The Index Arts Award winner Mayam Mahmoud

Mayam Mahmoud, award winning Egyptian Hip-hop Artist (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Mayam Mahmoud, award winning Egyptian Hip-hop Artist (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Rapper Mayam Mahmoud uses hip-hop to address issues such as sexual harassment and to stand up for women’s rights in Egypt. The 18-year-old rose to prominence through her appearances on the popular TV show Arabs Got Talent. Aged 12, she was introduced to poetry by her mother. She began writing her own work, which soon turned into rap — still a male dominated music genre across the world.

From her song:

Girls in our society are divided
Into those who wear the niqab, those who wear the veil
And those who are in between
There are a lot of cases that depend on the girl
How she dresses
And how she looks
But this is not the rule
How can you judge me
By my hair or by my veil?
If one day you look at me
I am not going to be the one
Hiding her/my embarrassment
You cat call and you harass
Thinking this is right not wrong
Even if these are words
This is not the kind of treatment
These are stones
It is not her clothing that is inappropriate or wrong
It’s this way of thinking which is
Sometimes the clothing is too much
But you are the one to blame
One look can be could hurt
And it is not right of you to be staring
You deserve to be slapped twice on the face
Femininity in Egypt is divided into two parts
There is a difference between what men and women consider
And both are wrong
Who said that femininity is about dresses
Femininity is about intelligence and intellect
It is also about the way she was raised
And her religiosity
Girls have lost confidence in themselves
Now she puts in makeup
And dresses in different colours on top of each other
The problem is not with the girl
The problem is with the society that influences the girl every second
If you ask girls if they have good taste in dressing
They will say yes we have
But our lives can not be described
Our lives have become very materialistic
And everyone wants something that would endure
You get what you pay for
The expensive things are better than the cheap.

— Mayam Mahmoud

Read more about Mayam Mahmoud

This article was originally posted on 20 March 2014 at

The Google Digital Activism Award winner Shubhranshu Choudhary

Shubhranshu Choudhary accepting his award (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Shubhranshu Choudhary accepting his award (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Journalist Shubhranshu Choudhary is the brain behind CGNet Swara (Voice of Chhattisgarh) a mobile-phone (no smartphone required) service that allows citizens to upload and listen to local reports in their local language.

Shubhranshu Choudhary acceptance remarks:

Over the last few centuries our politics, world over has got democratized, more or less.

But if you look at mass communication, media or Journalism it still remains aristocratic, top down and more power in the hands of few.

We understand that our political democracy can not mature, function well unless we have a democratic, equitable communication.

But is that possible?

That is the experiment we are trying to do in India.

I grew up in Central India amidst hills and forest with Indigeneous people, whom we also call Adivasis, the tribals.

Central India is in the middle of a bloody war between Maoist guerrillas and Indian security forces. Tribals are led by the Maoists.

My tribal classmates once told me “our smaller problems can be solved if we have a democratic communication platform where each has equal right to speak and being heard.

To create a democratic, more equitable media we are using mobile phone in this experiment. Mobile phones have reached deep interiors even in countries like India.

Everyone has a voice and can speak in their own mother tongue.They feel more comfortable speaking rather then writing as many do not know how to read and write. And even if they know they feel more comfortable as they are an oral community.

Though mobile is owned by many but it is a personal communication tool. We use internet to convert mobile phone into a mass communication tool.

Today the same people who had no voice before are picking up their mobile and are telling their stories in their own languages. The messages, songs get recorded in our computer using an Interactive Voice recorder system and people can hear the same messages on their mobiles once they are cross-checked moderarted by some volunteers.

The same messages are also available online for Urban activists to follow with officials if they are about any problem. We are seeing many problems getting solved by making this simple connectivity.

An accumulation of these unsolved simple problems create bigger problems like the one we are facing in Central India today, which our Prime Minister once called India’s biggest internal security threat.

If problems are not being heard, not being solved, they create the “future terrorists”

But to complete this experiment we need your help.

