Nominees for the 2022 Freedom of Expression Awards – Journalism

Sonya Groysman is a Russian journalist and podcaster. Despite being labelled as a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian authorities she has continued to report on human rights issues and censorship in Russia.

Sonya Groysman was working for the investigative outlet Proekt in 2020 when the site was labelled as ‘undesirable’ by Russian authorities. Soon after, Groysman and many of her former colleagues were labelled as ‘foreign agents’. Groysman is now required to attach a disclaimer to all published work – including social media posts:  “THIS NEWS MEDIA/MATERIAL WAS CREATED AND/OR DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.”

Facing significant challenges working as a journalist with the ‘foreign agent’ label, Groysman and her colleague Olga Churakova set up their podcast titled “Hi, You’re a Foreign Agent” in 2021. The podcast  combines dark humour (how does one’s boyfriend or grandmother react to having a loved one named “foreign agent”? does one have to identify her “foreign agent” status on Tinder?) with personal stories and journalism. 

Groysman has continued to face legal issues related to her reporting. In August 2021 she was arrested in front of the F.S.B building in Moscow for participating in a peaceful protest in support of independent media. She was released soon after.

Groysman has managed to maintain an active career as a journalist despite the ‘foreign agent’ label. Days before the invasion, Groysman was reporting from the Russian/Ukrainian border for the independent TV station TV Rain. Like most other independent news outlets in Russia, TV Rain was shut down by the authorities for allegedly spreading misinformation about the war. Fearing legal persecution as an independent journalist, Groysman decided to flee to Turkey. She continues to produce her podcast and report on human rights issues in Russia from abroad.

Bilal Hussain is a journalist based in Srinagar in Kashmir. He focuses his reporting on freedom of expression issues.

Despite internet shut-downs and a day-to-day fear of persecution and censorship, Hussain continues to report on the conditions in Kashmir. He has been particularly concerned by the increasing censorship as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In February 2022, the Kashmir Press Club was shut down by authorities. The independent body had done important work to offer legal support to journalists and to establish a sense of community among Kashmiri journalists. Hussain views this as another important blow to media freedom and free expression in Kashmir. Hussain has witnessed colleagues being imprisoned for doing their job and reporting on the conflict in Kashmir. Despite the threats, he continues to report on the situation and fight for free expression through independent news publications and social media. 

Recent developments in Kashmir severely limit press freedom. Reflecting on this, Hussain says: “There have been many cases where journalists have been threatened with UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]. These actions hamper the work of journalists and stop them from discharging their normal duties.”

Hussain is a regular contributor to Voice of America News and NIKKEI Asia among other publications. Through his reporting, Bilal brings international attention to the ongoing conflict and media rights situation in Kashmir.

Huang Xueqin is an activist and journalist who has worked with several domestic Chinese media outlets. She has reported extensively on the MeToo movement in China.

Huang Xueqin played a significant role in covering the MeToo movement. In 2017, she surveyed hundreds of female journalists across 15 provinces in China on their experience of workplace sexual harassment. She published her findings in a report in March 2018. She also assisted Luo Xixi, one victim of sexual harassment, to publicly submit a complaint against her professor. Her work sparked national discussions on sexual harrassment on campuses. 

Huang has worked to promote women’s rights, and to document and expose sexual harassment against women and girls. Unfortunately, she has faced legal challenges because of her work as an activist and journalist. She was detained between October 2019 and January 2020 and charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after writing about mass protests in Hong Kong.

On 19 September 2021, Huang disappeared and stopped responding to phone calls from family and friends. Two months later, in November, it was confirmed that she had been detained along with labour activist Wang Jianbing and charged with “inciting subversion of state power”. She was due to travel to the UK to study development studies at the University of Sussex after receiving a Chevening Scholarship. She remains in detention and is now held in the No. 1 Detention Centre in Guangzhou. 

Nominees for the 2022 Freedom of Expression Awards – Campaigning

Venezuela Inteligente (VE inteligente) is a non-profit organisation which works to empower civil society and media organisations in Venezuela. They fight for freedom of expression and civic engagement online and offline.

