We’re going for a lie down in the free speech tent… it’s been a busy few months

Summer is here! As Index gets its tent ready for another festival this weekend, I wanted to share some highlights from the past few months and give you a sneak peek of what we have in store for the autumn.

Above right, Jemima Foxtrot performs at Latitude Festival.

This Friday, we’ll be gathering festival goers around the campfire for a series ofuncensored folk tales at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where we are this year’s talks partner. Cambridge comes hot on the heels of our story-telling sessions at Latitude where writers including Scarlett Curtis, Max Porter and Jemima Foxtrot entertained crowds with wild stories.

Speech of a different kind was in focus at a talk earlier in July when UN rapporteur David Kaye discussed the thorny question of who polices speech online. Our magazine launch and summer party at the Goethe Institut, with German crime writer Regula Venske, was also a chance to reflect on the ways censorship creeps up to become authoritarianism.

Other events included two special talks in London and at the Hay Festival to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square killings. Speakers included authors Xinran and Karoline Kan, journalist Tania Branigan and academic Jeff Wasserstrom.

China will be in focus again in October when we have an exclusive screening of the film China’s Artful Dissident, which features the work of leading political dissident cartoonist Badiucao. Badiucao, who revealed his identity earlier this year after years of anonymity and who is flying from Australia to attend, will be in conversation with cartoonist Martin Rowson after the film. This is an invitation only event. Please email [email protected] if you would like to attend.

At the end of September, Index celebrates the freedom to read. Watch out for Banned Books Week events at the British Library and Foyles bookshop as well as at independent bookshops and libraries around the UK where midnight openings will celebrate the launch of Margaret Atwood’s new book ‘The Testaments’.

Press freedom in focus
In advocacy, we were delighted at news that the investigation into Northern Irish reporters Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey was dropped in May. Index – alongside colleagues English PEN – intervened in the judicial review of their case and we are grateful for the support of Phoenix Law in Belfast and Doughty Street Chambers in London. Birney and McCaffrey had their homes and office raided last year following their documentary investigating police collusion in the murders of six men.

From left: Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellows Zaina Erhaim (2016), Zaheena Rasheed (2017) and Wendy Funes (2018) in the Index booth at the Defend Media Freedom conference in July.

Media freedom is the focus of a major campaign spearheaded by the UK and Canada this year. I spoke on the issue at the UK’s launch of its annual human rights report and Index played an active role in a global conference hosted in London in July to launch the campaign. We were excited to see so many Index fellows there, including journalism fellows Zaina Erhaim, Zaheena Rasheed and Mimi Mefo, who all spoke on panels at the event, as well as Wendy Funes, NetBlocks and CRNI. We’ve also published reports looking at the wave of physical threats that journalists are facing in Russia, Turkey and Ukraine — drawn from our latest media monitoring project.

Current arts fellow Zehra Dogan had an exhibition at the Tate in May and was also one ofthe designers of flags developed to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights.

Also in arts, Index continued to raise questions about the UK’s policing of drill music and spoke at the launch of a new single by two artists who are subject to controversial new orders that are forcing musicians to censor their work.

Knowledge sharing
Our expertise is in high demand. In May, Index launched a new advisory service for arts organisations facing censorship, offering consultancy services, workshops and training. We also continue to provide expertise through the media, and have featured widely in international and national press and broadcast. Head of advocacy Joy Hyvarinen has been active in raising Index’s concerns about the UK’s strategy for online safety. We also gave evidence to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights about harassment ofMPs – on and offline.

We are recruiting for two new roles over the summer. The Head of Communications & Media and Senior Partnerships Manager positions are currently being advertised and we look forward to welcoming new additions to the Index family who will help us spread the free speech message even further.

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Finally, we were sorry last month to learn of the death of a great Index friend and freespeech champion – former editor of Index magazine, Andrew Graham-Yooll, who was a leading figure in the reporting of Argentina’s repressive regime in the 1970s and 1980s. Andrew’s family have kindly asked that people give to Index in Andrew’s memory. If you would like to do this, please visit the justgiving page.

As another former Index colleague, Matthew d’Ancona, wrote in a recent article, the right to free speech is needed not by the few but by everyone – and we are grateful to have had known individuals like Andrew who help us maintain that fight.