Vote for your Moment of Freedom 2023

Moments of Freedom is Index on Censorship’s 2023 year-end campaign where we ask our readers and supporters to vote on the moments during the past twelve months that have given them hope that the world is not as bad as it sometimes feels.

Index’s staff, trustees and patrons will look back over the year and highlight their moments where freedom of expression has been strengthened or celebrated. This could be through the introduction of new legislation supporting free expression, the release of a prisoner of conscience or the escape of a dissident from tyranny to a safe third country.

To vote, people must sign up to our weekly newsletter. Voting closes at 11.59pm UK time on Monday 8 January 2024. The 2023 Moment of Freedom will be announced in the Index newsletter on Friday 12 January 2024.

We are offering a selection of prizes, including signed banned books and T-shirts and mugs (from Stoke) bearing Index magazine covers to twelve people taking part who will be drawn randomly from all those voting.

Vote for your 2023 Moment of Freedom

Our team, trustees and patrons have chosen Moments of Freedom from the past 12 months. Click on your favourite moment and then on the green button at the bottom to register your vote.

Thanks for voting for the 2023 Moment of Freedom. The closing date for entries is Monday 8 January 2024. Twelve voters will be picked at random to win one of our exclusive prizes.

Why academic freedom and freedom of speech are not the same thing

It seems every week there is a news story of another academic, a group of students or a vice chancellor detailing threats to academic freedom. Heartbreakingly this has become an even more common occurrence since the Hamas pogrom in Israel on 7 October and the subsequent war in Gaza.

Only this week the UKRI, a UK government body which distributes research funding, has suspended its diversity advisory panel, after a leading member of the British Government publicly criticised members of the panel for their social media comments regarding Hamas and Israel. This led to the resignation of several academics from posts at the UKRI.

And at Cornell University in the US, a student is currently facing charges for threatening to kill Jewish students via a range of graphic social media posts, resulting in his persecution and enhanced security measures now in place for Jewish staff and members on campus.

These are two of the more extreme examples of the impact of the current crisis on academic institutions.

And as angry as they make me, as heartbroken as I am about current events, I have to consider them through the prism of my job - defending freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is a very broad concept and there are as many definitions as there are forms of expression. But taking the two examples above at hand, academic freedom and freedom of speech are different things. What people debate and discuss in the lecture hall, in a seminar room or on the pages of an academic tome must always be protected. But academics are not afforded special protections outside of the confines of their intellectual endeavours. That’s not a matter of academic freedom, it’s one of freedom of expression and should be considered separately.

At the same time, the events in Cornell equate to hate speech and are not and should not be protected. Hate speech and incitement are against the law and should be dealt with accordingly. And every community, every student should have the right to feel safe on campus - not in fear of their lives. No one should be scared of walking onto their university campus whatever is happening in a war thousands of miles away.

This is all at a time when university campuses are increasingly considered to be the frontline in the ongoing battle to protect free speech.

Earlier this year, the UK saw the passage of The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act.

In the current context, this seems to have muddied the waters between academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus. The new law places an onus on universities, colleges and Students’ Unions to not only protect free speech but to actively promote it. But what does this mean when applied to the views of students and academics who are promoting views outside of their academic specialisms?

The very name of the Act it suggests that those on campus have complete freedom of speech without limitation. They do not; no one does. But as academics they must have complete freedom to teach and challenge without fear or favour (within the confines of the law).

Universities are meant to be seats of academic exploration, cathedrals of learning. They provide a forum for discussion and debate in which new ideas and minority opinions can be considered. The purpose is to expose students to the breadth of views and ideas that exist in their particular discipline and ideally challenge their worldview - allowing them to argue back. On campus, in the classroom - not on a social media platform.

It is always difficult to know what impact these debates and issues are having on campus. How safe academics feel to push the boundaries of their areas of specialism and how secure students feel to question and debate on campus - to ask the unpalatable question, to challenge the status quo. But in the midst of the current gloom and misery I am choosing to take a little bit of hope from a recently published survey.