The situation for democratic institutions in Venezuela has deteriorated dramatically in the last few years with harsh crackdowns on independent media and political dissent. In response, activist Andres Azpurua established VE Inteligente to investigate and monitor internet censorship in Venezuela. VE Inteligente seeks to increase civic engagement and access to reliable information. They monitor media freedoms online and provide individuals and civil organisations with the tools needed to navigate online spaces safely. VE Inteligente has provided reports on internet censorship and other online threats in Venezuela to UN bodies and has collaborated with election observation missions to the country.

Through various workstreams, VE Inteligente aims to protect civic rights and freedom of expression online. Their watchdog project VE sin filtro (Venezuela without a filter) monitors online censorship and surveillance and their campaign ‘Como Votar?’ (How to vote) offers step-by-step instructions on voting processes and voters rights. VE Inteligente also creates tools, tutorials, and training on how to avoid censorship and how to communicate securely online.

VE Inteligente have recorded that the media landscape in Venezuela is increasingly restrictive. 40 news websites are currently blocked in Venezuela and misinformation is prevalent. VE Inteligente hopes to mitigate the restrictions and help encourage free expression and media freedom in Venezuela.

Malcolm Bidali is a labour rights defender and blogger from Kenya. In 2021, Bidali was arrested after writing about the realities of being an immigrant worker in Qatar.

Malcolm was working as a security guard in Qatar and grew frustrated with poor living and working conditions. In order to speak out about the situation, Malcolm reached out to and began writing for them about his experiences under the pen-name Noah. He also began his own blog and social media accounts with the handle ‘Noah articulates’. He wanted to document and expose the exploitation and human rights violations migrant workers are subjected to in Qatar. 

Malcolm was writing anonymously, and he had to be very careful about revealing information about his online activity to friends, family, or colleagues. In March 2021 he posted a blog post discussing Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser’s complicity in the mistreatment of migrant workers working on a particular project that she frequented. Soon after, he was detained. Malcolm was denied access to a lawyer and spent 28 days in solitary confinement. He was finally released after three months in detention. He was forced to pay a fine and asked to leave Qatar. He fears that he will be detained again if he ever returns to Qatar. 

After being released, Malcolm returned to Kenya where he continues to advocate for migrant rights. He has worked with Amnesty Kenya as a trainee and consultant and he hopes to set up an NGO run by and for former migrant workers in the Gulf countries

Malcolm compares activism to an extreme sport – there are risks involved, but it gives him purpose. He feels compelled to speak up on behalf of those who are silenced. 

OVD-Info is an independent human rights media project documenting political persecution in Russia. With the help of a hotline, they collect information about detentions at public rallies and other cases of political pressure, publish news and coordinate legal assistance to detainees.

The organisation was set up in 2011 to document arrests during the widespread anti-fraud protests. Initially, groups of journalists and specialists collected and published information about the arrests on social media. As the organisation grew and became more structured they eventually set up a website. The organisation has now evolved to offer legal guidance and support to people arrested at peaceful protests in Russia.

Over the last year, censorship has increased in Russia with many media sites blocked. In September 2021, OVD-Info was labelled as a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian authorities. This means that the organisation must add a disclaimer to any work they publish:  “THIS NEWS MEDIA/MATERIAL WAS CREATED AND/OR DISSEMINATED BY A FOREIGN MASS MEDIA PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT AND/OR A RUSSIAN LEGAL ENTITY PERFORMING THE FUNCTIONS OF A FOREIGN AGENT.” Their website was later blocked by Russian authorities because they claimed that news about detained people glorified terrorism and extremism. 

During the ongoing war in Ukraine and associated anti-war protests in Russia, OVD-Info’s work is more important than ever. Within the first 10 days of the war, OVD-Info registered more than 13,000 arrests at anti-war protests in Russia. In March 2022, Marina Ovsyannikova interrupted the Russian state Channel One while holding a sign saying “Stop the war. No to war.” Following her on-screen protest, OVD-Info released a pre-recorded video by Ovsyannikova where she explained her motivations. 

Despite a highly unpredictable situation and persistent censorship, OVD-Info continue to support detained and persecuted protesters in Russia.

