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.

Two years on: The dwindling freedoms following Myanmar’s military coup

This year’s planned elections in Myanmar were always going to be controversial. Then, last week, the military junta that runs the country announced new laws which will create yet more hurdles for democracy. Political parties must re-register within 60 days and sign up at least 100,000 members. Those that the military-controlled government deems to be connected with terrorist groups or to be unlawful will not be allowed to form.

Two years on from the 2021 military coup, Burmese journalist Wai Moe remembers seeing military fighters in the city of Yangon.

“Many of my friends, they did not believe there would be a coup, but I already believed this,” he told Index.

On the morning of 1 February 2021, the phone rang. A friend told Moe that the country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, had been arrested. That night, he remembers the military announcement that due to the emergency situation, power was being given to the commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing.

“I learnt about the coup… I was very afraid,” Moe said. “I thought, ‘They’re going to arrest me.’”

He wasn’t arrested that day, but when in April he was offered the opportunity to flee the country on a chartered plane, he took it.

Moe is now in exile from Myanmar for the second time in his life. The first occasion came after his release from a five-year-stint as a political prisoner in the mid-1990s. He said he had been part of an underground organisation that secretly studied politics and history.

He still speaks to people in Myanmar, some of whom he describes as going back to normal life after the recent lifting of the curfew. They visit bars and nightclubs. “Day by day, they are in control,” he said of the military, believing the curfew lift to be a sign of this.

The changing face of the protest movement

 “When the coup occurred, what initially came out of that was a large-scale protest resistance,” Dan Anlezark, the deputy head of investigations at Myanmar Witness, told Index. This Burmese-led organisation formed in March 2021 in response to events that unfolded following the coup. The group identifies and verifies potential human rights abuses to promote accountability in Myanmar, often using videos and testimonies posted on Facebook and other digital platforms.

Following the protests came violent crackdowns.

Student Thu Thu Zin marched at the front of a small anti-coup protest in Mandalay on 27 July 2021, taking one end of the red Mya Taung Strike Front flag and chanting. According to the evidence verified by Myanmar Witness, the 25-year-old was shot and killed. There was nothing to suggest Zin or the protesters had been violent. Zin’s body was removed, sand used to conceal the blood and her body placed into the back of a truck and taken away. Her family found out about her death when they saw photos of her body on social media. The report concludes that the shooting can, with reasonable certainty, be attributed to the military.

“She became quite symbolic of the protest movement at the start, of that resistance and how forcefully it was met,” Anlezark said.

Since that time, the landscape has changed.

“Once the protesters saw exactly how much force they were being met with, those protests died down. If you're being met with a gun, and you know that they're willing to use it, it's not the most effective means of resistance,” he said. Any protests that are still happening tend to be smaller and reactions to specific events.

 Now there is an armed struggle for democracy, as a network of civilian groups, named the People’s Defence Force, clashes with the military. Meanwhile, military junta vehicle convoys are intentionally burning down villages at an alarming rate, according to evidence seen by Myanmar Witness.

Putting the horror of this situation into context, Anlezark explained that they have been examining evidence of burned bodies, found shackled.

“The why is always hard to answer,” he said. “It does look to be that the villages have a link to say PDF [People’s Defence Force] operations or there's a PDF base nearby, or it's seen in the eyes of the SAC [State Administration Council] as a means of potential intimidation. Or just to scare the living daylights out of people.”

Erin Michalak has a background in forensic science and now works largely with the arms team at Myanmar Witness. She explained that an increase in unguided airstrikes comes hand-in-hand with the SAC having more aircrafts available to them. Air assets have been transferred from countries including Russia. For some areas in Myanmar, access through ground troops has proven difficult, but airstrikes have made these places potential targets.

“Commentary that I see and that I hear is that the air strikes are almost a symptom of the SAC knowing that they're not winning or that they're not progressing how they would like in a ground war,” Anlezark said.

 The vanishing Myanmar media

 “On 8 March, they banned all the private publications,” Moe told Index, explaining that any continuing news outlets became state controlled. After five publications initially had their licences revoked, the rest fell victim shortly after.

Some citizens turned to foreign radio, like the BBC and Radio Free Asia, and accessed international news through VPNs, Moe explained. Facebook was banned in the early days of the coup, but it is still used extensively to share information, as is the messaging app Telegram.