We need help to connect this experiment to Short wave radio to create a duplicatable and sustainable independent communication model which people can own.

India, though, is world’s biggest democracy, we do not allow Radio. We will need help from outside like yours who can give us space in Radio transmitters.

But it will be a different type of radio, new radio. In this democratic radio programs will not be created in studios or newsrooms but they will be created in far off forests and villages where people through their mobile phone will report. Some of us in the middle on computer/internet will work on improving/editing them.

We Journalists will also be elected by the community and not selected by the powerful few.

This way we will create news which is by the people, of the people and for the people.

If we want a better democracy, a peaceful tomorrow we can not leave Journalism in the hands of few any more. Time has come like politics, Journalism also needs to become everybody’s business.

And it is possible.

— Shubhranshu Choudhary, CGNet Swara

More about Shubhranshu Choudhary

This article was originally posted on 20 March 2014 at

The Guardian Journalism Award winner Azadliq

Rahim Haciyev, deputy editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

Rahim Haciyev, deputy editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani newspaper Azadliq (Photo: Alex Brenner for Index on Censorship)

One of the few remaining independent media outlets in Azerbaijan, the newspaper Azadliq has continued to report on government corruption and cronyism in spite of an increasing financial squeeze enforced by the authorities.

Accepting the award on behalf of Azadliq is the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Rahim Haciyev.

Azadliq newspaper was set up in 1989 by Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the main opposition organization (in the mid of 90s APFP stopped funding Azadliq and it became an independent newspaper). The first editor-in-chief of the newspaper was a famous journalist Najaf Najafov. Azadliq newspaper has always been a paper admired by free and freedom-loving people. A key motto of the paper was ‘serving the truth’. This was a main reason of constant pressure and attacks on the newspaper. In 2006, the newspaper was evicted from the office located in the city centre. It had been relocated into three small rooms at “so-called” state-financed publishing house.

Harsh repressions have been started against the newspaper staff. Later on, a chief editor and the staff member of the newspaper, poet-satirist were imprisoned with fabricated charges after court decision. The kidnapping and beating of a newspaper staff followed by similar incident when an Azadliq journalist was returning back from fulfilling his job duties and was beaten in the evening. Two journalists were stabbed for their critical articles. Last year, a court had fined the newspaper 65,000 euros. The newspaper website which had 9 million visitor IPs in 2013, was a target to severe attacks. Circulation of the newspaper is only 8000 copies.

Nevertheless, our newspaper has an enormous impact on public opinion. Even by your (Western) standards, this small circulation makes the government dis-comfortable who is doing everything to shut down the paper. It reminds us a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To be or not to be?” With this dilemma the newspapers is moving towards its 25th jubilee. Despite all the repressions, unbelievable difficulties and problems, the newspaper team is determined to continue this sacred job – serving the truth. Because this is meaning of what we do and the meaning of our lives!

Thank you for your attention and support. In addition, I would like to thank the international democratic community and the democratic community of our country who support the newspaper and let me express our special thanks to our loyal readers.

— Rahim Haciyev, Editor-in-Chief, Azadliq

This article was originally posted on 20 March 2014 at

Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Digital activism nominee Free Weibo

Internet censorship is rife in China. Social media sites are not exempt — there are 2,000,000 people employed in the country specifically to monitor microblogging sites. Against this backdrop, FreeWeibo works tirelessly to keep track of and publish all the censored and deleted social media messages, providing a fascinating insight into the regime’s priorities and fears.

On October 4 2013, an app version of the site was launched in the Chinese Apple app store, created in association with Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The creators fended off some initial attacks, assuming the only way the app could be truly be blocked was through blocking the entire app store. They were in for a surprise when, on November 28, Apple themselves decided to take down the app following complaints from Beijing.

The people behind FreeWeibo remain undeterred. They have launched a new type of mirror site, which they say can circumvent Chinese censorship.

Index on Censorship’s Taylor Walker interviewed FreeWeibo.

Index: How does it feel to be nominated for Index’s Digital Advocacy award and why do you think FreeWeibo was nominated?

