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.

New play gives a voice to the forgotten Crimean Tatars

The title of the play Crimea, 5am refers to the time in the morning the authorities choose to raid the homes of activists in the Russian-occupied territory. It is a time of fear and horror for the Crimean Tatars whose voices make up the text of this verbatim play, taken from the testimonies of the men now held in Putin’s prisons and the families waiting at home for them.

Crimea 5am brings to life one of the lesser-known aspects of the brutal war in Ukraine, which began not in February 2022 but in March 2014. It draws on the oral history of the suppression of the Tatar Muslim minority, who returned to the peninsula in the 1990s following independence after years of exile from their homeland.

Much of what we know of life in Crimea since 2014 has come from activists turned citizen journalists. This is one of the reasons the Russian authorities have cracked down so hard on Tatars, characterizing them either as political extremists or Islamist terrorists linked to the group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

Two examples from the play show how ordinary Tatars went from being activists, to journalists to dissidents in the face of Russian repression.

Tymur Ibrahimov, 38, moved back to Crimea from Uzbeksitan at the age of six in 1991 after the death of his father. In the play, his wife Diliara, explains his transformation from computer repairman to enemy of the state:  “It used to be different, until 2014, you know, back then he would make home videos, he would take pictures of nature, like, of the bees and butterflies  on flowers, just like that. It all changed in 2015 and he began making footage of what was going on in Crimea. That is, all the searches, court hearings, “Crimean Solidarity” meetings.” For the crime of recording the resistance of his people Tymur was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Narminan Memedeminov, 39, also moved back to Crimea from Uzbekistan in 1991. After graduating in economics he became involved in human rights activism and media coordinator for the Crimean Solidarity movement. “Here’s an example: I went and took a video of somebody helping out a prisoner’s family, like, basic stuff, they would take the child to the hospital, help them hang the wallpaper, fix the plumbing, send off the parcels to the detention centre and so on... And in the end, everybody involved was at risk: those who took videos, those who helped, those who did anything at all.”

Index editor at large Martin Bright (left) taking part in a post-play discussion.

The stories have been brought together by two Ukrainian writers, Natalia Vorozhbyt and Anastasiia Kosodii and the project is backed by the Ukrainian Institute and the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a way of bringing the situation to international attention. I had the privilege of watching a reading of  of the play at the Kiln Theatre, Kilburn in London last week with professional actors alongside non-professional activists and supporters. Directed by Josephine Burton and produced by Dash Arts, the play focuses on the domestic lives of the families of the Tatar political prisoners and particularly the women.

Burton told Index that until the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Crimea has drifted from international attention. “Helped by a media blackout, we forgot that the peninsula has been occupied by Russians for almost nine years now and its Tatar community oppressed,” she said. “Determined to fight this silence, the community has relentlessly documented this oppression – filming and uploading searches, arrests and court cases of its people by the Russian Security Forces. And for this act, these “Citizen Journalists” have been arrested themselves and given insanely long sentences, some for up to 20 years in penal colonies.”

Crimea 5am focuses on the everyday lives of Tatar dissidents, drawn from many hours of recordings with the families of 11  political prisoners. “It builds a beautiful and powerful portrait of a community, ripped apart by this tragedy, but also woven with stories of love and resilience through the prism of the wives left behind. It is this mix of tenderness and humour alongside the unfathomable darkness which enables its impact. We the audience become invested in their lives and feel the impact of their tragedy deeply.”

Dash Arts is looking for further opportunities to perform Crimea 5am:

What does it take for a journalist to enter Crimea?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="100124" img_size="full"][vc_column_text]Flying from Moscow to Simferopol is quick and relatively affordable if you’re travelling out of season, but according to Ukrainian law it’s also illegal. After the 2014 Russian annexation of the peninsula, Ukraine passed a law that prohibits travelling to Crimea via Russia. Violating it can lead to a fine and a ban on entering Ukraine.

Journalists who travel to Crimea via Ukraine need the necessary documentation to work in a territory that is de facto controlled by Russia. In addition to a Russian accreditation and work visas -- obtained at the end of a long and demanding process that can prove particularly difficult for freelancers -- journalists also need to make their way to Kyiv and present a series of documents to Ukraine’s ministry of information and immigration service, to obtain a permit to enter Crimea, which takes a minimum of one or two days. Then they can head south and make their way to what has become the border with Crimea, 668 kilometres away. Once on the peninsula, they are usually interviewed by FSB officers.