 “If they [media] were pro-democracy or anti-regime, it was shut down or there was a sense that there was going to be something negative that occurred,” Michalak said. “And there are reports and claims of journalists being detained and imprisoned within Myanmar — these are harder to verify.”

In addition, she described evidence of some prisons acting without proper court systems and performing their own sentencing.

“It's really hard to get an understanding of what's truly going on here,” she said. “But there is evidence that there has been a negative effect on journalism and freedom of speech within the country.”

In January this year, the military junta released hundreds of political prisoners in celebration of Myanmar’s 75th anniversary of independence. While welcome news to those released, thousands remain behind bars, including former leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who will likely spend the rest of her life in prison and Htien Lin, an artist and Index contributor who was arrested last August.

“It did appear to be very political, with international viewership noticing that they were releasing these prisoners,” Michalak said.

She described how most of the sentences were connected to freedom of speech and expressing disagreement with the regime. Holding high-profile figures for longer would have been difficult for the military, she said.

Myanmar’s military administration has claimed it will run a general election in August 2023, coinciding with the end of the state of emergency.

“We will be very closely monitoring that to identify voter coercion, disenfranchisement, fraud and violence, which is almost certainly going to occur against protesters and people trying to cast a democratic vote,” Anlezark said.

Moe does not see how any proposed elections could be free and fair.

“There is no space for media, no space for press freedom,” he said. “They are only looking for legitimacy.”

In the run up, the military is conducting a nationwide census, and the reasons for it are unclear. The information in the hands of the junta, Anlezark said, could become a targeting list. It might show who is still in the country, who should be and who might have disappeared to join the network of armed civilian groups who have training camps in the jungle. Daily allegations on Facebook claim that census officials are going from town to town and checking their lists. Myanmar Witness is monitoring and collecting the information.

 As to the future of the country, from which he is again exiled, Moe said: “We have to find a way out of the crisis.”

Major new global free expression index sees UK ranking stumble across academic, digital and media freedom

A major new global ranking index tracking the state of free expression published today (Wednesday, 25 January) by Index on Censorship sees the UK ranked as only “partially open” in every key area measured.

In the overall rankings, the UK fell below countries including Australia, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Jamaica and Japan. European neighbours such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and Denmark also all rank higher than the UK.

The Index Index, developed by Index on Censorship and experts in machine learning and journalism at Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe, giving a country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Key findings include:

  • The countries with the highest ranking (“open”) on the overall Index are clustered around western Europe and Australasia - Australia, Austria, Belgium, Costa Rica, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland.

  • The UK and USA join countries such as Botswana, Czechia, Greece, Moldova, Panama, Romania, South Africa and Tunisia ranked as “partially open”.

  • The poorest performing countries across all metrics, ranked as “closed”, are Bahrain, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Eswatini, Laos, Nicaragua, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

  • Countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates performed poorly in the Index Index but are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council.

Ruth Anderson, Index on Censorship CEO, said:

“The launch of the new Index Index is a landmark moment in how we track freedom of expression in key areas across the world. Index on Censorship and the team at Liverpool John Moores University have developed a rankings system that provides a unique insight into the freedom of expression landscape in every country for which data is available.

“The findings of the pilot project are illuminating, surprising and concerning in equal measure. The United Kingdom ranking may well raise some eyebrows, though is not entirely unexpected. Index on Censorship’s recent work on issues as diverse as Chinese Communist Party influence in the art world through to the chilling effect of the UK Government’s Online Safety Bill all point to backward steps for a country that has long viewed itself as a bastion of freedom of expression.

“On a global scale, the Index Index shines a light once again on those countries such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates with considerable influence on international bodies and mechanisms - but with barely any protections for freedom of expression across the digital, academic and media spheres.”

Nik Williams, Index on Censorship policy and campaigns officer, said:

“With global threats to free expression growing, developing an accurate country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. With gaps in current data sets, it is hoped that future ‘Index Index’ rankings will have further country-level data that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers.

“As the ‘Index Index’ grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it will not only map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.”

Steve Harrison, LJMU senior lecturer in journalism, said: 

“Journalists need credible and authoritative sources of information to counter the glut of dis-information and downright untruths which we’re being bombarded with these days. The Index Index is one such source, and LJMU is proud to have played our part in developing it.

“We hope it becomes a useful tool for journalists investigating censorship, as well as a learning resource for students. Journalism has been defined as providing information someone, somewhere wants suppressed – the Index Index goes some way to living up to that definition.”