Index on Censorship has today (5 July) revealed the shortlisted candidates for the charity’s 2021 Freedom of Expression Awards. The winners will be announced at the annual Freedom of Expression Awards Gala on 12 September 2021, and this year’s awards are particularly significant as the charity marks its fiftieth year defending freedom of expression around the globe.
Index on Censorship chief executive Ruth Smeeth said:
“As Index begins to mark its 50th birthday it’s clear that the battle to guarantee free expression and free expression around the globe has never been more relevant. As ever we are in awe of the immense bravery of our award nominees as they stand firm, demanding their rights under repressive regimes. They are inspirational and it is our privilege to help tell their stories.”
The Freedom of Expression Awards, which were first held in 2000, celebrate individuals or groups who have had a significant impact fighting censorship anywhere in the world. Index on Censorship believes that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution, and aim to raise awareness about threats to free expression and the importance of free speech.
Trevor Philips, Chair of the Index on Censorship Board of Trustees says:
“It’s been half a century since Index declared itself a voice for the persecuted. Today, the opponents of freedom are more numerous and more determined than ever to suppress opponents of the powerful. There is more need than ever to campaign for a diversity of voices to be heard. Our awards are just one candle in the growing gale of repression, and it is humbling to be able to back those who keep the flame of free expression alight.”
Awards will be presented in three categories: campaigning, arts, and journalism. This year’s panel of judges includes Afghan-born Pakistani poet and writer Fatima Bhutto, renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor, and feminist and LGBT activist and academic Ailbhe Smyth.
The shortlisted candidates for the Art award include Russian feminist performance artist Daria Apakhonchich, Brazilian film director Émerson Maranhão and Tatyana Zelenskaya, who is an illustrator based in Kyrgyzstan.
The Campaigning shortlist features feminist blogger and podcaster Nandar from Myanmar, Algerian human rights defender and LGBTQ activist Anouar Rahmani, and imprisoned Egyptian human rights activist Abdelrahman “Moka” Tarek.
Finally, the shortlisted candidates for the Journalism award include human rights activist and journalist Kadar Abdi Ibrahim from Djibouti, co-owner of the Nicaraguan independent media outlet 100% Noticias, Veronica Chavez, and Nigerien blogger Samira Sabou who was arrested in 2020 and charged with defamation under a restrictive 2019 cybercrime law.
Daria Apakhonchich is a performance artist from Russia, who focuses mainly on women’s rights and artistic freedom. Among other things, she has participated in a performance art piece called ‘Vulva Ballet’ and designed an artistic lament for Anastasia Yeshchenko, who was murdered by her partner in 2019. In December 2020, Apakhonchich became one of the first artists labelled a ‘foreign agent’ by Russian authorities. She was arrested in January 2021 and is now required to add a disclaimer to all social media posts identifying her as a foreign agent.
Émerson Maranhão is a film director from Brazil, who focuses mainly on LGBTQ+ visibility. His documentary Those Two (2018) follows the lives of two trans men. In 2019 President Jair Bolsonaro moved to cancel funding for movies with LGBTQ+ themes. Bolsonaro explicitly referred to Maranháo’s screenplay Transversais when defending the move. Funding was later reinstated, but members of the LGBT community and their allies continue to face discrimination in Brazil.
Tatyana Zelenskaya is an illustrator from Kyrgyzstan, working on freedom of expression and women’s rights projects. Zelenskaya has found inspiration for her work in the waves of anti-government protests that have recently erupted across Russia and Kyrgyzstan. In 2020, she created the artwork for a narrative video game called Swallows: Spring in Bishkek, which features a woman who helps her friend that was abducted and forced into an unwanted marriage. The game was downloaded more than 70,000 times in its first month. Its purpose is to break the silence around the issue of bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan, with the aim of preventing them altogether.
Kadar Abdi Ibrahim
Kadar Abdi Ibrahim is a human rights activist and journalist from Djibouti. As an outspoken human rights activist, journalist and blogger, Abdi Ibrahim has been a frequent target of the regime. Kadar Abdi served as co-director and chief editor of L’Aurore, Djibouti’s only privately-owned media outlet, before it was banned in 2016. In April 2018, after returning from Geneva, where he carried out advocacy activities in preparation for Djibouti’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), intelligence services raided Kadar Abdi’s house and confiscated his passport. He has been unable to leave the country since then. In March 2020, he was named ‘Human Rights Defender of the Month’ by Defend the Defenders.
Verónica Chávez is the co-owner of 100% Noticias, an online Nicaraguan media outlet dedicated to providing critical journalism. In 2018, police raided the offices of 100% Noticias and arrested Chávez, her husband journalist Miguel Mora and news director Lucia Pineda. Chávez was released, but Mora and Pineda were charged and imprisoned for a year. Despite the intense repression, Chávez continued to run 100% Noticias during that time. In October 2020, Chávez was violently attacked by members of paramilitary groups close to the government, and was left in intensive care. She subsequently saw an outpouring of support, including from the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which condemned the attack.
Samira Sabou is a Nigerien journalist, blogger and president of the Niger Bloggers for Active Citizenship Association (ABCA). In June 2020, Sabou was arrested and charged with defamation under the restrictive 2019 cybercrime law in connection with a comment on her Facebook post highlighting corruption. She spent over a month in detention. Through her work with ABCA, she conducts training sessions on disseminating information on social media based on journalistic ethics. The aim is to give bloggers the means to avoid jail time. Sabou is also active in promoting girls’ and women’s right to freedom of expression.
Nandar is a feminist advocate, translator, storyteller from Myanmar. She is the creator of two podcasts: Feminist Talks and G-Taw Zagar Wyne. She founded the Purple Feminists Group and co-directed a production of The Vagina Monologues in Yangon. Building upon her experience as a woman in Myanmar, Nandar now uses her podcasts to tackle taboo topics in the country such as menstruation and abortion. In 2020, Nandar was named on the BBC’s list of 100 most influential and inspirational women around the world. She continues to speak up for justice and equality both from personal and political spheres.
Anouar Rahmani is a human rights defender, campaigner and writer from Algeria. He advocates for freedom of expression, the rights of minorities, and LGBTQ+ rights in Algeria. He is the first Algerian activist who has publicly called for same-sex marriage to be legally recognised in the country. Rahmani has received death threats and persecution due to his work. In 2017 he was questioned by police for “insulting God” in his novel the City of White Shadows. In 2020, Rahmani was convicted of “insulting state officials” in social media posts and ordered to pay a fine of 50,000 Dinar (£290). Rahmani believes that he is being criminalised in retaliation for his work defending freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights in Algeria.
Abdelrahman “Moka” Tarek is a human rights defender from Egypt, who focuses on defending the right to freedom of expression and the rights of prisoners. Tarek has experienced frequent harassment from Egyptian authorities as a result of his work. He has spent longer periods of time in prison and has experienced torture and solitary confinement. Authorities have severely restricted his ability to communicate with his lawyer and family. Tarek was arrested again in September 2020 and in December 2020, a new case was brought against him on terrorism-related charges. Tarek began a hunger strike in protest of the terrorism charges. In January 2021, he was transferred to the prison hospital due to a deterioration in his health caused by the hunger strike. As of July 2021, he remains in prison.
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