A year in freedom of expression

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="120168" img_size="full" add_caption="yes"][vc_column_text]As we all start to think about the forthcoming holidays and the end of the year it’s a good opportunity to reflect on what happened in 2022. For regular readers you’ll know I have at various points over the last year despaired at the sheer volume of news. Too many crises, too many heartbreaking stories, too many people and families destroyed by the actions of tyrants. There has been so much news it is easy to forget the range of issues that have impacted human rights and freedom of expression around the world. So it would be remiss of me, in my last blog of the year, not to remind you of some the key events of 2022 (forgive me, there are many missing). The year started with Abdalla Hamdok resigning as the Prime Minister of Sudan after three years of pro-democracy protests, where dozens were killed. A few days later, a week of government clampdown in Kazakhstan led to the deaths of over 220 people with over 9,000 people arrested. In February we thought the biggest issue for Index would be the attempted sportswashing of the CCP as they hosted the Winter Olympics. Unfortunately that was not to be the most devastating act by a totalitarian regime in 2022. By the end of the month Putin’s government had launched an illegal invasion into Ukraine, causing the largest refugee crisis in Europe since the end of World War Two. Nearly 7,000 civilians have been killed during the war and over 13,000 Ukrainian troops and over 10,000 Russian troops have made the ultimate sacrifice. In response to the war, media freedoms and freedom of expression have been completely curtailed in both Russia and Belarus with thousands detained. Events in Ukraine rightly continued to dominate the news agenda for the rest of the year. But this in turn provided cover for dictators and tyrants around the world to move against their people with limited global outcry. March brought more extremism and death. In Afghanistan an IS suicide bomber killed 63 people at a mosque. April was dominated by events in Ukraine and the impact on food and fuel inflation leading to sporadic protests around the world. In June a suspected IS attack on a church in Nigeria saw at least 40 people killed. In July anti-government protests in Sri Lanka led to the deaths of 10 protesters, with over 600 arrested. In August our friend Sir Salman Rushdie was attacked by an extremist. We are incredibly grateful that he survived and remain in contact with him as his long recovery continues. In September the United Nations published their report about the CCP’s treatment of the Uyghur community in Xinjiang province - declaring that their treatment may constitute crimes against humanity. September also saw clashes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border resulting in nearly 300 deaths in a three-day period. This was followed within days by similar clashes on the Kyrgyzstan - Tajikistan border with dozens killed. On 16 September Masha Amini was murdered by state forces in Iran for not having her hair covered appropriately. This horrendous act of state terror has led to country wide protests, at least 448 people have been killed in the protests and over 18,000 people have been arrested across 134 cities and towns in Iran. These demonstrations continue today as the Iranian government begins executing protestors. These events are truly some of the most egregious of 2022 and we stand with Amini and all those protesting in her name. In October Xi Jinping was appointed for an unprecedented third term as general secretary of the CCP, consolidating his grip on power. And a couple of weeks later Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44billion, we still don’t know what the final effect on global free speech will be… At the end of October a terror attack in Mogadishu killed over 100 people. November saw the start of one of the most determined efforts at sportswashing of an appalling human rights record with the beginning of the football World Cup in Qatar. Protests were banned and football players were forbidden from wearing LGBT+ symbols while playing. And that gets me to December - in the last fortnight we have seen 1,700 people flee violence in South Sudan which has already killed 166 people. Chinese diplomats have left the UK after a protester was beaten by Chinese staff at a consulate in Manchester earlier this year. Twitter has banned journalists who have criticised Elon Musk and Jimmy Lai was sentenced to five years in jail in Hong Kong, as he awaits his trial for being a democracy campaigner. And yet there is still a fortnight to go before we close the door on 2022 - I pray that it’s a quiet fortnight for those on the front line. As we approach the end of 2022 my prayers will be with the people of Ukraine as they remain on the front line in the fight for freedom - especially as the temperature plummets. But the women of Iran won’t be too far from my thoughts too. So to you and yours from the Index family, Happy Christmas, Chag Sameach and Happy Holidays and here’s to a better 2023![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][three_column_post title="You may also wish to read" category_id="41669"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Internet shutdowns: Sudan’s censorship tool of choice

Dozens of people gather around the tax administration building in Khartoum East, not too far from Sudan’s military HQ. They are not queuing to submit their returns. They are there in order to get access to the internet from the building’s Wi-Fi network that they have somehow managed to hack and get its password.

