5 awards. 16 years. Champions against censorship.

The Index Freedom of Expression Awards recognise those individuals and groups making the greatest impact in tackling censorship worldwide. Established 16 years ago, the awards shine a light on work being undertaken in defence of free expression globally. All too often these stories go unnoticed or are ignored by the mainstream press.

Each year, the awards call attention to some of the bravest journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders in the world. The 2015 awards were no exception. We honoured Amran Abdundi, a Kenyan activist who has worked through various channels to support women who are vulnerable to rape, female circumcision and murder in northeastern Kenya. We also gave awards to Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat, a Moroccan rapper who continues to make music about endemic corruption and widespread poverty in his country despite censorship being imprisoned three times; Tamás Bodoky, a journalist campaigning for a free press in Hungary; Rafael Marques de Morais, who has exposed government and industry corruption in Angola; and Safa Al Ahmad, a journalist who has spent three years covertly filming a mass uprising in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province that had, until her film, gone largely unreported.

The Freedom of Expression Awards grew naturally from the principles established by our founder, the poet Stephen Spender, who sought to give a voice to those facing censorship behind the Iron Curtain and beyond. Index had long championed writers and artists fighting threats to free expression by publishing their work in our magazine, or through our own reporting. Recognising their work through our Freedom of Expression Awards was a natural next step.

In Azerbaijan, where I have come from, telling the truth can cost a journalist their life.
That is the price that my colleagues in Azerbaijan are paying for the right of the Azerbaijani people to know the truth about what is happening in their country.

For the sake of this right we accept that our lives are in danger, as are the lives of our families.
But the goal is worth it, since the right to truth is worth more than a life without truth.”
— Idrak Abbasov, Award winner, 2012

Who is eligible

Anyone involved in tackling free expression threats – either through journalism, advocacy, arts or using digital techniques – is eligible for the awards. Index invites nominations from the public via its website and through social media platforms. Other non-governmental organisations are also invited to suggest nominees, and individuals and groups can also self-nominate. There is no cost to applying.

We shortlist on the basis of those who are deemed to be making the greatest impact in tackling censorship in their chosen area, with a particular focus on those who are tackling topics that are little covered or tackled by others, or who are using innovative methods to fight censorship.

Nominations are now closed. The shortlist will be announced on 27 January 2015.

The categories?

Advocacy – recognises campaigners and activists who have fought censorship and challenge political repression. This award is sponsored by Doughty Street Chambers.

Arts – recognises artists and producers whose work asserts artistic freedom and battles repression and injustice.

Digital Activism – recognises innovative uses of new technology to circumvent censorship and foster debate. This award is sponsored by Google.

Journalism – for impactful, original, unwavering investigative journalism across all media. This award is sponsored by The Guardian.

The judges

Each year Index recruits an independent panel of judges with expertise in advocacy, arts, journalism and human rights to work on the shortlisting of nominees. This year’s judges include journalist and campaigner Mariane Pearl and human rights lawyer Keir Starmer. Previous judges include playwright Howard Brenton, philanthropist Sigrid Rausing, and broadcaster Samira Ahmed.

The timeline

Nominations opened on October 14 and remained open until November 20, 2014. Nominations are now closed. The nominee shortlist will be announced on January 27. Judges make their final awards selection in February. The Digital Advocacy winner is decided by public vote. The winners of the awards will be announced at the 2015 Index Freedom of Expression Awards on March 18.