To mark the release of Norwegian musician Moddi’s new album, Unsongs, Index on Censorship is proud to announce a special series of appearances by currently banned voices from around the world.
Moddi will hand over the stage at three of the biggest gigs on his current European tour to unleash the power of free expression, replacing the support band with the genuinely banned.
In Amsterdam on 1 October, Maryam Al-Khawaja will share her and her family’s story of imprisonment and exile in the struggle for democracy in Bahrain. In London on 3 October, Vanessa Berhe will speak about life in the prison state of Eritrea and her campaign One Day Seyoum fighting to free her journalist uncle Seyoum Tsehaye who has been in jail for 15 years. In Berlin on 6 October, Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently will tell how the Syrian civil war has destroyed the free expression of a generation. Co-founder Abdalaziz Alhamza will share the story of how and why he co-founded it inside IS-controlled territory.
“Unsongs is a remarkable collection of songs that have, at one stage, been banned, censored or silenced. The attempts to suppress them were as mild as an airplay ban and as brutal as murder. With great sensitivity and imagination, Norwegian singer-songwriter Moddi has given them new life and created a moving and eye-opening album. Unsongs simultaneously celebrates the censored and exposes the censors.” – Dorian Lynskey
Mr Isaias Afewerki
President of Eritrea
Office of the President
PO Box 257
Dear President Afewerki,
We, the Youth Advisory Board of Index on Censorship — a global free expression organisation — are writing to you to call for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists in Eritrea.
We condemn the brutality and ruthlessness with which your regime has gagged expression and assaulted the rights of its citizens to access information.
The very constitution on which your regime governs upholds the rights of all to freedom of conscience. Yet journalists are imprisoned and go missing at the hands of your government. Eritrea has been ranked last on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index for the past eight years. At least 15 journalists are currently detained and, out of 13 journalists incarcerated in 2001, only four remain alive today.
Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, was arrested in 2001 and has since been held incommunicado and in solitary confinement without any charges or a verdict. He has not seen a lawyer or his family for 13 years. Eritrean authorities have ignored the appeals of the European Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and a lawsuit before a Swedish court.
Seyoum Tsehaye, imprisoned for writing an article that criticised your regime, also has not seen anyone from the outside world since 2001 — including his daughter, who was born soon after his arrest.
Seyoum is a journalist, photographer and prisoner of conscience who earned fame for capturing moving images of Eritrea’s war of independence. That war ended in Eritrea’s first multi-party elections in which your party was victorious, but the people of Eritrea have not seen elections or democracy in any meaningful form since. For speaking out and fighting for freedom to be restored to his country, Seyoum has paid a heavy price.
Eritreans have been denied their human right to freedom of expression. International agencies and human rights groups have alerted the world to arbitrary imprisonment and torture within Eritrea. The government’s attempts to silence critical voices and media workers must end. We urge you to release all journalists from prison and respect international human rights law by granting all Eritreans their right to freedom of expression.
The Index on Censorship Youth Advisory Board
This letter was written by the Index on Censorship Youth Advisory Board, a group of 16-25 year olds drawn from the global community and who were moved to write this letter following a meeting with 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards finalist Vanessa Berhe.
At just 16 years old Berhe set up the organisation One Day Seyoum to campaign for the release of her uncle Seyoum Tsehaye, a journalist who has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001. Show your support for the campaign here.
Drawn from more than 400 crowdsourced nominations, this year’s nominees include artists, journalists, campaigners and digital activists tackling censorship and fighting for freedom of expression. Many of the 16 shortlisted are regularly targeted by authorities or by criminal and extremist groups for their work: some face regular death threats, others criminal prosecution.
The gala takes place Wednesday 19 April at the Unicorn Theatre in London and will be hosted by comedian, actor and writer Katy Brand. If you aren’t lucky enough to be attending, you can catch the night’s events by tuning into coverage and a live Periscope stream @IndexCensorship beginning at 7:30PM BST.
Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards nominees 2017
Luaty Beirão, Angola
Rapper Luaty Beirão, also known as Ikonoklasta, has been instrumental in showing the world the hidden face of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos’s rule. For his activism Beirão has been beaten up, had drugs planted on him and, in June 2015, was arrested alongside 14 other people planning to attend a meeting to discuss a book on non-violent resistance. Since being released in 2016, Beirão has been undeterred attempting to stage concerts that the authorities have refused to license and publishing a book about his captivity entitled “I Was Freer Then”, claiming “I would rather be in jail than in a state of fake freedom where I have to self-censor”.
