Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
Launched on International Human Rights day on 1 December 2021 by a team led by Nadja Houben (Human Rights in the Picture foundation) and Laure Siegel (Mediapart), Visual Rebellion is a platform to showcase and support the edited work of journalists, filmmakers and artists across post-coup Myanmar. The activities of Visual Rebellion consist mainly of a free public information service on what is happening in Myanmar and in Thailand, continuing education for their members in English, Thai and Burmese language on a range of topics including cybersecurity, investigations, photojournalism, as well as coordinating the production of photo exhibitions, documentary screenings and book publications to finance their studies or visas.
Salehi is a well-known Iranian hip-hop artist who has released protest songs including Mousehole, Turkmenchay and Pomegranate. Many of his songs explicitly reference the human rights situation in Iran, as well as threats to civil society. This has led him to being targeted by the authorities, long before his recent detention.
Following the release of Mousehole, Toomaj was arrested in the middle of the night on 12 September 2021. He was charged with "spreading propaganda against the state," but after more than a week he was released on bail. In January 2022, he was sentenced to six months in prison but was released on a suspended sentence in February. He later appeared in front of the prison where he had been imprisoned as part of a music video for a song written in memory of the victims of Aban.
Due to Toomaj’s support of the the protests that erupted after the killing of Mahsa Amini while in custody, he was violently taken into custody on 30 October 2022. In November, Iran's judiciary charged Salehi with a number of crimes, including spreading "corruption on Earth," a charge that could see him sentenced to death, as well as charges that each carry 1-10 years of imprisonment: “propaganda against the state,” “formation and management of illegal groups with the aim of undermining national security,” “collaboration with hostile governments,” and “spreading lies and inciting violence through cyberspace and encouraging individuals to commit violent acts.” While in detention, state media published a video purporting to show Salehi blindfolded, with bruising on his face, apologising for his words. Family members and human rights organisations have accused the authorities of torturing Salehi in prison to force him to make a false confession.
In July 2023, Toomaj was sentenced to over 6 years in prison for “corruption on earth”, as well as being banned from leaving Iran for 2 years. He is also banned from preparing, singing and producing music for 2 years. It has also been reported that he has been acquitted of two other charges - “insulting the supreme leader” & “communicating with hostile governments”.
Maria Lanko (right) was a co-curator of Kyiv-based gallery, The Naked Room, who was selected to co-curate the Ukrainian national pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale. The piece selected to represent Ukraine was entitled ”Fountain of Exhaustion” by artist Pavlo Makov (left), which is a kinetic sculpture consisting of 78 bronze funnels, arranged in the form of a pyramid. The water poured into the top funnel divides into two streams, feeding the funnels below. “Only a few drops reach the bottom, symbolizing exhaustion on a personal and global level,” the curators said in a press release.
On the evening of 24 February 2022, the day that Russia invaded Ukraine, Lanko packed the installation into her car and she drove, heading for Venice. The journey took three weeks, after taking a week just to make it to the border between Ukraine and Romania. Due to Maria’s decision, the piece was able to be presented at the Biennale to enable Ukrainian art to be seen in this unique and important showcase of international art. The importance of this was highlighted by Lanko in an interview with Deutsche Welle: “When the sheer right to existence for our culture is being challenged by Russia, it is crucial to demonstrate our achievements to the world".
Sofia Chelyiak spoke to Index after a long day of work. As curator of the Lviv BookForum, which runs from 5-8 October, the last few weeks of preparation are a very busy time. The final touches to festival logistics and programming would alone occupy the thoughts of anybody, but Chelyiak lives in Lviv, the largest city in Western Ukraine. The war with Russia presents challenges for her own personal safety and are a constant consideration.
“In general it’s fine, but we’re a few kilometres from the battlefields, and Russian missiles can reach most places in Ukraine,” she told Index.
“A few months ago, some missiles fell close to the city centre. Some days it can be more dangerous, others are fine.”
First held in 1994, the Lviv BookForum was originally a way to promote Ukrainian literature three years after the country gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Now it is the biggest literature event in Ukraine, with a mix of speakers including acclaimed Ukrainian writers and world-renowned literary figures. Since last year it has been in collaboration with Hay Festival. International Booker prize nominee Andrey Kurkov (who has written for Index since the early 90s) and US bestselling writer Jonathan Franzen will both speak this year.
Apart from a handful of online speakers, the event will be in-person (though can be live-streamed) after being fully online in 2022. With the conflict ever-present in the background, how does Chelyiak deal with the challenges?
“We must think of things like “do we have enough generators if we lose electricity,” or “if we’re being shelled, will we have internet access?” We’ll actually hand out maps of bomb shelters if people need a safe place,” she said.
“People are scared to come, but we want writers, journalists and artists to visit. Life here is interesting to say the least. We want people to see what we’re going through, it’s a miracle country.”