Anton Naumliuk, a Russian journalist who covers Crimea for Radio Liberty, has been travelling to the peninsula about six times a year recently, always via Ukraine. He says he’s noticed that the procedure on the Ukrainian side is becoming simpler and faster. He’s also seen the border gradually built up. “Two years ago there was nothing, just the ground,” he said. Now there’s portacabins and fences. In the summer, there can be long queues.

Journalists often encounter difficulties on the Russian side, he explained. “[FSB officers] ask you who you’ll meet. This interrogation can take hours. If the journalist is quite well-known they try not to do it. If you’re young, if you’re Ukrainian, or carry equipment, you’re more likely to be interrogated. It can be quite nerve-wracking.”

Journalists can be asked to display the content of their phones or computers, although, according to Russian law, they cannot be forced to provide passwords to law enforcement. Officers can search hard drives or flashcards. This means journalists are advised to wipe any sensitive information which could compromise their sources before crossing the border. FSB agents have also been known to ask journalists for their phones’ IMEI number, which could allow them to track the person’s movements when they are reporting in the peninsula.

On my way back from a recent reporting trip to Crimea I met Tetiana Pechonchyk, who monitors human rights violations in Crimea at the Human Rights Information Centre in Kyiv. Her organisation has been campaigning for an easier access for journalists to the peninsula, in a context where coverage by Ukrainian journalists has gradually become near to impossible. “Almost no Ukrainian journalist is able to work in Crimea. A lot of Ukrainian journalists who covered the occupation and persecutions connected to it left Crimea. Ten Crimean media outlets moved to mainland Ukraine with their staff. They continue to cover Crimea but a majority of the websites are blocked on the peninsula, while not being blocked in Russia,” she said.

According to the Human Rights Information Centre’s monitoring, the number of assaults against journalists in Crimea has gone down, but for Pechonchyk, this does not mean much: “They pushed most of independent journalists out. Once you’ve emptied the field then you have no one to repress. They were lots of physical attacks in 2014. In 2015 Russia used legal tools against media outlets. They wouldn’t give a Russian license to outlets. Then they picked journalists who work for the Ukrainian media and terrified them one by one. Small media and bloggers have started appearing in Crimea. The role of professional journalists has been taken over by average citizens who film videos of searches in Tatar houses, go to politically motivated trials to cover them. Now authorities have started persecuting citizen journalists as well.”

Naumliuk began reporting from Crimea because he saw what was taking place there as a continuation of the war in Donbass. “It’s a lot more important than it seems at first glance and offers some understanding into what happened after the breakup of the Soviet Union and what will happen to such a big territory, in places like Belarus and Kazakhstan,” he said. He mostly covers court cases, with a focus on persecutions against Tatars. He says very few foreign outlets work with him regularly, they’ll only ask for his help if something happens.

“[Without constant coverage] it’s super difficult to understand the situation. There’s no human rights organisations working on the ground and very few independent journalists. Very little information on repression against political prisoners goes out. For this reason, it seems nothing is happening in Crimea. It’s all very quiet. But if you speak with Tatars the picture changes. A majority of kids live without their father because of what has been happening,”Naumliuk said.

“I think that not enough journalists go, and that’s there’s not enough stories coming from Crimea, because of the travel,” Ola Cichowlas, who recently travelled via Ukraine to spend two days reporting in Crimea for the Agence France Presse, said in an interview.

“Meanwhile, the world has gotten tired of the story,” Pechonchyk said. Foreign journalists often come for the anniversary of the annexation, do a quick story and then leave.

According to the State Migration Service of Ukraine, 106 foreign journalists have travelled to Crimea via Ukraine between 2015 and March 2018.

In this context, the Human Rights Information Centre and other organisations have tried to push for a facilitated access for foreign journalists who travel to Crimea, but also for aid workers and lawyers for whom it can take much longer to obtain a permit. “The first issue in terms of access is security,” says Pechonchyk. “For a foreign journalist it’s safer to come to Crimea via the Russian Federation than enter via mainland Ukraine. You’re almost always interrogated by the FSB when you go via Ukraine, with a higher risk of being put under surveillance. If you fly to Crimea from Moscow you violate Ukrainian law but it’s safer.”

