Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.
The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.
Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?
The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.
Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.
This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.
Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.
When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.
The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.
Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.
The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.
The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.
Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.
When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.
Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.
The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.
Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.
Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.
Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.
Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.
Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.
Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.
Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.
Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.
My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.
Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?
France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.
Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.
We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.
Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.
Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.
A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.
A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.
Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.
Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.
“I’ve never felt so humiliated in my life as that night, when I was pushed into a police vehicle and taken to a police lock-up as if I was a criminal,” said 40-year-old Fahim Shaukat, which isn’t his real name.
On the night of 14 July, Shaukat, along with a dozen other men from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, had gathered inside their place of worship in Kala Gujran, a town in the Jhelum district in the Punjab province of Pakistan, to stop desecration of their building after fears it may be attacked.
“Earlier that day, our community head met with the police with the latter demanding we demolish minarets [towers used for calls to prayer] or the police would be forced to do it themselves by midnight,” Shaukat told Index. “Our amir [religious head] refused and reasoned with him saying there was nothing in the law that barred us from having minarets.”
He recalled what happened that night: “Around 11:30 pm, we heard the doorbell, and at the same time the CCTV placed outside the door was destroyed. I opened the door, and was asked to step outside.”
Other people were hauled out, and Shaukat said there were around 20-25 policemen. He described how some of them went inside to look around, while a bearded man in a light blue shalwar kameez (a Pakistani outfit) took a ladder from one of the police vans and started hammering down the minaret.
While this was happening, men from the Ahmadiyya community were shoved into a police van and taken to the station and interrogated, before being released.
“This was an entirely illegal action, facilitated by the police themselves, and we suspect it was done at the behest of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan,” Amir Mahmood, the community’s spokesperson, told Index from the community’s headquarters in the Punjab city of Rabwah.
The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), founded by Khadim Hussain Rizvi in August 2015, is one of the largest political parties in Pakistan today. In the 2018 general elections it secured a huge vote bank, especially in Punjab. It proclaims itself to be the defender of the Prophet Muhammad’s honour and demands severe punishment for those who do not believe in the Prophet’s sanctity and finality. At one time outlawed following violent protests, the party is now back in force.
“Desecration of our places of worship is a violation of the Constitution of Pakistan,” Mahmood said, referring to a 2014 judgment which was set out to promote religious tolerance and protect minorities, by the former chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani. “Justice Jillani had ordered that a special police force be formed for the protection of that. It is ironic that instead of protecting and safeguarding them, the police are themselves carrying out these tasks specially in the province of Punjab.”
Deputy superintendent of police, Abdul Jabbar, denied that the police involvement was vandalism, saying: “That’s a complete lie!” He also denied that people from the community were manhandled or detained for hours in the police lock-up.
“Our job is to protect the people and their property irrespective of their religious beliefs. We cannot be party to such illegal activity as demolition of the minarets,” he said.
According to Shaukat, the deputy superintendent in fact “led the attack” that night.
“If that’s a lie, why did the station house officer at Kala Gujran police station return our licensed gun that the police had taken away during their raid?” Shaukat said.
“According to my information, it was the Ahmadis [people from the Ahmadiyya community] who pulled down the minaret,” said Asim Ashfaq Rizvi, former district president of the TLP.
Rizvi has announced, and confirmed to Index, that if the local administration does not ensure that minarets in all the three places of worship around the city have been demolished, “we will come forward and remove them ourselves on Muharram 10,” which is one of the holiest dates for Muslims and which falls on 29 July. “It’s my own proclamation and not that of the TLP leadership, and I will follow it through,” he said.
“Pamphlets have been distributed and leaflets plastered across Jhelum talking about Rizvi’s Muharram 10 plan,” confirmed Shaukat.
Rizvi said: “For the last two years, we have been pointing out this anti-state and anti-constitutional activity to the government and the police.”
He said the Pakistan Penal Code 298, also known as the blasphemy law, provided him the licence to carry out such acts against people who allegedly insult Islam. Under Section 298-C of the code, Ahmadis cannot claim to be Muslims or propagate their faith.
In 1984, military dictator General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq used a presidential ordinance to ban members of the community from the usage of epithets, descriptions and titles reserved for certain holy persons.
In the vandalism of minarets, Shaukat believes the TLP was “playing the religion card” to win over the sentiments of the general population, huge swathes of which look down on the Ahmadiyya community. This is all the more poignant now, with Pakistan’s 2023 general election on the horizon and the TLP looking for votes.
In deeply patriarchal and repressive societies like Afghanistan women have always been subjected to gender-based discrimination and violence. This was the case before the Taliban came to power but it has become much worse since – and women, who were already underrepresented in the media industry, are suffering immeasurably.
