No one should have to live like this simply for being a journalist

We write to you as former winners of the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for journalism – and as exiles from our homes. All three of us have been forced into exile because of our work as journalists: in Saudi Arabia, Syria and the Maldives respectively. All three of us in the past three years.

No one wants to be forced to leave their place of birth. We reported on war, corruption and cover-ups in the countries in which we were raised and which we love – and our punishment has been expulsion and persecution. We write to you, separated from our families, and from homes that are not homes.

We have all received death threats. Repeatedly.

Zaina – who survived the Syrian regime’s crackdown on the uprising then the war, finally had to leave after she became a target for militias and troops. Safa, who spent three years covertly filming a mass uprising in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, now moves from country to country. Zaheena, editor of an online newspaper, fled the Maldives after a police raid on her office following a long period of harassment in which she received death threats and a colleague was disappeared.

None of us consider ourselves brave or courageous. We are not reckless. We are women who simply want to write and broadcast freely about what is happening in the world. We continue to do this, even as exiles*.

But no one should have to live like this simply for being a journalist.

We need to speak out on media freedom. We need to support those speaking out. To continue to do this effectively in the challenging times ahead, Index needs your help.

A donation of £20 ensures a verified attack against media freedom is mapped publicly online; a gift of £100 enables an official report to pressure governments; a gift of £1000 supports our work helping journalism fellows.

Our goal is to raise at least £15,000 by the end of March for our work on media freedom over the next six months.

We hope you will join us in supporting Index and your right to a free press. Please donate today.


Safa Al Ahmad, Zaina Erhaim, Zaheena Rasheed

*Zaina works for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Zaheena for Al Jazeera, and Safa continues to work as a freelance journalist.

No one should have to live like this simply for being a journalist

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Three former winners of the Freedom of Expression Journalism Award have written a letter in support of Index on Censorship’s media freedom month, which aims to raise £15,000 to support its work on media freedom over the next six months.

The three journalism fellows, Syrian Zaina Erhaim, Saudi Safa Al Ahmad and Maldivian Zaheena Rasheed spoke of their forced exiles from their home and families due to their career as journalists.

“None of us consider ourselves brave or courageous. We are not reckless. We are women who simply want to write and broadcast freely about what is happening in the world.”

They continue to do this, even as exiles. Erhaim works for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Rasheed for Al Jazeera, and Al Ahmad continues to work as a freelance journalist.

They shared their determination not to be silenced: “We need to speak out on media freedom. We need to support those speaking out. To continue to do this effectively in the challenging times ahead, Index needs your help.”

A donation of £20 ensures a verified attack against media freedom is mapped publicly online; a gift of £100 enables an official report to pressure governments; a gift of £1000 supports our work helping journalism fellows.

Read the full letter here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Mapping Media Freedom” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-times-circle” color=”black” background_style=”rounded” size=”xl” align=”right”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_column_text]

Index on Censorship monitors press freedom in 42 European countries.

Since 24 May 2014, Mapping Media Freedom’s team of correspondents and partners have recorded and verified more than 4,000 violations against journalists and media outlets.

Index campaigns to protect journalists and media freedom. You can help us by submitting reports to Mapping Media Freedom.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator color=”black”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

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Corruption report sends Maldives journalist into flight

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published 52 interviews with exiled journalists from 31 different countries.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]

2017 Freedom of Expression Journalism Fellow Zaheena Rasheed, Maldives Independent

2017 Freedom of Expression Journalism Fellow Zaheena Rasheed, Maldives Independent (Photo: Elina Kansikas for Index on Censorship)

For many tourists, the Maldives is a resort destination with straw-thatched luxury bungalows perched atop the clear blue Indian Ocean. But for journalist Zaheena Rasheed, this small island nation, located off the southwest coast of India, is home. At least, it was.

Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 2017 Journalism Fellow Rasheed, who was born in the Muslim-majority archipelago of 400,000 and attended college in the USA, developed an interest in journalism in 2008 when she took a semester off school to intern at the Maldives Independent news site. While there, she covered the country’s first multiparty elections, in which human rights activist and former political prisoner Mohamed Nasheed defeated longtime dictator Mamoon Abdul Gayoom.

Rasheed went to work full-time at the Independent and began climbing the ranks, but her professional life took a turn in 2012 after the democratically-elected Nasheed was forced from power and the space for the independent press and government criticism began closing. In 2014 a colleague who was known for criticising Islamists and the government, Ahmed Rilwan, went missing.  By 2015, she was editor-in-chief of the Independent, but the political situation in the Maldives had worsened. The former president Nasheed was jailed and eventually went into exile in the UK while travelling there for medical treatment.

Press freedoms worsened in August 2016 when the new president Abdullah Yameen signed into a law a sweeping criminal defamation law that carried large fines and jail terms for slander as well as speech that threatens “social norms” or national security. Rasheed and 16 others journalists were detained for protesting the law.

By then Rasheed had earned the government’s ire through the Independent’s investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance as well as corruption in Yameen’s government. A tipping point came when she appeared in an explosive Al Jazeera investigative documentary in September 2016 called “Stealing Paradise.” The program implicated the highest reaches of Yameem’s government in a $1.5 billion international money laundering scheme.

Knowing she would face repercussions, Rasheed fled to Sri Lanka just days before the documentary was released. Hours after it appeared online, police raided the offices of the Maldives Independent.