This scene of young people sitting around buildings in downtown Khartoum and Khartoum University, along with the tea ladies, was a common sight after the government cut off the internet following the coup against the country’s civilian government in which Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, his cabinet and most of his advisors were placed under house arrest.  They have since been reinstated - as has access to the internet - but it is clear who is really in charge.

These young WiFi-jackers give the password to newly arrived friends to enjoy a service that’s become very precious indeed.

Most of these people are young men and they have been doing this from the second week of the coup, when the Sudanese people woke up to the news of the arrest of the whole civilian government. Accompanying this was a near total blackout of the internet and the telephone network, which allowed only incoming international calls.

Kamal al-Zain, 45, is one of those who comes every day to the tax building from the outskirts of Khartoum.

“I used some cafes, but their internet is getting very expensive and it’s as great as this open one,” he told Index.

Al-Zain works at a private company in Khartoum but his work has stopped since the internet disappeared: “It has a direct impact on my work which depends on transferring money in dealing with customers using the internet.”

Al-Zain is also politically engaged with Sudan’s “resistance committees”. These pro-democracy neighbourhood-based committees emerged during the era of former dictator Omer al-Basher and organised the protests that toppled him in 2019. They have continued organising during the transitional period to Hamdok’s election and the protests against the coup of 25 October.

These committees, like most modern political bodies, normally use the internet to communicate and to announce for the schedules and dates of the protests on their social media sites.

“It’s become more difficult now to call for protests,” said al-Zain. “In the beginning I was afraid that the protests would be weak and that not many people would turn out, but I was wrong. We had to work on a strategy of door to door calling and sending text messages whenever the cellphone network is working.”

Many journalists working with online media outlets in Khartoum have lost their jobs following the internet blackout.

“I know some young journalists are now working as taxi drivers because their work has stopped,” said Haider el-Mukashfi, the general editor of al-Jareeda daily newspaper which stopped printing during the first week of the coup mainly because of the blackout but also because some key bridges get closed whenever there is a call for big protests, affecting its distribution.

The situation for companies has improved a little.

“You needed to let them know that you are a company not an individual to let you enjoy the service. We got our internet back with a new contract under the name of a new company,” said Majid al-Gaouni, the managing editor at the paper.

Shaza el-Shaikh, a journalist working for a Sudanese website, told Index on Censorship: “We are not working at the moment due to the internet cut off. They have decided to give me half of what they used to pay me.”

Others are using different tactic to get web access. I have had to book a room in a hotel in order to use its internet connection. Even that got cut off on 17 November when at least 14 protestors were killed by armed forces at a rally against the coup.

Communications in the country have been under military control since 2019 following the ousting of al-Basher. The military signed a power-sharing deal with the protest leaders in the autumn of that year and put the National Communications Authority (NCA) —the body that provides and regulates the internet—under their authority. It was previously under the remit of the ministry of information and communications.

The economic consequences of the blackout in Sudan are huge; some economic experts estimate that the telecommunications companies have been losing around US$6 million per day of which 40 per cent goes in VAT to the government.

Despite the seemingly huge loss for the government, cutting off the internet is the normal response whenever the government faces protests. It happened after the 3 June massacre in 2019 at a sit-in in protest at the army which resulted in more than a hundred deaths when bodies were dumped in the Nile, dozens were raped and many hundreds injured.

Protests that follow the government lifting subsidies and raising the prices of basics often lead to internet blackouts too.

It is not a new phenomenon.

In 2012 protests inspired by the Arab Spring Revolution began after an increase in bread and fuel prices and led to a blackout. However, the government unblocked some porn sites for days so that could distract youngsters hoping to keep them away from the protests; that didn’t work out. Normally, porn sites are blocked in Sudan due to sharia laws.

Al-Zain, along with many other people who had to travel long distances to just check their emails, are defiant.

“They think that we will stop our resistance by cutting off the internet, but they wrong, we have long experience of defying dictatorships for all those decades and we have created new ways to continue.”

#IndexAwards2003: Fergal Keane, Outstanding Commitment to Journalism Integrity


Fergal Keane is a journalist who made his name as a war reporter at the end of millennium, covering conflicts from Congo and Rwanda to Kosovo. In 2003, the Index on Censorship recognised his efforts with their award for Outstanding Commitment to Journalism Integrity. It wasn’t Keane’s first award, and it wasn’t his last either. On top of his Orwell Prize (1996) and Amnesty International Press Award (1993) and Television Prize (1994), his OBE and his BAFTA (both from 1997), Keane has since added a Sony Gold award in 2009, for his inspiring Radio 4 series ‘Taking a Stand’, and the Ireland Funds Literary Award in 2015.