Rebel Pepper, China
Wang Liming, better known under the pseudonym Rebel Pepper, is one of China’s most notorious political cartoonists. For satirising Chinese Premier Xi Jinping and lampooning the ruling Communist Party, Rebel Pepper has been repeatedly persecuted. In 2014, he was forced to remain in Japan, where he was on holiday, after serious threats against him were posted on government-sanctioned forums. The Chinese state has since disconnected him from his fan base by repeatedly deleting his social media accounts, he alleges his conversations with friends and family are under state surveillance, and self-imposed exile has made him isolated, bringing significant financial struggles. Nonetheless, Rebel Pepper keeps drawing, ferociously criticising the Chinese regime.
Fahmi Reza, Malaysia
On 30 January 2016, Malaysian graphic designer Fahmi Reza posted an image online of Prime Minister Najib Razak in evil clown make-up. From T-shirts to protest placards, and graffiti on streets to a sizeable public sticker campaign, the image and its accompanying anti-sedition law slogan #KitaSemuaPenghasut (“we are all seditious”) rapidly evolved into a powerful symbol of resistance against a government seen as increasingly corrupt and authoritarian. Despite the authorities’ attempts to silence Reza, who was banned from travel and has since been detained and charged on two separate counts under Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Act, he has refused to back down.
Two-tailed Dog Party, Hungary
A group of satirists and pranksters who parody political discourse in Hungary with artistic stunts and creative campaigns, the Two-tailed Dog Party have become a vital alternative voice following the rise of the national conservative government led by Viktor Orban. When Orban introduced a national consultation on immigration and terrorism in 2015, and plastered cities with anti-immigrant billboards, the party launched their own mock questionnaires and a popular satirical billboard campaign denouncing the government’s fear-mongering tactics. Relentlessly attempting to reinvigorate public debate and draw attention to under-covered or taboo topics, the party’s efforts include recently painting broken pavement to draw attention to a lack of public funding.
Established in 2003, LGBT organisation Arcoiris, meaning ‘rainbow’, works on all levels of Honduran society to advance LGBT rights. Honduras has seen an explosion in levels of homophobic violence since a military coup in 2009. Working against this tide, Arcoiris provide support to LGBT victims of violence, run awareness initiatives, promote HIV prevention programmes and directly lobby the Honduran government and police force. From public marches to alternative awards ceremonies, their tactics are diverse and often inventive. Between June 2015 and March 2016, six members of Arcoiris were killed for this work. Many others have faced intimidation, harassment and physical attacks. Some have had to leave the country because of threats they were receiving.
Breaking the Silence, Israel
Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organisation consisting of ex-Israeli military conscripts, aims to collect and share testimonies about the realities of military operations in the Occupied Territories. Since 2004, the group has collected over 1,000 (mainly anonymous) statements from Israelis who have served their military duty in the West Bank and Gaza. For publishing these frank accounts the organisation has repeatedly come under fire from the Israeli government. In 2016 the pressure on the organisation became particularly pointed and personal, with state-sponsored legal challenges, denunciations from the Israeli cabinet, physical attacks on staff members and damages to property. Led by Israeli politicians including the prime minister, and defence minister, there have been persistent attempts to force the organisation to identify a soldier whose anonymous testimony was part of a publication raising suspicions of war crimes in Gaza. Losing the case would set a precedent that would make it almost impossible for Breaking the Silence to operate in the future. The government has also recently enacted a law that would bar the organisation’s widely acclaimed high school education programme.
Ildar Dadin, Russia
A Russian opposition and LGBT rights activist, Ildar Dadin was the first, and remains the only, person to be convicted under a notorious 2014 public assembly law. Aimed at punishing anyone who breaks strict rules on protest, the law was enacted to silence dissent after a wave of demonstrations following Putin’s last election victory. Dadin’s crime was to stage a series of one-man pickets, often standing silently with a billboard, attempting to duck the cynical law and push for free expression. For his solo enterprise, Dadin was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment in December 2015. In November 2016, website Meduza published a letter smuggled from Dadin to his wife, exposing torture he claimed he was suffering alongside fellow prisoners. The letter, a brave move for a serving prisoner, was widely reported. A government investigation was prompted, and Dadin was transferred – against his will – to an undisclosed new location. A wave of public protest led to Dadin’s new location in a Siberian prison colony being revealed in January 2017. In February 2017, Russia’s constitutional and Supreme Courts suddenly quashed Dadin’s conviction, ruling he should be released and afforded opportunity for rehabilitation.