As per its origins as a way to promote Ukraine culture and literature, Chelyiak says this year there will be "a fascinating event entitled Freedom of Thoughts Vs Indoctrination, where the discussion will focus on Russia’s attempt to destroy our identity and voice en-masse, and how they will try and do that.”
Other events will also focus on the role Ukraine can have in helping people re-read Russian literature through a lens that takes the current conflict into account, and Ukraine’s role as a post-colonial ruled country at war.
One difference to the festival this year will be the absence of Victoria Amelina, about whom John Sweeney, a speaker at this year’s forum, wrote here for Index. A long-time supporter and attendee of the Forum, Amelina was a writer and poet who became a war crimes researcher during the conflict. She was wounded in a Russian missile attack in Kramatorsk in eastern Ukraine on 27 June and died of her injuries four days later, aged 37. She was working with Truth Hounds, an organisation that documents violations of international humanitarian law, when she died.
"We aim to commemorate her throughout the event as she was known for fighting for justice for Ukrainian women,” Chelyiak said.
"We won’t read her poems, but we decided to spotlight women Victoria was close to, to highlight her work. She will be missed.”
Information and links to the events at the 2023 Lviv BookForum can be found here.
The Summer 2023 issue of Index looks at neurodiversity, the term coined in the late 1990s to identify and promote the positives of variation in human thinking which has become more widely used in the past few years. Are old stereotypes still rife? Has the perception of neurodiversity improved? If not, was this because of censorship? Using neurodivergent voices, we wanted to know about this in a global context.
The majority of the articles are written by neurodivergent people, as we wanted to put their voices front and centre. Many said they did have more of a voice, awareness had shot up and the word “neurodiversity” empowered and welcomed a growth in onscreen representation. However, at the same time it was clear that conversations around neurodiversity were playing out along society’s current fault-lines and were far from immune.
Mind matters, by Jemimah Seinfeld: The term neurodiversity has positively challenged how we approach our minds. Has it done enough?
The Index, by Mark Frary: The latest in free expression news, from an explainer on Sudan to a cha-cha-cha starring Meghan and King Charles.
Bars can't stop a bestseller, by Kaya Genç: Fiction is finding its way out of a Turkish prison, says former presidential hopeful and bestselling writer
Don't mention femicide, by Chris Havler-Barrett: Murdered women are an inconvenience for Mexico’s president.
This is no joke, by Qian Gong and Jian Xu: The treatment of China’s comedians is no laughing matter.
Silent Disco, by Andrew Mambondiyani: Politicians are purging playlists in Zimbabwe, and musicians are speaking out.
When the Russians came, by Alina Smutko, Taras Ibragimov and Aliona Savchuk: The view from inside occupied Crimea, through the cameras of photographers banned by the Kremlin.
The language of war and peace, by JP O’Malley: Kremlin-declared “Russophobe foreign agent and traitor” Mikhail Shishkin lays out the impossible choices for Russians.
Writer's block, by Stacey Tsui: Hong Kong’s journalists are making themselves heard, thanks to blockchain technology.
The Russians risking it all, by Katie Dancey-Downs: Forced to sing songs and labelled as extremists, anti-war Russians are finding creative ways to take a stand.
The 'truth' is in the tea, by Jemimah Steinfeld: Spilling the tea on a London venue, which found itself in hot water due to a far-right speaker.
Waiting for China's tap on the shoulder, by Chu Yang: However far they travel, there’s no safe haven for journalists and academics who criticise China.
When the old fox walks the tightrope, by Danson Kahyana: An interview with Stella Nyanzi on Uganda’s latest anti-LGBTQ+ law.
Would the media lie to you?, by Ali Latifi: Fake news is flourishing in Afghanistan, in ways people might not expect.
Britain's Holocaust island, by Martin Bright: Confronting Britain’s painful secret, and why we must acknowledge what happened on Nazi-occupied Alderney.
The thorn in Vietnam's civil society side, by Thiện Việt: Thiện Việt: Responding to mass suppression with well-organised disruption.
Not a slur, by Nick Ransom: What’s in a word? Exploring representation, and the power of the term “neurodiversity” to divide or unite.
Sit down, shut up, by Katharine P Beals: The speech of autistic non-speakers is being hijacked.
Fake it till you break it, by Morgan Barbour: Social media influencers are putting dissociative identity disorder in the spotlight, but some are accused of faking it.
Weaponising difference, by Simone Dias Marques: Ableist slurs in Brazil are equating neurodivergence with criminality.
Autism on screen is gonna be okay, by Katie Dancey-Downs: The Rain Man days are over. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay star Lillian Carrier digs into autism on screen.
Raising Malaysia's roof, by Francis Clarke: In a comedy club in Malaysia’s capital stand up is where people open up, says comedian Juliana Heng.
Living in the Shadows, by Ashley Gjøvik: When successful camouflage has a lasting impact.