Contents – Complicity: Why and when we chose to censor ourselves and give away our privacy

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”With contributions from Ak Welsapar, Julian Baggini, Alison Flood, Jean-Paul Marthoz and Victoria Pavlova”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

The Spring 2020 issue of Index on Censorship magazine looks at our own role in free speech violations. In this issue we talk to Swedish people who are willingly having microchips inserted under their skin. Noelle Mateer writes about living in China as her neighbours, and her landlord, embraced video surveillance cameras. The historian Tom Holland highlights the best examples from the past of people willing to self-censor. Jemimah Steinfeld discusses holding back from difficult conversations at the dinner table, alongside interviewing Helen Lewis on one of the most heated conversations of today. And Steven Borowiec asks why a North Korean is protesting against the current South Korean government. Plus Mark Frary tests the popular apps to see how much data you are knowingly – or unknowingly – giving away.

In our In Focus section, we sit down with different generations of people from Turkey and China and discuss with them what they can and cannot talk about today compared to the past. We also look at how as world demand for cocaine grows, journalists in Colombia are increasingly under threat. Finally, is internet browsing biased against LBGTQ stories? A special Index investigation.

Our culture section contains an exclusive short story from Libyan writer Najwa Bin Shatwan about an author changing her story to people please, as well as stories from Argentina and Bangladesh.

Buy a copy of the magazine from our online store here.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Special Report”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Willingly watched by Noelle Mateer: Chinese people are installing their own video cameras as they believe losing privacy is a price they are willing to pay for enhanced safety

The big deal by Jean-Paul Marthoz: French journalists past and present have felt pressure to conform to the view of the tribe in their reporting

Don’t let them call the tune by Jeffrey Wasserstrom: A professor debates the moral questions about speaking at events sponsored by an organisation with links to the Chinese government

Chipping away at our privacy by Nathalie Rothschild: Swedes are having microchips inserted under their skin. What does that mean for their privacy?

There’s nothing wrong with being scared by Kirsten Han: As a journalist from Singapore grows up, her views on those who have self-censored change

How to ruin a good dinner party by Jemimah Steinfeld: We’re told not to discuss sex, politics and religion at the dinner table, but what happens to our free speech when we give in to that rule?

Sshh… No speaking out by Alison Flood: Historians Tom Holland, Mary Fulbrook, Serhii Plokhy and Daniel Beer discuss the people from the past who were guilty of complicity

Making foes out of friends by Steven Borowiec: North Korea’s grave human rights record is off the negotiation table in talks with South Korea. Why?

Nothing in life is free by Mark Frary: An investigation into how much information and privacy we are giving away on our phones

Not my turf by Jemimah Steinfeld: Helen Lewis argues that vitriol around the trans debate means only extreme voices are being heard

Stripsearch by Martin Rowson: You’ve just signed away your freedom to dream in private

Driven towards the exit by Victoria Pavlova: As Bulgarian media is bought up by those with ties to the government, journalists are being forced out of the industry

Shadowing the golden age of Soviet censorship by Ak Welsapar: The Turkmen author discusses those who got in bed with the old regime, and what’s happening now

Silent majority by Stefano Pozzebon: A culture of fear has taken over Venezuela, where people are facing prison for being critical

Academically challenged by Kaya Genç: A Turkish academic who worried about publicly criticising the government hit a tipping point once her name was faked on a petition

Unhealthy market by Charlotte Middlehurst: As coronavirus affects China’s economy, will a weaker market mean international companies have more power to stand up for freedom of expression?

When silence is not enough by Julian Baggini: The philosopher ponders the dilemma of when you have to speak out and when it is OK not to[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”In Focus”][vc_column_text]Generations apart by Kaya Genç and Karoline Kan: We sat down with Turkish and Chinese families to hear whether things really are that different between the generations when it comes to free speech

Crossing the line by Stephen Woodman: Cartels trading in cocaine are taking violent action to stop journalists reporting on them

A slap in the face by Alessio Perrone: Meet the Italian journalist who has had to fight over 126 lawsuits all aimed at silencing her

Con (census) by Jessica Ní Mhainín: Turns out national censuses are controversial, especially in the countries where information is most tightly controlled

The documentary Bolsonaro doesn’t want made by Rachael Jolley: Brazil’s president has pulled the plug on funding for the TV series Transversais. Why? We speak to the director and publish extracts from its pitch

Queer erasure by Andy Lee Roth and April Anderson: Internet browsing can be biased against LGBTQ people, new exclusive research shows[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Culture”][vc_column_text]Up in smoke by Félix Bruzzone: A semi-autobiographical story from the son of two of Argentina’s disappeared