FreeWeibo: We are totally honoured to be even thought of for this award especially given the strengths of the other projects. To be considered in that kind of company is humbling. We are delighted that we can make it onto the radar for Index on Censorship. We tend to think that a lot of people feel that fighting Chinese censorship is a lost cause. Obviously, we don’t feel that way but we get a general sense that a lot of other organizations, companies, or individuals don’t feel that it was a battle worth fighting. We very much think that not only can we fight the battle but we can win the battle.

Index: Could you describe the changing composition of FreeWeibo over the past few years?

FreeWeibo: We started as in 2011- that website still exists. What we do is we track what websites and key word searches are being blocked in China. We started just covering just a few hundred websites now we have 90,000 websites in our database that are constantly being tested for censorship. We also want it to be a resource for people that want to know more about what’s happening with censorship in China. We’ve been very successful with that as well. We started FreeWeibo because we thought it was the obvious thing to do to combat censorship on Sina Weibo.

Index: How was government scrutiny following the launch of FreeWeibo?

FreeWeibo: After we launched Free Weibo it was blocked in 3 days. The government is paying close attention to what we are doing. They were paying close attention to what we were doing before FreeWeibo. But now we are working a on a new concept which we call “Collateral Freedom”. We are basically creating mirror websites that are blocked in China and hosting them on global cloud services. It’s been proven that the Chinese authorities are unable to block our mirror websites without blocking everything that’s being hosted on the cloud. We are gambling that the Chinese authorities won’t move to block everything that’s hosted in the cloud because that would create a huge disturbance in internet service in China and there would be severe economic consequences related to such a block. We are leveraging the cloud to deliver sensitive information back into China – including our own FreeWeibo website.

So far, our mirror websites have not been blocked. What we are doing now is delivering others using that same method. I don’t know how high on the radar we are for the Chinese authorities but regardless, all co-founders have close ties to China and from the time we started the project we all knew that we were getting involved in something that the Chinese authorities probably wouldn’t agree with so we took precautions right from the start to protect our identities and to basically make our involvement as secure as possible and we will continue to do that.

Index: Last year FreeWeibo teamed with Radio Netherlands Worldwide and created an app described as “unblockable.” What was your reaction to finding that Apple blocked the app?

FreeWeibo: That was actually the worst feeling. Worse than finding out that the Chinese authorities had disabled one of our test locations, for example. We expect that the Chinese government will do whatever it takes to stop us and we know that that will put pressure on foreign multinationals. But to actually know that Apple listened and obeyed the censorship authorities – it was a really low and sad moment for all of us – truly disheartening. Apple presents this totally other side to its customers and if you look at the way it markets the company it’s not the kind of karma that you’d expect from Apple.

We increasingly recognize that one of the biggest threats to our operation are large multinational companies. We’ve proved time and again that we can defeat the great firewall and we can defeat censorship in China but we need to leverage other platforms to be able to do that. If multinationals continue to concede to censorship requests from the Chinese authorities then we are going to be left with fewer options in terms of defeating censorship.

Index: How would you describe Freedom of Expression?

FreeWeibo: Freedom of expression and freedom of speech are actually written into the China’s constitution. We think that these are basic rights that Chinese citizens should enjoy – as should citizens of many other countries around the world. With the Snowden revelations, people are becoming more aware of different types of surveillance and censorship – the landscape is changing. I can say with confidence that we have a very clear path to ending censorship in China. We are also confident that we can actually bring our anti-censorship tools to other countries. This year, we are hoping to expand what we are doing with Collateral Freedom, what we are doing with GreatFire, and maybe what we are doing with FreeWeibo so that we can bring freedom of expression and freedom of speech to countries that need our help.

Index Freedom of Expression Awards
#indexawards2014 The nominees are…

Nominees: Advocacy | Arts | Digital Activism | Journalism

Join us 20 March 2014 at the Barbican Centre for the Freedom of Expression Awards

This article was published on 18 March 2014 at