The National Student Survey from the Office of Students would suggest that this endemic attack on free speech is not as pervasive as we sometimes believe it to be. They asked students from colleges and universities in England how free they felt to express their “ideas, opinions, and beliefs” and 86% said that they felt “free” or “very free”. Only 3% of the 300,000 respondents said that they felt they were ‘not free at all.”

On the face of it, this is good news. We should welcome the fact that an overwhelming number of students feel free to speak their mind and share their opinions. Self censorship is a real problem but not one, it seems, that plagues the majority of today’s students.

But we must ask the 3% why they don’t feel free at all to express themselves on campus. is it threats from external forces like the Chinese Communist Party, is it because of their identity or faith, or is it because they themselves hold minority opinions and are fearful of being challenged. Whatever the reason, 9,000 students who participated in this survey feel silenced. We need to know why and we need to find a way to support them.

In the interim I’m going to focus on the positive and celebrate the fact that we start from a position of academic freedom and that the overwhelming majority of students know that they can express themselves on campus without fear or favour.


Contents – In bad faith: How religion is being weaponised by the right


The Autumn 2023 issue of Index looks at blasphemy laws, and how they are being weaponised by the religious right as a means of imposing intolerance. We wanted to understand the ways in which religion is being used by states as an excuse for censorship, and how this has played out in a global context.

The writers in this issue have examined blasphemy laws in countries all over the world, shining a light on the those who have been left voiceless or have been persecuted in the name of religion. These worrying stories paint a picture of a growing movement amongst the religious right that threatens to suppress those who do not conform to increasingly strict cultures and norms.

Up Front

Faithful foot soldiers, by Jemimah Steinfeld: The religious right is in, our rights to speech out.

The Index, by Mark Frary: From fraught elections in Mali to Russians launching VPNs, this is free expression in focus.


Oiling the wheels of injustice, by Francis Clarke and Mark Frary: Behind a mega-city construction and the roar of Formula 1, Saudi Arabia is driving human rights further into the ground.

Pinochet's ghost still haunts, by Juan Carlos Ramírez Figueroa: The Chilean dictator is long gone, but support lingers on.

The dissident lives on, by Martin Bright: The dissident is not dead, long live the dissident.

No place to hide, by Nik Williams: Transnational repression has no borders in a digital world.

Peer pressure, by Thiện Việt: In China, enforced social rankings aren’t just confined to the realms of Black Mirror.

No country for anxious men, by Laura Silvia Battaglia: A mental health crisis in Yemen has left people locked up with no voice.

Nollywood gets naked, by Tilewa Kazeem: It’s getting hot in Nigeria, as the film scene strips back on what’s deemed inappropriate.

Policing symbolism, by Jimena Ledgard: Peruvian protesters are being met with violence, and not even flower carpets are safe.

Setting the story straight, by Danson Kahyana: Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law is having an unexpected effect, with literature being ripped apart.

A marriage made in transgression, by Alexandra Domenech: Despite being tortured by security forces and her fiancé thrown in jail, Russian dissident Alexandra Popova is staying put in Moscow.

Out of the oven, into the fire, by Mir Aiyaz: Rohingya Muslims hoping for open arms in India are getting a cold reception.

Special Report: In bad faith - how religion is being weaponised by the right

For the love of God?, by Rebecca L Root: As intolerance rises in many parts of the world, a misplaced profanity can spell out death.

Worshippers of power, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Under the eye of the religious right, Margaret Atwood discusses why a blasphemy accusation holds so much power.

King David he is not, by JP O'Malley: The USA's religious right is playing the Trump Card.

No sex please, we're Hindus, by Salil Tripathi: Oppenheimer isn't just breaking box office records, it's offending Hindu nationalists.

In the name of the father?, by Francis Clarke: A far from extensive list of the countries currently imposing sentences on those who "offend".

A call to harm, by Ayesha Khan: Pakistan has some of the world's harshest blasphemy laws, but punishments come from those outside the law too.

The blasphemy obstacle course, by Mai Al-Nakib: Kuwait's rocky relationship with blasphemy laws is breeding a generation of self-censored authors.