Between the gavel and the anvil by Najwa Bin Shatwan: A new short story about a Libyan author who starts changing her story to please neighbours

We could all disappear by Neamat Imam: The Bangladesh novelist on why his next book is about a famous writer who disappeared in the 1970s[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Index around the world”][vc_column_text]Demand points of view by Orna Herr: A new Index initiative has allowed people to debate about all of the issues we’re otherwise avoiding[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Endnote”][vc_column_text]Ticking the boxes by Jemimah Steinfeld: Voter turnout has never felt more important and has led to many new organisations setting out to encourage this. But they face many obstacles[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Read”][vc_column_text]The playwright Arthur Miller wrote an essay for Index in 1978 entitled The Sin of Power. We reproduce it for the first time on our website and theatre director Nicholas Hytner responds to it in the magazine

READ HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]In the Index on Censorship autumn 2019 podcast, we focus on how travel restrictions at borders are limiting the flow of free thought and ideas. Lewis Jennings and Sally Gimson talk to trans woman and activist Peppermint; San Diego photojournalist Ariana Drehsler and Index’s South Korean correspondent Steven Borowiec

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Index’s summer magazine launch party takes a look at the Weimar Republic and the lessons for today


“What is said and what is written is unbelievably important,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the board of Index on Censorship, at the close of the recent launch party for the Summer 2019 edition of Index Magazine.

The summer 2019 edition, Judged: How Governments Use Power to Undermine Justice and Freedom, looks at attempts to undermine freedom of expression through attacks on the judiciary. The magazine covers issues ranging from new laws in Venezuela intended to limit freedom of the press to instances of self-censorship due to government control of content-sharing platforms in China to new technology created by journalists to check back against threats from politicians regarding the coverage of recent elections in South Africa.

Rachael Jolley, editor of Index magazine, explained that the idea behind the theme came from conversations she had with journalists in Italy covering areas with limited press freedom and hostile environments for journalists. She said, “one of the things that [the journalists] said kept them going was that there were still lawyers who were willing to stand up with them and defend them when they were attacked, when they had libel suits against them, when all the things that happen to them mean that they end up having to stand before a judge.”

This inspired Jolley to curate the latest edition of the magazine around legal issues, to address the legal fight for free speech behind the work of journalists to liberate the media under repressive regimes.

The keynote speaker of the evening was German writer Regula Venske, whose article What Does Weimar Mean to us 100 Years On? was published in the issue. Venske spoke about the history and ultimate downfall of the Weimar Republic, which is now known for fraught democracy and the promotion of freedom of expression, though Venske spoke about how attempts to preserve free speech in the republic were often complicated or insufficient. She walked the audience through some of the influential writing and art produced before the republic’s fall to Nazism.

To conclude, Venske quoted Weimar-era author and poet Erich Kästner: “You cannot fight the avalanche once it has developed into an avalanche, you have to crush the snowball.”

Venske added: “I think that is quite a good saying for the times we are now living in, though unfortunately, he did not leave a recipe for how one could prevent this. I think we need to keep on working for it.”

Phillips, the last speaker of the evening, lamented the state of media freedom in the multiple countries where right-wing leaders have recently come to power. He mentioned specifically the rise of Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, two countries covered in the summer issue. “My time at Index has been marked not by the incredible march of progress but actually a reminder, pretty much every week, why what this organisation does is so important,” he said.

He applied Kästner’s quote to the work Index on Censorship continues to do around the globe. Like Kästner, he explained, Index works to warn the people before the snowballs represented by the arrest of a journalist or the censorship of an artwork become an avalanche of fascism.

“The avalanche starts long before you hear it,” Phillips concluded. “A large part of what we do is give the avalanche warning.”

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Subscribe”][vc_column_text]In print, online, in your mailbox, on your iPad.

Subscription options from £18 or just £1.49 in the App Store for a digital issue.

Every subscriber helps support Index on Censorship’s projects around the world.

SUBSCRIBE NOW[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_single_image image=”107175″ img_size=”medium”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_custom_heading text=”Listen”][vc_column_text]The summer 2019 magazine podcast, featuring interviews with best-selling author Xinran; Italian journalist and contributor to the latest issue, Stefano Pozzebon; and Steve Levitsky, the author of the New York Times best-seller How Democracies Die.

LISTEN HERE[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]