Arts Nominees – Freedom of Expression Awards 2015





Digital Activism




Arts Award Nominees 2015

Recognises artists whose work asserts artistic freedom and battles repression and injustice.


  Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat


Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat



“I am talking in the name of the people / Those who spoke up, and those who were stepped on / I am talking to you with no fear, and I will take the consequences.” Moroccan rapper and human rights activist El Haqed (roughly translated as ‘the enraged’) has not only seen his songs censored and his album banned but also been imprisoned three times since 2011 – including a one-year jail term for lyrics critical of the police in his song Dogs of the State. Imprisoned for four months in 2014, after seeing witnesses at his trial stopped from testifying and key pieces of evidence barred, El Haqed continues to make music about endemic corruption in the Moroccan state and widespread poverty in his country.

Acceptance speech: El Haqed: I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever

Full profile: Arts nominee Mouad ‘El Haqed’ Belghouat

Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla



Ecuadorian cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, aka Bonil, has repeatedly faced legal action, fines and smear campaigns from his country’s government. In 2013 President Rafael Correa introduced the Communications Act in Ecuador, ostensibly allowing government the right to decide what journalistic work was or wasn’t appropriate. The first to be targeted by this legislation, Bonil and El Universo newspaper were sued for publishing a cartoon about a heavy-handed raid on a journalist’s house. When the court fined the paper nearly £61,000 and ordered Bonil to draw a “retraction cartoon”, Bonil responded in his famously sarcastic style. With Bonil now involved in a second case against him, his refusal to back down in this cat-and-mouse with Correa has earned him a reputation as one of South America’s most fearless cartoonists. Full profile: Arts nominee Xavier “Bonil” Bonilla

 Xavier ‘Bonil’ Bonilla
 Rory ‘Panti Bliss’ O’Neill

Rory “Panti Bliss” O’Neill

Performance artist


Dublin-based drag queen and stand-up comedian Panti caused waves in the Irish media, and later Irish and European parliaments, for naming, on-air, two columnists and a Catholic lobbying group as examples of homophobia within Ireland’s media. The TV station hosting Panti backed down to legal threats, but O’Neill didn’t, taking to the stage of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre as Panti to eloquently defend his statements. The speech has had hundreds of thousands of YouTube views, and O’Neill’s subsequent show High Heels in Low Places both tells the story and details the difficulties gay people face in Ireland, a country in which homosexuality was a criminal act until 1988.​ Full profile: Arts nominee Rory “Panti Bliss” O’Neill

Songhoy Blues



Fleeing North Mali after Islamist groups captured the area and imposed strict sharia law banning all secular music, four musicians who met as refugees came together to form the band Songhoy Blues. Calling for an end to the conflict, their music plays to an audience made up of both Songhoys and Tuaregs – two previously feuding North Malian groups now expelled from their homes by insurgent Islamist groups. After signing with Africa Express and collaborating with artists including Damon Albarn and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2013, they began a worldwide tour last year. Their debut album, Music In Exile, will be released in February 2015.​ Full profile: Arts nominee Songhoy Blues

Songhoy Blues