Pechonchyk believes the process enabling foreign journalists to travel to Crimea should be made simpler: “It shouldn’t be a permission, but a notification. People should be allowed to do it from abroad, via a consulate or an embassy through an online form, and they should be able to apply in English – it’s all in Ukrainian at the moment. This should be a multi-entry permit and the number of categories able to get it should be extended.” At the moment, the list only includes journalists, human rights defenders, people working for international organisations, travelling for religious purposes, to visit relatives or people who have relatives buried in Crimea. Researchers and filmmakers, for instance, are not included and struggle to go to Crimea legally.

Pechonchyk also believes there should be exceptional cases – emergencies – where journalists and lawyers are allowed to travel from Russia, to attend a trial, or report on an arrest, for instance. The existing legislation offers little clarity and seems to be mostly applied when Ukraine wants to punish individuals who supported the annexation, as happened in 2017 when they banned a Russian singer who was to take part in the Eurovision and had performed in Crimea.

But there seems to be little room for a debate on this in Ukrainian society at the moment. Difficulties of access also apply to journalists who visit the self-proclaimed separatist republics of Donetsk or Luhansk, who need a series of accreditations from the Ukrainian and the separatist side, are not supposed to enter the separatist republics from Russia, and can face backlash once they have travelled to the republic. This is what happened when in May 2016, personal information of journalists having visited DNR and LNR was leaked to Myrotvorets, a Ukrainian website known to be supported by Ukrainian police and secret services. The leak included journalists from more than 30 media outlets, who had been merely covering the war on the rebel side but were depicted by nationalists as “collaborating with terrorists”. No one was prosecuted for the leak.

Johann Bihr, who covers Eastern Europe for Reporters Without Borders, told Index: “It’s important that foreign journalists keep heading to Crimea and going back there. And we encourage Russia and Ukraine to facilitate access for journalists. If they fail to do so we face some kind of double penalty, where Crimea is abandoned by the international community because it has not been recognised and turns into an information black hole.”[/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:1525192972009-6f6057be-6973-0" taxonomies="6564"][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Reporting from Ukraine’s separatist areas is becoming more difficult


Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Ukrainian post control before separatist zone (Credit: Geoffrey Froment/Flickr)

Soon after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, full-scale fighting began between Ukrainian troops and separatists supported by Russia in the east of Ukraine. During active fighting in 2014, it was relatively easy for journalists to access to territories controlled by separatists.

“Accreditation was given quickly and without delay,” a Ukrainian producer who worked with international TV channels said. The producer, who requested anonymity because of ongoing work in the area, admits the risk for journalists was high because of the chaotic situation on the frontline and many of them faced detention by separatist militants. “I, like many, was detained and placed in a basement, but, fortunately, it only lasted for several hours,” he added.

Anna Nemtsova, a correspondent for Newsweek magazine and The Daily Beast, told Mapping Media Freedom that in 2014 she was abducted twice – firstly in the Luhansk region and secondly in the city of Donetsk.

“These were classic abductions,” Nemtsova said. “In Luhansk region, near Krasny Luch, armed militia wearing masks took our cell phones away from us and drove us in an unknown direction. In Donetsk, it happened near the morgue, where, according to our information, the militia had brought some of the bodies of passengers of the downed Boeing MH-17. Both detentions lasted for a few hours.”

Soon the situation with journalists' access to uncontrolled territories would change for the worse. In February 2015, the Minsk agreements were signed and a ceasefire was established. The ceasefire agreement prompted the authorities of the two self-proclaimed republics to start monitoring journalists’ reports from the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic.

“If they did not like the angle of coverage or some term, for example ‘separatist republics’, the name of a journalist was immediately added to the list of undesirable persons. The press service began to summon such journalists to ‘talks’ to express their dissatisfaction,” source who works as a local TV producer told MMF.

Nemtsova also faced similar difficulties. In summer 2015 she was told that the DPR press service did not like her reports and threatened to ban her, which later they said they did. “Their complaints were unreasonable, they were not about any errors in my report, but about the term ‘separatists’, which they claimed I used in my stories,” she said.

Thus, the monitoring of publications about the separatist zone in the media has led to the fact that from the summer of 2015 many journalists who tried to obtain accreditation from the self-proclaimed authorities began to receive refusals. Some reporters who managed to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics were detained and deported. On 16 June 2015, separatists from DPR captured Novaya Gazeta special correspondent Pavel Kanygin and handed him over to Russian security services (FSB). According to the journalist, they checked his documents and released him “in the middle of a field.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator color="black" align="align_left"][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width="1/2"][vc_custom_heading text="Ukraine" font_container="tag:p|font_size:24|text_align:left" use_theme_fonts="yes" link="|||"][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in Ukraine and 41 other European area countries.