Maati Monjib, Morocco
A well-known academic who teaches African studies and political history at the University of Rabat since returning from exile, Maati Monjib co-founded Freedom Now, a coalition of Moroccan human rights defenders who seek to promote the rights of Moroccan activists and journalists in a country ranked 131 out of 180 on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. His work campaigning for press freedom – including teaching investigative journalism workshops and using of a smartphone app called Story Maker designed to support citizen journalism – has made him a target for the authorities who insist that this work is the exclusive domain of state police. For his persistent efforts, Monjib is currently on trial for “undermining state security” and “receiving foreign funds.”
Despite growing public knowledge of global digital surveillance capabilities and practices, it has often proved hard to attract mainstream public interest in the issue. This continues to be the case in Iran where even with widespread VPN usage, there is little real awareness of digital security threats. With public sexual health awareness equally low, the three people behind Jensiat, an online graphic novel, saw an an opportunity to marry these challenges. Dealing with issues linked to sexuality and cyber security in a way that any Iranian can easily relate to, the webcomic also offers direct access to verified digital security resources. Launched in March 2016, Jensiat has had around 1.2 million unique readers and was rapidly censored by the Iranian government.
Bill Marczak, United States
A schoolboy resident of Bahrain and PhD candidate in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, Bill Marczak co-founded Bahrain Watch in 2013. Seeking to promote effective, accountable and transparent governance, Bahrain Watch works by launching investigations and running campaigns in direct response to social media posts coming from activists on the front line. In this context, Marczak’s personal research has proved highly effective, often identifying new surveillance technologies and targeting new types of information controls that governments are employing to exert control online, both in Bahrain and across the region. In 2016 Marczak investigated several government attempts to track dissidents and journalists, notably identifying a previously unknown weakness in iPhones that had global ramifications.
#ThisFlag and Evan Mawarire, Zimbabwe
In May 2016, Baptist pastor Evan Mawarire unwittingly began the most important protest movement in Zimbabwe’s recent history when he posted a video of himself draped in the Zimbabwean flag, expressing his frustration at the state of the nation. A subsequent series of YouTube videos and the hashtag Mawarire used, #ThisFlag, went viral, sparking protests and a boycott called by Mawarire, which he estimates was attended by over eight million people. A scale of public protest previously inconceivable, the impact was so strong that private possession of Zimbabwe’s national flag has since been banned. The pastor temporarily left the country following death threats and was arrested in early February as he returned to his homeland.
Turkey Blocks, Turkey
In a country marked by increasing authoritarianism, a strident crackdown on press and social media as well as numerous human rights violations, Turkish-British technologist Alp Toker brought together a small team to investigate internet restrictions. Using Raspberry Pi technology they built an open source tool able to reliably monitor and report both internet shut downs and power blackouts in real time. Using their tool, Turkey Blocks have since broken news of 14 mass-censorship incidents during several politically significant events in 2016. The tool has proved so successful that it has begun to be implemented elsewhere globally.
Behrouz Boochani, Manus Island, Papua New Guinea/Australia
Iranian Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani fled the city of Ilam in Iran in May 2013 after the police raided the Kurdish cultural heritage magazine he had co-founded, arresting 11 of his colleagues. He travelled to Australia by boat, intending to claim asylum, but less than a month after arriving he was forcibly relocated to a “refugee processing centre” in Papua New Guinea that had been newly opened. Imprisoned alongside nearly 1000 men who have been ordered to claim asylum in Papua New Guinea or return home, Boochani has been passionately documenting their life in detention ever since. Publicly advertised by the Australian Government as a refugee deterrent, life in the detention centre is harsh. For the first 2 years, Boochani wrote under a pseudonym. Until 2016 he circumvented a ban on mobile phones by trading personal items including his shoes with local residents. And while outside journalists are barred, Boochani has refused to be silent, writing numerous stories via Whatsapp and even shooting a feature film with his phone.