The dwindling community of female journalists has reached a concerning level. Soon after the Taliban’s coup they started a crackdown on all journalists. There were raids on the houses of journalists, arrests, detentions, intimidation and harassment.
In addition to direct threats, the Taliban started to systematically harass women in the media to make it difficult for them to work. The Taliban introduced strict dress codes, including making the veil mandatory. The ban on long-distance travel of women without a male guardian has made field work for women impossible. Women have also been banned from appearing on TV shows. The Taliban effectively want us to completely disappear from the media landscape.
Due to these barbaric laws many women have lost their jobs and many have fled the country. Those women who were the sole earners in the family are now living in destitution.
The outflux of women with essential skills has created a brain drain in Afghanistan. Years of progress with regards to media development, women empowerment and capacity building of women in media has been undone by the Taliban in merely two years. All the women journalists who toiled for years and built up their skills – despite the difficulties – are now either confined to the home or in exile in miserable situations. Unfortunately some have lost their lives in attempts to seek shelter. A female senior Pashto journalist, Torpekai Amarkhel, drowned with her family in a boat sailing them to Italy just a few weeks ago.
Amarkhel’s asylum case for Australia was in process. But due to the long, arduous, slow and chaotic process of filling and requesting asylum or refugee status in developed countries, journalists in distress are opting for perilous and illegal means of immigration. It’s a response coming from extreme desperation and frustration. Western countries must try to understand this and must make the visa process easy, fast and efficient.
Within Afghanistan, people’s desperation is being exploited for financial gain. Acquiring essential travel documents is being aggravated by long delays, tough requirements and chaotic procedures, which has meant the opening of illegal channels to mint more money from helpless people running for their lives. For example the average fees for a passport right now is at least $3000 and fees for a Pakistani visa is $1200. This makes the legal evacuation from Afghanistan for those journalists at risk almost impossible, forcing them to opt for illegal channels. For those taking this route the outcomes can be awful. In many instances people are arrested and detained in neighbouring countries.
In exile the Afghan journalists are unable to continue their journalistic work due to a myriad of issues, such as lack of opportunities in the countries of temporary residence, language barriers, legal barriers and discrimination against Afghans. The result? Women journalists in exile are either forced to stay at home or they are forced to do menial work to simply make end meets. They’re out of work, gaps in their career growing. Some are now quitting the industry and switching careers.
The situation is stifling for male journalists too. The heart-wrenching stories of Afghan journalists are sadly countless. A journalist who worked alongside me in a media outlet recently posted on Twitter and other social media platforms about selling one of his kidneys to get some money to support himself and his family in exile in Pakistan. Another journalist from Afghanistan trashed all his academic and professional documents out of frustration at his joblessness and inability to get any humanitarian support. And another journalist, a senior one with a strong track record in the industry, has become a cobbler working in the streets.
In order to save the community of journalists in general, and women journalists in particular, the world must act. Western countries must open their doors so that we can access work, education and free speech and expression which we have been denied in our own country. But everyone can help protect Afghan journalists and create opportunities for them within Afghanistan and in exile. Engage with Afghan journalists through fellowships, scholarships, workshops, training and other opportunities to save the media from dying. And finally pressurise the Taliban to reverse their barbaric decisions that have created a gender-based apartheid and is pushing generations of Afghans back to the stone age.
This article was published to mark International Women's Day 2023
Journalists in Afghanistan are facing a very bad situation. The media has been censored. There are many restrictions on women journalists. I have received information that the few female journalists still working in the media are paid so little and they cannot meet their family expenses. Journalists cannot carry out their jobs properly due to fear of the Taliban. They write and publish what the Taliban want.
The number of female journalists in the media is decreasing day by day and they are forced to leave the country. Life is hard in neighbouring countries, but they cannot stay at home.
Hundreds of journalists are staying with their families in Pakistan. I am in contact with many that face a dangerous, unknown fate. Most Afghan journalists' visas have expired and they are threatened with deportation and imprisonment. They also face economic problems. They have spent the money they brought with them and now cannot afford to eat. The increase in prices in Pakistan and the lack of work permits for Afghan journalists has made life difficult for them and their families. They are very willing to sell their kidneys to cut their daily expenses. If Afghan journalists stay here for a long time, more problems will arise and their freedom will be threatened. They can’t even get treatment in the hospitals because they need visas which most journalists don't have.
All the doors are closed in front of us. I am asking the British government to open them up. The UK promised to help us and they still can. We once again request that the British government fulfil the promises it has made to Afghan journalists and other people at risk.