As of 17/07/2017, there were 282 verified reports of violations connected to Ukraine in the Mapping Media Freedom database.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width="1/2"][vc_single_image image="94239" img_size="full" alignment="center" onclick="custom_link" link=""][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color="black" align="align_left"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Over the past year, arbitrary refusals to enter the territory of the self-proclaimed republics have been quite frequent. In December 2016, Deutsche Welle's correspondent Christian Trippe and his crew were barred from entering the territory of the self-proclaimed DPR. Journalists were trying to get to the territory controlled by DPR at a checkpoint near Marinka. Journalists had to wait an hour in a neutral zone between two fronts, while they were not allowed to return to the territory controlled by Ukrainian forces. The crew had received an authorisation from DPR press centre and had scheduled an interview with a spokesperson for the separatists. The journalists planned to visit Donetsk with Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. However, the militants did not let them through the checkpoint with the OSCE, citing the decision of DPR special services.

In 2016, the self-proclaimed authorities continued the practice of detentions and expulsions of journalists. In November, special forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic detained and expelled two journalists working for Russian TV channel Dozhd. Correspondents Sergei Polonsky and Vasiliy Yerzhenkov were detained by intelligence agencies on the evening of 25 November in Donetsk. Polonsky said that members of the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security went to their apartment and took them to the main building of the ministry where they were interrogated. "Three employees of the Ministry of State Security were involved in the interrogation. They watched videos and deleted them. They also blocked Polonsky's phone, broke Yerzhenkov's phone and destroyed his notebook," Dozhd reported. According to Dozhd, the journalists were not physically abused. "We experienced psychological abuse, but nothing more," Polonsky said. Later, employees of the Ministry of State Security explained to the correspondents that their detention was a consequence of "false information" in the accreditation, which turned out to be a wrong phone number.

The Dozhd crew were accredited to work in Donetsk by the Security Service of Ukraine and by the Ministry of information of DPR. Journalists entered the DPR border on 24 November from Russia to interview Alexey Khodakovsky, former secretary of DPR’s Security Council. Previously, the self-proclaimed Ministry of State Security of DPR said the cause of the journalists' expulsion was "biased" and "provocative" coverage of the situation in the DPR.

Local journalists and bloggers often find it even more risky to work in the separatist territories. In 2014, many journalists were forced to leave the territory, and are now working elsewhere in Ukraine. Over the past year, a number of arrests by separatists have been reported. The latest one is an incident with blogger and writer Stanyslav Aseev who disappeared in Donetsk. The blogger was reportedly detained by militants of the self-proclaimed DPR. Aseev uses the alias Stanislav Vasin and contributes to a number of news outlets including Radio Liberty Donbass Realities project, Ukrayinska Pravda, Ukrainian week and Dzerkalo Tyzhnya. He also runs a prominent blog via Facebook.

Donbass Realities project editor-in-chief Tetyana Jakubowicz said their contact with Aseev was lost on 2 June. That day, Aseev filed the latest report from territories held by separatists for Radio Liberty. Aseev’s relatives and friends confirmed that they also lost contact with the blogger. They questioned the self-proclaimed Ministry of Public Security of the DPR, but didn't receive any answers. The journalist's mother found evidence that his flat was broken into in Donetsk and noticed that some of his belongings were missing, including a laptop. On 12 July, Amnesty International reported that it learned that Aseev was being held by the de-facto “ministry of state security”.

Recently, several bloggers have been arrested in the self-proclaimed LPR. In October 2016 Vladislav Ovcharenko, a 19-year old blogger, who runs the Twitter account Luhansk Junta, was detained by separatists. Later, armed representatives of the self-proclaimed Ministry of the State Security raided his parents' apartment, taking his mother’s computer. In December 2016, Facebook blogger Gennadiy Benytskiy was arrested in Luhansk. The blogger, who is known for his pro-Ukraine views, was accused of distributing of "extremist materials" online.

Journalists take risks even when they get accreditation from the separatist authorities. A leak by the website Myrotvorets in May 2016 led to the personal data of more than 5,000 journalists becoming available online. The link to the leak was published by some Ukrainian politicians, calling journalists who received accreditation "traitors." Some of the journalists then received threats.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Mapping Media Freedom

Click on the bubbles to view reports or double-click to zoom in on specific regions. The full site can be accessed at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]