“Sri Lanka, in many ways, has been the first stop for Maldivian dissidents,” Rasheed says, in an interview with Global Journalist. “It’s housed many, many different Maldivian dissidents, politicians, journalists, human rights defenders over the years, over the decades.”

Rasheed continued to edit the Independent remotely, but in April 2017 she moved to Qatar and accepted a reporting job with Al Jazeera.

Currently living in Doha, the 29-year-old spoke with Global Journalist’s Rayna Sims about witnessing firsthand the decline of press freedom in the Maldives and her hopes of returning home. Below, an edited version of their interview:

Global Journalist: What have been some of the effects of the anti-defamation law in the Maldives?

Rasheed: I left just three weeks after the defamation law came in, so I haven’t felt the effect of it myself, and it’s been about a year since I’ve left the Maldives…But it’s really had a chilling effect. People are a lot more careful about what they report on and what they say. One of the television stations has been fined a number of times, and they’ve essentially had to set up donation boxes to collect the money to pay off these fines. And the law allows for the government to shut them down if they’re unable to pay the fines.

Tell me about the disappearance of your colleague, Ahmed Rilwan.

He was about 28, I think, when he disappeared. He was just a really wonderful human being, and he cared a lot about doing stories about rural Maldives, which is not covered very well by the local media. He also was quite a prominent blogger. He was quite prolific on social media before he joined our team. He was known for satirizing the religious extremists, and he received quite a lot of threats over the years…as did many other journalists.

For me, it was obviously one of the most important events of my life in some ways. Just to have someone you work with, you know, just to have them disappear like that. It was the first disappearance of that kind, and I think it made us all realize that it could happen again, and it did. In April one of Rilwan’s best friends [a political blogger] was killed as he came home from work.

What has it been like living in exile and working for Al Jazeera in Doha?

Al Jazeera has been really, really great. I think a lot of people who go into exile, it’s just this sense of having your moorings cut and not knowing what to do next. You know, to have this life and then just to be uprooted from it, to be away from your family and your daily routine and your job and everything that gave you meaning. It’s very jarring in many ways…it really impacts your sense of both identity and also…what gives you purpose and meaning in life. Suddenly all of that is taken away.

Do you think you will return to the Maldives one day?

I do hope to return to the Maldives one day. I think the hardest part about living in exile has been missing deaths and births. My grandmother died last December, and then I just add[ed] a baby niece, so I’d like to go back and see her.

When you return to the Maldives, do you think you will continue being a journalist?

Not for a little while I guess, and it depends on what happens in the Maldives. It will be really hard to go back and do exactly the same thing I was doing without persecution. I think if I were to go back and continue doing the same job, it’s just a matter of time before I’m picked up again.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=””][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”6″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”2″ element_width=”12″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1516806129189-84da7a6a-de56-3″ taxonomies=”9028″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Annual appeal: “We no longer feel so alone”

Staff at the Maldives Independent taking part in self-defence training.

Staff at the Maldives Independent taking part in self-defence training.

“This award feels like a lifeline. Most of our challenges remain the same, but this recognition and the fellowship has renewed and strengthened our resolve to continue reporting, especially on the bleakest of days. Most importantly, we no longer feel so alone.”

– Zaheena Rasheed, former editor Maldives Independent, 2017 Journalism Fellow

Silence is the oppressor’s friend. Harassing those who speak out against corruption and injustice – like this year’s Freedom of Expression Awards Fellows Maldives Independent – is the favoured tool of those who seek to crush dissent. We cannot let the bullies win.

With your help, each year we are able to support writers, journalists and artists at the free speech front line – wherever they are in the world – through Index Fellowships. These remarkable individuals risk their freedom, their families and even their lives to speak out against injustice, censorship and threats to free expression.

I am writing now to ask you to support the Index Fellows. Your donation provides the support and recognition these outstanding individuals need to ensure their voices are heard despite the restrictions under which they are forced to live and work.

Your support will help award winners like Maldives Independent, which has continued to provide independent and critical journalism despite continued government pressure, threats of closure and the tragic murder of prominent liberal blogger and close friend of the Maldives Independent Yameen Rasheed in April, just a few days after the Freedom of Expression Awards 2017.

In spite of these challenges, Index has worked closely with Maldives Independent to help them to get on a better footing financially, to secure their office and staff, and to help them continue to hold power to account and expose wrongdoing and corruption in the country.

Reflecting on Index’s help, ex-editor Zaheena Rasheed said: “Sometimes you don’t realise how working in the kind of environment that we are working in and facing the kind of personal and professional challenges and losses that it, it can take a toll, and I think for me it [Index’s help] has been really helpful because I realise in many ways that I do need some help.”

I hope you will consider showing your support for free speech and the Index Fellows. A gift of £500 would support professional psychological assistance for a fellow; a gift of £100 helps them travel to speak at more public events. A gift of £50 helps us to be available for them around the clock. You can make your donation online now.

Please give what you can in the fight against censorship in 2018. Make your voice heard so that others can do the same.

Thank you for your support.

Jodie Ginsberg, CEO

P.S. The 2018 Index on Censorship awards will be held in April. To find out more about the awards including previous winners, please visit:

Index on Censorship is an international charity that promotes and defends the right to free expression. We publish the work of censored writers, journalists and artists, and monitor, and campaign against, censorship worldwide.