In 2004, following decades in the profession, Keane made the decision to stop entering active war zones. "I couldn't justify potentially robbing my children of a father,” he told the Daily Telegraph in 2010. “I couldn’t do it anymore.” But despite a slight career shift, Keene continues his commitment to journalism and justice just as fervently. He is now a special correspondent for the BBC, still writing and broadcasting on topics like the refugee crisis, the Yemen conflict and the South Sudan civil war – though sometimes from afar – as well as often being dispatched to the latest scenes of terrorism in Europe, whether France, Belgium or Germany. Wherever he is, he retains an insight and awareness of historical context that few can match.

Beyond the BBC, he is also the author of several well-received books and in 2011 he received an honorary degree from the University of Liverpool, where he is now three years into a Professorial Fellowship. He is part of the university’s Institute of Irish Studies, teaching students on the Understanding Conflict masters programme.

Speaking to the university’s website in 2015, Fergal criticised the “endlessly reductive” mainstream press and urged his students to “always challenge your opinions with facts, every day of your life. You will only know what your opinions are worth if they are taken out of the box and subjected to the most severe tests. Facts, facts, facts.”

Not all Keane’s work is confined to journalism, however. In 2005, he founded Msaada, an NGO dedicated to assisting Rwandans – and Rwandan society – to recover from the 1994 genocide, through meaningful, income-generating projects. It continues to support such projects today.

Samuel Earle is a member of Index on Censorship's Youth Advisory Board. He is a freelance writer and recent masters graduate from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where he studied Political Theory. He lives in Paris.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_single_image image="85476" img_size="full" alignment="center" onclick="custom_link" link="https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2016/11/awards-2017/"][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][vc_column_text]

Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards

Seventeen years of celebrating the courage and creativity of some of the world’s greatest journalists, artists, campaigners and digital activists

2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type="post" max_items="12" style="load-more" items_per_page="4" element_width="6" grid_id="vc_gid:1492505799978-a5ad6490-9f12-5" taxonomies="4881, 8935"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Worst countries for restrictions on religious freedom


Pohyon Temple - North Korea

Pohyon Temple in the Myohyang mountains, once a national center for Korean Buddhism. Credit: Uri Tours / Flickr

After the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent organisation created by the US Congress to evaluate religious freedom conditions around the world, released its 2015 report, it became clear that an insufficient amount of progress had been made since Index on Censorship last reported on the issue. 

Here’s a roundup of some the most appalling religious freedom violations from across the globe.


Bigotry and intolerance continue to scorch the lives of religious and ethnic minorities in Burma, particularly Rohingya Muslims. The Burmese government demonstrated little effort toward intervening or properly investigating claims of abuse, including those carried out by religious figures in the Buddhist community. As internet availability spread throughout the country, social media played a role in promoting a platform of hate and proposed violence against minority populations. Rohingya Muslims in the country face a unique level of discrimination and persecution. The government denies them citizenship and the right to identify as Rohingya. Additionally, four discriminatory race and religion bills could further the prejudices affecting religious minorities.  

North Korea

North Korea is a nation where genuine freedom of religion or belief is non-existent; it remains one of the most oppressive regimes and worst violators of human rights. Punishment comes to those who pose difficult questions while the government maintains its control through a constant threat of imprisonment, torture and even death for those who break the law regarding religion. Estimates suggest up to 200,000 North Koreans are currently suffering in labor camps, tens of thousands of whom are there for practicing heir faith. In February 2014, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea released its report documenting the systematic, severe violations of human rights in the country. It found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience”.

Saudi Arabia

Officially an Islamic state with eight to ten million expatriate workers of different faiths, Saudi Arabia continues to restrict most forms of public religious expression inconsistent with its interpretation of Sunni Islam. The government continues to use criminal charges of blasphemy to suppress any dialogue between dissenting viewpoints, with a new law helping drive home the goal of silence. The Penal Law for Crimes of Terrorism and its Financing criminalises virtually all forms of peaceful dissent and free expression, including criticising the government's view of Islam. Lastly, authorities continue to discriminate grossly against dissident clerics and members of the Shia community.