Daptar, Dagestan, Russia
In a Russian republic marked by a clash between the rule of law, the weight of traditions, and the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism, Daptar, a website run by journalists Zakir Magomedov and Svetlana Anokhina, writes about issues affecting women, which are little reported on by other local media. Meaning “diary”, Daptar seeks to promote debate and in 2016 they ran a landmark story about female genital mutilation in Dagestan, which broke the silence surrounding that practice and began a regional and national conversation about FGM. The small team of journalists, working alongside a volunteer lawyer and psychologist, also tries to provide help to the women they are in touch with.
Crime and Corruption Reporting Network (KRIK) is a new independent investigative website which was founded by a team of young Serbian journalists intent on exposing organised crime and extortion in their country which is ranked as having widespread corruption by Transparency International. In their first year they have published several high-impact investigations, including forcing Serbia’s prime minister to admit that senior officials had been behind nocturnal demolitions in a Belgrade neighbourhood and revealing meetings between drug barons, the ministry of police and the minister of foreign affairs. KRIK have repeatedly come under attack online and offline for their work –threatened and allegedly under surveillance by state officials, defamed in the pages of local tabloids, and suffering abuse including numerous death threats on social media.
Maldives Independent, Maldives
Website Maldives Independent, which provides news in English, is one of the few remaining independent media outlets in a country that ranks 112 out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. In August 2016 the Maldives passed a law criminalising defamation and empowering the state to impose heavy fines and shut down media outlets for “defamatory” content. In September, Maldives Independent’s office was violently attacked and later raided by the police, after the release of an Al Jazeera documentary exposing government corruption that contained interviews with editor Zaheena Rasheed, who had to flee for her safety. Despite the pressure, the outlet continues to hold the government to account.
Campaigning for a free Eritrea since the age of 16, Vanessa Berhe can even count the Pope as a supporter. After founding One Day Seyoum to campaign for the release of her uncle, the Eritrean photojournalist Seyoum Tsehaye, Berhe has followed her uncle’s path, becoming a strong voice fighting for freedom in Eritrea.
“Eritrea has never had television,” says journalist Seyoum Tsehaye in a video interview filmed in 1994, three years after the country had won its independence. “This country waged a 30 years war, so it was completely devastated. There was no life in Eritrea, it was only a life of resistance. We resisted and we had a victory.”
The interview shows a hopeful Seyoum set on bringing television and free media to the Eritrean people. A few years later, in 2001, Seyoum and 10 Eritrean journalists were imprisoned without trial. They are still in prison today.
Their story is being forgotten, Berhe believes. Seyoum Tsehaye’s niece, Berhe’s parents were exiled from Eritrea during the 30 years of civil war. She grew up in Sweden, and at the age of 16 founded One Day Seyoum, a campaign to get her uncle out of prison.
“I was telling my friends in school about how my uncle has been imprisoned because of his journalism, and was astonished by the fact that people are so interested and passionate about this case,” Berhe told Index.
“Because Seyoum’s government let him down, the rest of us have to unite, go beyond borders, nationalities and skin colour and prove to Seyoum that he is our brother,” she said when she launched the campaign.
Tsehaye has never formally been charged with a crime, had a trial or been allowed visits from family. Little is known about where he is held, and his family has heard nothing from him since he went on hunger strike in 2002.
One of many prominent journalists to be arrested in 2001, Eritrea has had no independent media since, with only ministry of information-approved media allowed in the country. Press freedom in Eritrea is consistently ranked the lowest in the world, surpassing North Korea in its restrictions.
Berhe’s One Day Seyoum campaign uses social media, video, petitions, speaking engagements and offline actions to spread its message. Berhe has also worked to build a network of ambassadors across the world to help share her message – she now has more than 70 ambassadors across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and North America.
And she has even had the support of the Pope. Representing Eritrea in a conference about illegal human trafficking at the Vatican, she had the chance to meet him. “I saw him and I brought a paper, took a pen and just wrote ‘I am the Pope and Seyoum is my Brother’… I told him about the case and he supported it of course and took a picture.”
She also used the opportunity to launch a second campaign, Free Eritrea. “With that campaign we aim to raise awareness about crucial issues that are going on with Eretria that also are being forgotten; national service, Eritrean refugees, the lack of freedom of religion, expression, and all those vital human rights that are being violated.”
When asked what her plans were in 2016, Berhe answered “We’re planning to free him.”