is decided that Writers and Scholars International will form a magazine with Scammel as the editor. He acquires writing from Milovan Djilas from Yugoslavia and Greek law professor George Mangakis' Letter to Europeans, written from prison. In the same year Spender announces in the Times Literary Supplement the forthcoming publication of the magazine. He outlines that freedom and tyranny are to be the central theme. He writes: “Obviously there is a risk of a magazine of this kind becoming a bulletin of frustration. However, the material by writers which is censored in Eastern Europe, Greece, South Africa and other countries is among the most exciting that is being written today. Moreover, the question of censorship has become a matter of impassioned debate; and it is one which does not only concern totalitarian societies.”

Index magazine is launched
Index magazine is launched

In March the first ever issue of the magazine is published under the title Index (“on Censorship” is later added). From the beginning, Index declare its mission to stand up for free expression as a fundamental human right for people everywhere. It is particularly vocal in its coverage of the oppressive military regimes of southern Europe and Latin America, but is clear that censorship is not only a problem in faraway dictatorships. The first issue includes a never-before-published poem, written while serving a sentence in a labour camp, by Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who went on to win a Nobel prize later that year. Articles are published from across the globe, including Bangladesh, Brazil, Greece, Portugal, USA, the Soviet Union, with poems from Natalya Gorbanyevskaya, a poet who had been confined to a mental hospital. It also includes the first publication in any language of a story by Milovan Djilas, who was unable to publish anything in his own country since his trial in 1963. Also included in the first issue is the Index “Index”, which is round-up of the main and most recent free speech issues around the world. Index Index runs in every issue until 2008. In the September issue, Nadine Gordimer, a South African writer, political activist and recipient of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature, writes her first article for Index. Gordimer stands firmly against apartheid in South Africa. She goes on to write for Index many times.

Index denounces Iran’s Shah
Index denounces Iran’s Shah

As part of a special report on Iran, Index is one of the first magazines to denounce the Shah. 

Index highlights torture

Index publicises the case of the tortured Iranian poet, Reza Baraheni, whose testimony subsequently appears in the New York Times.

Arthur Miller writes in Index
Arthur Miller writes in Index

US playwright Arthur Miller writes in Index: “The sin of power is to not only distort reality but to convince people that the false is true, and that what is happening is only an invention of enemies.” 

Zapis is published in Index
Zapis is published in Index

The unofficial and banned Polish journal Zapis, mouthpiece of the writers and intellectuals who paved the way for the liberalisation in Poland, is published by Index. A translation of the Czechoslovak Charter 77 manifesto drafted by Václav Havel and others is also published this year. Tom Stoppard’s play, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, is first performed with the London Symphony Orchestra. It is set in a Soviet mental institution and is inspired by the personal account of former detainee Victor Fainberg and Clayton Yeo's expose of the use of psychiatric abuse in the USSR, published in Index on Censorship in 1975. Stoppard becomes a member of the advisory board the following year and remains a patron of Index.

Ernesto Cardenal is published
Ernesto Cardenal is published

At the start of the year Index publishes the Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal before he becomes Minister of Education in the revolutionary government. The winter issue of the magazine reports on a controversy in the USA in which the Public Broadcasting Service has heavily edited a documentary about racism in Britain and has gone to court attempting to prevent screenings of the original version.

Hugh Lunghi becomes editor

Hugh Lunghi takes over from Scammell as the editor of Index. Prior to Index, Lunghi worked at the BBC World Service for many years, including being their lead commentator during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  When he left the BBC in 1980, he immediately became director of the Writers and Scholars Educational Trust, and with it took over the responsibility of editing the Index on Censorship from Scammell.

George Theiner becomes editor

George Theiner becomes editor of Index. Born to Czech-Jewish parents, Theiner served time in a forced labour camp for refusing to join the Communist Party. After his release, he worked as a technical editor in an educational publishing house, Artia, and began translating Czech literary works into English. When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Theiner fled to England with his family and worked for various publishing houses before joining Index on Censorship in 1972 as an assistant editor. Theiner died in 1988. He remained editor until his death. The magazine publishes a beautiful collection of small obituaries for him, written by several of the famous writers he had translated for or otherwise encountered. In 2011, in recognition of the work he had done to promote Czech literature and culture, World of Books created the George Theiner Award, to be given to “people and organisations outside the Czech Republic who have made long-term contributions to the promotion of Czech literature and free expression across the globe.”

Beckett and Havel plays are published

Index is the first to publish Samuel Beckett’s play Catastrophe, which is dedicated to Václav Havel. Václav Havel writes a play in response to Beckett’s, entitled Mistake, also published in Index for the first time that same year. As part of the campaign to raise awareness about persecuted writers in Czechoslovakia, a t-shirt is created reading: “If Samuel Beckett had been born in Czechoslovakia we’d still be waiting for Godot.”

Sally Laird becomes editor

Sally Laird becomes editor of Index. Laird had studied Russian and languages at university and prior to Index worked at Amnesty.

