An exiled Azerbaijani rapper who uses his music to challenge his country’s dynastic leadership, a collective of Russian lawyers who seek to uphold the rule of law, an Afghan seeking to economically empower women through computer coding and a Honduran journalist who goes undercover to expose her country’s endemic corruption are among the courageous individuals and organisations shortlisted for the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowships.
Drawn from more than 400 crowdsourced nominations, the shortlist celebrates artists, writers, journalists and campaigners overcoming censorship and fighting for freedom of expression against immense obstacles. Many of the 16 shortlisted nominees face regular death threats, others criminal prosecution or exile.
“Free speech is vital in creating a tolerant society. These nominees show us that even a small act can have a major impact. These groups and individuals have faced the harshest penalties for standing up for their beliefs. It’s an honour to recognise them,” said Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of campaigning nonprofit Index on Censorship.
Awards fellowships are offered in four categories: arts, campaigning, digital activism and journalism.
Nominees include rapper Jamal Ali who challenged the authoritarian Azerbaijan government in his music – and whose family was targeted as a result; Team 29, an association of lawyers and journalists that defends those targeted by the state for exercising their right to freedom of speech in Russia; Fereshteh Forough, founder and executive director of Code to Inspire, a coding school for girls in Afghanistan; Wendy Funes, an investigative journalist from Honduras who regularly risks her life for her right to report on what is happening in the country.
Other nominees include The Museum of Dissidence, a public art project and website celebrating dissent in Cuba; the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a group proactively challenging LGBTI discrimination through the Kenya’s courts; Mèdia.cat, a Catalan website highlighting media freedom violations and investigating under-reported or censored stories; Novosti, a weekly Serbian-language magazine in Croatia that deals with a whole range of topics.
Judges for this year’s awards, now in its 18th year, are BBC reporter Razia Iqbal, CEO of the Serpentine Galleries Yana Peel, founder of Raspberry Pi CEO Eben Upton and Tim Moloney QC, deputy head of Doughty Street Chambers.
Iqbal says: “In my lifetime, there has never been a more critical time to fight for freedom of expression. Whether it is in countries where people are imprisoned or worse, killed, for saying things the state or others, don’t want to hear, it continues to be fought for and demanded. It is a privilege to be associated with the Index on Censorship judging panel.”
Winners, who will be announced at a gala ceremony in London on 19 April, become Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellows and are given year-long support for their work, including training in areas such as advocacy and communications.
“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,” 2017 Freedom of Expression Awards Journalism Fellow Zaheena Rasheed said.