Contents – Modi’s India: The Age of Intolerance


The central theme of the Spring 2023 issue of Index is India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

After monitoring Modi’s rule since he was elected in 2014, Index decided to look deeper into the state of free expression inside the world’s largest democracy.

Index spoke to a number of journalists and authors from, or who live in, India; and discovered that on every marker of what a democracy should be, Modi’s India fails. The world is largely silent when it comes to Narendra Modi. Let’s change that.

Up Front

Can India survive more Modi?, by Jemimah Seinfeld: Nine years into his leadership the world has remained silent on Modi's failed democracy. It's time to turn up the temperature before it's too late.

The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest news from the free speech frontlines. Big impact elections, poignant words from the daughter of a jailed Tunisian opposition politician, and the potential US banning of Tik Tok.


Cultural amnesia in Cairo, by Nick Hilden: Artists are under attack in the Egyptian capital where signs of revolution are scrubbed from the street.

‘Crimea has turned into a concentration camp’, by Nariman Dzhelal: Exclusive essay from the leader of the Crimean Tatars, introduced by Ukranian author Andrey Kurkov.

Fighting information termination, by Jo-Ann Mort: How the USA's abortion information wars are being fought online.

A race to the bottom, by Simeon Tegel: Corruption is corroding the once-democratic Peru as people take to the streets.

When comics came out, by Sara Century: The landscape of expression that gave way to a new era of queer comics, and why the censors are still fighting back.

In Iran women’s bodies are the battleground, by Kamin Mohammadi: The recent protests, growing up in the Shah's Iran where women were told to de-robe, and the terrible u-turn after.

Face to face with Iran’s authorities, by Ramita Navai: The award-winning war correspondent tells Index's Mark Frary about the time she was detained in Tehran, what the current protests mean and her Homeland cameo.

Scope for truth, by Kaya Genç: The Turkish novelist visits a media organisation built on dissenting voices, just weeks before devastating earthquakes hit his homeland.

Ukraine’s media battleground, by Emily Couch: Two powerful examples of how fraught reporting on this country under siege has become.

Storytime is dragged into the guns row, by Francis Clarke: Relaxed gun laws and the rise of LGBTQ+ sentiment is silencing minority communities in the USA.

Those we must not leave behind, by Martin Bright: As the UK government has failed in its task to rescue Afghans, Index's editor at large speaks to members of a new Index network aiming to help those whose lives are in imminent danger.

Special Report: Modi's India

Modi’s singular vision for India, by Salil Tripathi: India used to be a country for everyone. Now it's only for Hindus - and uncritical ones at that.

Blessed are the persecuted, by Hanan Zaffar: As Christians face an increasing number of attacks in India, the journalist speaks to people who have been targeted.

India’s Great Firewall, by Aishwarya Jagani: The vision of a 'digital India' has simply been a way for the authoritarian government to cement its control.

Stomping on India’s rights, by Marnie Duke: The members of the RSS are synonymous with Modi. Who are they, and why are they so controversial?

Bollywood’s Code Orange, by Debasish Roy Chowdhury: The Bollywood movie powerhouse has gone from being celebrated to being used as a tool for propaganda.

Bulldozing freedom, by Bilal Ahmad Pandow: Narendra Modi's rule in Jammu and Kashmir has seen buildings dismantled in line with people's broader rights.

Let’s talk about sex, by Mehk Chakraborty: In a country where sexual violence is abundant and sex education is taboo, the journalist explores the politics of pleasure in India.

Uncle is watching, by Anindita Ghose: The journalist and author shines a spotlight on the vigilantes in India who try to control women.


Keep calm and let Confucius Institutes carry on, by Kerry Brown: Banning Confucius Institutes will do nothing to stop Chinese soft power. It'll just cripple our ability to understand the country.

A papal precaution, by Robin Vose: Censorship on campus and taking lessons from the Catholic Church's doomed index of banned works.