Self-worship is the new religion, by Tara Isabella Burton: A new faith is emerging and it's not necessarily open to different views.

Think of the children, by Katie Dancey-Downs: When Juno Dawson's stories are banned, is it really about the books?

Turkey's zealots still want blood, by Kaya Genç: A foundation related to the controversial and failed translation of The Satanic Verses continues to be attacked.

Sharia Law and disorder, by Kola Alapinni: When the state fails to step in, violent mobs control the punishments for blasphemy in Nigeria.

Loose hair in Tehran, by Farnaz Haeri: The writer describes her first time walking out in Iran without a headscarf.

Handmaid's tale in a holy land, by Jo-Ann Mort: In an Israel that is eroding women's rights, female-free billboards and segregated beaches are just some of the battlegrounds.

Practise what they preach, by Simon Coates: Religious values are an excuse to eradicate LGBTQ+ discussion in the UAE, while tolerance is forgotten.

Poland's papal problem, by Kseniya Tarasevich: One Pope's lack of integrity paints a picture of Poland's infiltrated politics.


Turkish and European courts failed me, by Nedim Türfent: How one journalist swapped a press card for a "terrorist" badge.

Truth in seduction, by Mark Hollingsworth: A historian struggles to lift the cloak of secrecy on a KGB-orchestrated sex scandal.

First they came for the female journalists, by Zahra Joya: The space for women in Afghanistan is ever-diminishing, and female journalists are crucial.

Speak, debate, challenge, by Ruth Anderson: Index's guiding framework remains the same in a 2023 context.


Will Paulina ever rest?, by Ariel Dorfman and Jemimah Steinfeld: The Death and the Maiden protagonist fights for justice once more. Plus an exclusive new short story.

Lines of inquiry, by Richard Norton-Taylor: The thorn in intelligence establishment's side explains the growing pressure on whistleblowers

Shortlists announced for the 2023 Freedom of Expression Awards

For the last 22 years Index on Censorship has been proud to host the annual Freedom of Expression Awards. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the brave artists, journalists and campaigners from around the world who fight for freedom of expression in the most challenging of circumstances. There are some truly incredible nominees for the awards this year, who more than ever, are challenging the repressive regimes they live under to fight for the rights of ordinary people.

2023 has seen the continuation of Russia’s war on Ukraine with its horrific consequences for the people of Ukraine and the severe repression for those speaking out against the war in Russia. The CCP in China continues to repress journalists, particularly those who attempt to uncover the crimes against the Uyghur people, and activists and protesters for women’s rights in Iran and Afghanistan face vicious attacks from the authorities.

The shortlisted candidates for the Arts award are Visual Rebellion, a platform for sharing the work of photographers, filmmakers, and artists documenting the protests in Myanmar; Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, who sings about injustice and the abuse of civil society by the authorities, for which he has been imprisoned; and Ukrainians, curator Maria Lanko and artist Pavlo Makov, who have worked to protect Ukrainian art in the face of Russian war crimes.

The shortlisted candidates for the Campaigning award are Matiullah Wesa from Afghanistan who has worked to ensure all children, but especially girls, have access to education and educational materials; Russian student Olesya Krivtsova who has publicly opposed Russia’s war on Ukraine and has fled the country to avoid up to 10 years’ imprisonment; the Xinjiang Victim’s Database, which records the incarceration and persecution of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province; and the Africa Human Rights Network which works to support and protect human rights defenders across the Great Lakes region of Africa.

And the shortlisted candidates for the Journalism award are Bilan Media, Somalia’s first women-only media organisation and newsroom; Mohammed Zubair, co-founder of the Indian fact-checking platform Alt News which has led to threats after challenging misinformation; and Afghan Mortaza Behboudi, in exile in France, who continues to travel to Afghanistan every month to work with different media outlets to ensure the voices of Afghans are heard.

The Freedom of Expression Awards are a time to remind ourselves of the importance of freedom of expression and to commit ourselves to protecting our own freedom of expression. It is easily lost but hard fought for. We must not forget that.