Nigeria's crucible, by Ugonna-Ora Owoh: Between silence and lack of understanding, Nigeria’s neurodiverse are being mistreated.
My autism is not a lie, by Meltem Arikan: An autism diagnosis at 52 liberated a dissident playwright, but there’s no space for her truth in Turkey.
Lived experience, to a point, by Julian Baggini: When it comes to cultural debates, whose expertise carries the most weight?
France: On the road to illiberalism? by Jean-Paul Marthoz: Waving au revoir to the right to criticise.
Monitoring terrorists, gangs - and historians, by Andrew Lownie: The researcher topping the watchlist on his majesty’s secret service.
We are all dissidents, by Ruth Anderson: Calls to disassociate from certain dissidents due to their country of birth are toxic and must be challenged.
Manuscripts don't burn, by Rebecca Ruth Gould: Honouring the writers silenced by execution in Georgia, and unmuzzling their voices.
Obscenely familiar, by Marc Nash: A book arguing for legalised homosexuality is the spark for a fiction rooted in true events.
A truly graphic tale, by Taha Siddiqui and Zofeen T Ebrahim: A new graphic novel lays bare life on Pakistan’s kill list, finding atheism and a blasphemous tattoo.
A censored day? by Kaya Genç: Unravelling the questions that plague the censor, in a new short story from the Turkish author.
Poetry's peacebuilding tentacles, by Natasha Tripney: Literature has proven its powers of peace over the last decade in Kosovo.
Palestine: I still have hope, by Bassem Eid: Turning to Israel and Palestine, where an activist believes the international community is complicit in the conflict.
They shot the children’s poet in the head. Two bullets from a Makharov, the Russian army handgun, his grave identified, his voice stilled. Until, that is, Victoria Amelina turned up at the Izium home of the murdered poet, Volodymyr Vakulenko. Gentle, calm, dogged, Victoria had stopped work as a novelist to become a war crimes investigator, her mission to listen to Ukraine’s bereaved: “That it is not like ‘this happened’ and nobody asks them about it.”
She found Vakulenko’s father, crushed by grief, and over the course of a long conversation, his memory unlocked and he said that his son had told him that he had buried his diary near the cherry tree in the family’s garden. They dug and dug.
And then Victoria, on impulse, opened up the earth a little distance from the tree and they found the dead poet’s diary, wrapped in water-proof plastic, breaking the silence. The diary told of Russian occupation, of a tank squatting outside in the street, the creeping sense of dread, his arrest, release – and then they came for him one last time. But not before he had buried his words by the cherry tree.
Victoria understood that the best stories are the ones that power and money do not want told. That was last year.
In late June Victoria was sitting outside on the terrace at the Ria pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk, about thirty miles from Bakhmut. The Ria is an institution, a sweet hiding hole where journalists, aid workers, soldiers and local families unwind from the horrors of the frontline. Driven by my fixer in Ukraine, Dima Kovalchuk, Victoria was escorting Colombian journalists, Héctor Abad, Sergio Jaramillo and Catalina Gómez around the war zone. Victoria was doing her best to shine a light on the Kremlin’s dark nonsense. Too many people in the global south have bought into the Russian lie but not these South Americans.
Dima told me: “the awning above is see-through and I saw a shadow overhead, it was the missile, then this intense explosion.”
Jaramillo explained to the Financial Times: “I was sitting right next to Victoria. We had just finished a day in the field, talking to people about the Russian invasion. As the food was brought to us, I bent down to pick up a napkin and, at that moment, the missile struck. Victoria, who had been sitting upright, was badly hit at the back of the neck… the whole room fell to pieces and time stopped.”
Dima said that Victoria never recovered from her head injury. The rest of the team were lightly injured. Thirteen people died, including two fourteen-year-old twins; fifty people were injured. Firing a cruise missile at a pizza restaurant packed with civilians was yet another Russian war crime.
Victoria was born in Lviv, moved to Canada when she was a teenager, worked in IT, got bored with that and became a full-time writer. Her first novel, Fall Syndrome, was about the Maidan revolution, her second, Dom’s Dream Kingdom, established her international reputation. She won the Joseph Conrad Literary Award and was short-listed for the European Union Prize for Literature. Before the big war she set up a literary festival in New York, a village not far from Bakhmut, and a second in Kramatorsk. Her poetry was spare and bleak:
Air-raid sirens across the country
It feels like everyone is brought out
But only one person gets targeted
Usually the one at the edge
This time not you; all clear
I met Victoria once, at a café in Kyiv, this spring. She recognised my silly orange hat and we talked about working together, one day, on a war crimes investigation but our schedules didn’t work out and that never happened. There was a still beauty about her spirit that is haunting, an echo from a friend, calling out the big lie.
I cannot believe they have silenced her.
I cannot believe that she is dead.