The democratic federation stands strong, by Ruth Anderson: Putin's assault on freedoms continues but so too does the bravery of those fighting him.


Left behind and with no voice, by Lijia Zhang and Jemimah Steinfeld: China's children are told to keep quiet. The culture of silence goes right the way up.

Zimbabwe’s nervous condition, by Tsitsi Dangarembga: The Zimbabwean filmmaker and author tells Index's Katie Dancey-Downes about her home country's upcoming election, being arrested for a simple protest and her most liberating writing experience yet.

Statues within a plinth of their life, by Marc Nash: Can you imagine a world without statues? And what might fill those empty plinths? The London-based novelist talks to  Index's Francis Clarke about his new short story, which creates exactly that.

Crimea’s feared dawn chorus, by Martin Bright: A new play takes audiences inside the homes and families of Crimean Tatars as they are rounded up.

From hijacker to media mogul, Soe Myint: The activist and journalist on keeping hope alive in Myanmar.

Facebook policies put human rights defenders at risk

If Priscilla Chan, an American citizen and wife of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg, was passing through Cairo International Airport and was stopped by a police officer who searched her phone illegally would she file a lawsuit? Possibly.

If Priscilla and her husband were Egyptian then the answer is definitely not. It is common knowledge that in Egypt, the police are above the law. If this hypothetical situation actually came to pass, I would advise Mark Zuckerburg not to run any social media campaigns publicising what happened with his wife because he would either be arrested or forcibly disappeared. Even if our hypothetical Egyptian Mark Zuckerberg managed to flee the country after that, he wouldn’t be able to create a campaign to help those in similar dangers -Facebook only allows political campaigns for those physically inside the country. If he managed to seek help from a friend or family member inside Egypt, then they will also likely be arrested immediately; Facebook's policy now requires someone’s full name in order to make a political campaign or advertisement. Thus, my advice to you my friend would be to internalise your anger. Facebook’s policies aid and abet tyrants. That is what Egyptians must face.

In 2017, the executive boards of Facebook, Twitter, and Google all announced that they found Russian hackers had bought ads on their platforms and used fake names a year previously to create controversial stories and spread fake news ahead of the American presidential elections of 2016. The companies handed over three thousand divisive ads to the US Congress, which they believed were bought by Russian parties in the months leading up to the elections in order to influence the outcome.

Between them, the tech companies appointed more than a thousand employees to review ads to ensure they are consistent with their terms and conditions and prevent misleading content. This was intended to deter Russia and others from using their social networks to interfere in the elections of other nations.

This led to Mark Zuckerburg’s announcement that outlined steps to help prevent network manipulation, including imposing more transparency on political and social ads that appear on Facebook. This included making advertisers provide identifying documentation for political, social and election-related ads. Likewise, he announced that the advertisements would have to bear the name of the person that funded the advertisement, and that the predominant funder of the advertisement must reside in the country itself, and the financing must be done locally.

I find that there is a significant gap between the reality of what is truly happening in the Middle East and what the West understands about it. What is happening in Egypt specifically is not comparable to anything happening in the US or Europe and thus the international policies for such companies cannot be developed based on the desires and needs of only the American public.

These laws were supposed to help American society be more transparent but instead are being used as a weapon by the Egyptian regime in order to crack down on people's rights and freedoms and they put human rights activists in Egypt in further danger.

Revealing the full names of those creating political or human rights campaigns leads to these individuals being constantly under threat, of both their posts being taken down and a potential government crackdown on them. As a result, these laws become a means of control for the government to further silence the voices of the masses. We, as human rights defenders in Egypt, need security and privacy, as the nature of our work exposes violations within systems and governments. There are a large number of risks that we are already exposed to daily because of our activity, and it is possible to monitor us in many ways, including the digital system, in which the system can currently determine all our activity through such transparency laws.