The Sudanese government continues to engage in massive violations of freedom of religion, due to president Omar al-Bashir’s policies of Islamisation and restrictive interpretation of sharia law. Despite 97% of the population being Muslim, there is a wide range of other religions practiced. The country's turmoil from religious persecution rests on the 1991 Criminal Code, the 1991 Personal Status Law of Muslims, and state-level “public order” laws, which have restricted freedom for all Sudanese. The laws – which contradict the country's constitutional and international commitments to human rights and freedom of religion – allow death sentences for apostasy, stoning for adultery, cross-amputations for theft, prison sentences for blasphemy and floggings for undefined “offences of honor, reputation and public morality”. Since 2011, more than 170 people have been arrested and charged with apostasy.

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summer magazine 2016

Index on Censorship's summer magazine 2016

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You'll also get access to an exclusive collection of articles from our landmark 250th issue of Index on Censorship magazine exploring journalists under fire and under pressure. Your downloadable PDF will include reports from Lindsey Hilsum, Laura Silvia Battaglia and Hazza Al-Adnan.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width="1/2"][gravityform id="20" title="false" description="false" ajax="false"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color="black"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Uzbekistan

In Uzbekistan, the government imprisons individuals for not conforming to officially prescribed practices or whom it claims are extremist, including as many as 12,000 Muslims. A highly restrictive religion law is imposed, the 1998 Law on Freedom of Consciences and Religious Organisations, which severely limits the rights of all religious groups and facilitates Uzbek government control over religious activity. Many who don’t fit into the framework of officially approved practices are regularly repressed. Additionally, the government has continued a campaign against independent Muslims, targeting those linked to the May 2005 protests in Andijan; 231 are still imprisoned in connection to the events, and ten have died. All the while, Uzbekistan has pressured countries to return Uzbek refugees who fled during the Andijan tragedy.


In an environment of nearly inescapable government information control, severe religion freedom breaches persist in Turkmenistan. Continuing police raids and harassment of registered and unregistered religious groups matched with laws and policies that violate international human rights norms has the nation as one of the year’s biggest offenders. With an estimated total population of 5.1 million, the US government projects that the country is 85% Sunni Muslim, 9% Russian Orthodox, and a 2% total that includes Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jews, and evangelical Christians. Despite Turkmenistan’s constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom and separation of religion from the state, the 2003 religion law negates these provisions while setting intrusive registration criteria for individuals. It also requires that the government is informed of all foreign financial support, forbids worship in private homes and places discriminatory restrictions on religious education.


While the Chinese constitution guarantees freedom of religion, this idea really only applies to “normal religions”, better known as the five state-sanctioned “patriotic religious associations” associated with Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism. Even still, the government monitors religious activities unfairly, and there has been an increased religious persecution of Uighur Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. All around repression in China worsened in 2014, including the governmental push for controlling Tibet, Xinjiang, and even Hong Kong, as well as controls on the internet, social media, human rights defenders, activists and journalists.


Ongoing religious freedom abuses have continued in Eritrea, including torture or ill-treatment of religious prisoners, random arrests without charges and banning’s on public religious activities. The situation is especially serious for Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the government suppresses Muslim religious activities and those opposed to the government-appointed head of the community. In 2002, the government increased its control over religion by imposing a registration requirement on all religious groups other than the Coptic Orthodox Church of Eritrea, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea. The requirements mandated that the non-preferred religious communities provide detailed information about their finances, membership, activities, and benefit to the country. Additionally, released religious prisoners have reported to USCIRF that they were confined in crowded conditions, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations. The government continued to arrest and detain followers of unregistered religious communities. Recent estimates suggest 1,200 to 3,000 people are imprisoned on religious grounds in Eritrea, the majority of whom are Evangelical or Pentecostal Christians.


Poor religious freedom in Iran continued to worsen in 2014, particularly for minority groups like Bahá'ís, Christian converts, and Sunni Muslims. The government is still engaging in systematic violations, including prolonged detention, torture, and executions based on the religion of the accused. Despite Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians being recognised as protected minorities, the government has consistently discriminated against its citizens on the basis of religion. Killings, arrests, and physical abuse of detainees have increased in recent years, including for religious minorities and Muslims who are perceived as threatening the government’s legitimacy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type="post" max_items="12" style="load-more" items_per_page="4" element_width="6" grid_id="vc_gid:1493906845781-a7b9ac80-f77d-2" taxonomies="1742"][/vc_column][/vc_row]