A new editor, Tiananmen and the fall of the Berlin Wall

In March, Index publish the World Statement by the International Committee for the Defence of Salman Rushdie in support of “the right of all people to express their ideas and beliefs and to discuss them with their critics on the basis of mutual tolerance, free from censorship, intimidation and violence”. Rushdie goes onto be a regular writer for the magazine. That same year Index publish the Hunger Strike Declaration from three leaders in Tiananmen Square including Liu Xiaobo. Liu, whose work is published in Index several times after, goes onto win the Nobel Peace Prize. He dies in 2017 having spent years in prison in China. In November the Berlin Wall falls. Despite the change in geopolitics, the abuses to free expression continue and with that Index continue. Andrew Graham-Yool also takes over as editor of Index. In the 1960s Graham-Yool had joined the Buenos Aires Herald, a long-running English-language newspaper, where he later made enemies with the new leadership by reporting extensively on Argentina’s growing number of “disappeared” persons. In addition to publishing this information in Argentina, Graham-Yooll secretly sent information to Index and Amnesty International. Graham-Yooll faced both death threats from private individuals and a serious risk that the government would make him disappear. He escaped in part by being arrested and charged with condoning violence; at his trial, he was found not guilty, but the judge warned him to leave Argentina as soon as he could. Graham-Yooll fled to the UK and went to work for the…Read More

Urusla Owen joins Index
Urusla Owen joins Index

Ursula Owen appointed as both editor and chief executive. Owen increases the circulation of the magazine threefold and wins several awards. She presides over many important debates, for example on violence, pornography and hate speech.

Judith Vidal-Hall becomes editor

The journalist Judith Vidal-Hall becomes editor of Index. Prior to Index Vidal-Hall had a column in the TLS and had founded the Guardian Third World Review, as well as taught the advanced journalism course at City University.

First ever Freedom of Expression Awards held

The first ever Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards is held on 5 February in London. The event, a sit-down dinner, is hosted by the journalist Jon Snow and introduced by the playwright Harold Pinter. The categories and winners are Defence of Free Expression: Mashallah Shamsolvaezin; Whistleblowing: Grigory Pasko; Circumvention of Censorship: Lorrie Cranor, Avi Rubin and Marc Waldman; Censor of the Year: UK Ministry of Defence.

Anna Politkovskaya writes for the magazine

Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya writes in the magazine of the threats made against her life when she began investigating Russia’s war in Chechnya. The article is published four years before she is assassinated in Moscow.

Open Shutters Iraq is launched

Open Shutters Iraq, in which photographs and photographic essays made by women from Baghdad, Basra, Falluja, Kirkuk and Mosul, is launched. Women tell their stories of war, sanctions, intifada, siege, kidnapping, grief, love, happiness, times of resistance, achievements and small triumphs through these images and essays. The project is later compiled into a book.

Imagine art after exhibits at Tate

Imagine art after, an Index programme involving linking artists from refugee and migrant communities in the UK to artists from their country of origin, exhibits at Tate Britain. Former BBC current affairs producer Jo Glanville becomes editor of Index. 

Index wins Amnesty award

Index wins the Amnesty International Media Award, Periodicals Award for the Russia Series.

Free Speech is Not For Sale campaign is launched

Free Speech is Not For Sale campaign is launched in partnership with English PEN. A report done as part of the campaign highlights the problem of so-called libel tourism and English law of defamation’s chilling effect on free speech. As a result of debate following the report's suggestions, UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw pledges to make English defamation laws fairer.

Nabeel Rajab wins advocacy award
Nabeel Rajab wins advocacy award

The Freedom of Expression Award for advocacy is given to Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab. Rajab is later imprisoned, in 2016, convicted of offences including “spreading fake news”. Index are part of several campaigns to free Nabeel, including writing open letters to governments around the world and protesting outside London’s Bahrain embassy. In June 2020 Nabeel is eventually freed.

New editors for Index

Mirren Gutierrez becomes editor of Index, to be succeeded by Rachael Jolley, an award-winning journalist who had previously edited several magazines.

Index receives praise from TLS and an award

In September the award-winning Turkish journalist Can Dündar calls for German journalists to pick up the investigation he was forced to abandon and more generally for cross-country collaboration amongst journalists. Dündar has been in exile in Germany since 2016 following an arrest warrant against him in Turkey. Index campaign outside the Turkish Embassy, London, against this warrant and other intimidations of journalists in Turkey. In October the Times Literary Supplement describes the magazine as “an archive of past battles won, and a beacon of present and future struggles. Its unique brand of practical, practising advocacy is as necessary as ever.” In November magazine editor Rachael Jolley wins editor of the year award at the British Society of Magazine Editors. With the rise of Donald Trump the magazine is deemed to be of critical importance.

Daphne Caruana Galizia and Javier Valdez are murdered

Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia is murdered. Index join a group of organisations to launch the campaign #JusticeForDaphne. Both the magazine and the website keep up the pressure and focus on Malta through publishing articles about the case and Maltese journalism more broadly. Index campaign regularly outside the Maltese Consulate in London.   The same year the magazine interview Mexican journalist Javier Valdez about difficulties of working in the country. “I’ve had phone calls telling me to stop investigating certain murders or drug bosses. I’ve had to suppress important information because they could have my family killed if I mention it. Sources of mine have been killed or disappeared… The government couldn’t care less. They do nothing to protect you. There have been many cases and this keeps happening.” Valdez is killed one month after publication.

Poems from Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe are smuggled out of prison

Poems written by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British national who was imprisoned in 2015 before boarding a plane in Tehran, are smuggled out of jail and published in the magazine, alongside poems from fellow inmate Golrokh Ebrahimi Iraee, also a political prisoner. Index are told that Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s morale is boosted upon knowing that the poems are being read and that she is being paid for her work.

20th Awards are celebrated

Index celebrate the 20th year of their awards with an online ceremony hosted by BBC journalist Timandra Harkness. The winners are Russian artist Yulia Tsvetkova (arts); Turkish lawyer Veysel Ok and Bahraini activist Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei (campaigning); Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, also known as 7amleh (digital activism); and OKO Press (journalism).

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