We are not looking for equal rights or to enter elections, rather we are merely attempting to possess our own humanity, preserve our dignity, and stand up for our rights. We dedicate our lives for equality and to prevent infringements on the rights of those in our society. Now that our activism is deemed nearly impossible by your laws, Mr Zuckerburg, you truly leave us with no option as we cannot put our families and communities at risk of imprisonment due to our names and the names of those helping us being made available.

I urge you to make digital privacy and security of human rights defenders a top priority, as today these activists have become truly vulnerable to repressive tactics as the Egyptian regime uses your laws as a loophole to remove opposition.

We have already had bad experiences with your laws.

Human rights defender Sherif Alrouby has been imprisoned by the Egyptian regime for years and we attempted to campaign for his release. We tried to spread a song entitled ‘Sherif Alrouby is imprisoned oh country’ and were impeded by Facebook's policies. We had no option but to stop our campaign in order to prevent any security issues with the individuals that funded our advertisement as their full names were displayed.

Facebook's policies impede our work as human rights defenders. We recognize that you support freedom of speech and desire increased transparency, but you do not realise the severity of what is happening in Egypt. A prime example of the severity of the situation is the killing of activist Shady Habash inside prison for merely making a song criticising the regime's policies during the reign of El-Sisi. Likewise, my friend Galal El Behiery spent more than six years in prison for writing the song’s words - he has been on hunger strike in prison for more than 14 days.

I urge you all to understand the differences between nations. Egypt is not a transparent nation. Rather, it is an oppressive nation that exploits transparency to kill and dispose of opposition.

Who is 2022’s Tyrant of the Year?

At the end of every year, Index on Censorship launches a campaign to focus attention on human rights defenders, dissidents, artists and journalists who have been in the news headlines because their freedom of expression has been suppressed during the past twelve months. As well as this we focus on the authoritarian leaders who have been silencing their opponents.

Last year, we asked for your help in identifying 2021's Tyrant of the Year and you responded in your thousands. The 2021 winner, way ahead of a crowded field, was Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, followed by China’s Xi Jinping and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad .

The polls are now open for the title of 2022 Tyrant of the Year and we are focusing on 12 leaders from around the globe who have done more during the past 12 months than other despots to win this dubious accolade.

Click on those in our rogues' gallery below to find out why the Index on Censorship team believe each one should be named Tyrant of the Year and then click on the form at the bottom of those pages to cast your vote. The closing date is Monday 9 January 2023.





Tyrant of the year 2022: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt

While world leaders met in Sharm el-Sheikh for COP27, British-Egyptian pro-democracy activist and writer Alaa Abd el-Fattah began a full hunger strike. He is imprisoned for “spreading false news” and has been denied access to diplomatic and legal counsel. 

Sadly, Alaa’s case is far from unique. In fact, Human Rights First estimates that there are up to 65,000 political prisoners in detention in Egypt, though the real figure is unknown. Perplexingly, the Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi has alleged that Egypt does not hold any political prisoners at all. 

News that el-Sisi ordered the release of hundreds of prisoners in 2022  ahead of COP27 has been met with caution. “It might be tempting to think that positive change is on the horizon in Egypt following the releases of political prisoners.” says Index on Censorship’s Emma Sandvik Ling. “However, former political prisoners report continued intimidations and warnings of rearrest should they speak out against el-Sisi’s government. There is an important distinction to be made here between optics and genuine efforts to protect human rights.”

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who became Egyptian president after a coup in 2013, has shown increasingly authoritarian tendencies over the last decade. Among other things, el-Sisi has argued that freedom of expression "stops” when it offends Islam and urged opposition movements to “look and listen” before they speak. 

Dissidents fighting for civic rights, democracy and transparency face intimidation, threats and arbitrary detentions. Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s case represents the heartbreaking reality for thousands of political prisoners in el-Sisi’s Egypt. El-Sisi is a tyrant in the true meaning of the word and his rule has a detrimental impact on freedom of expression.