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INDEX FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AWARDS RECOGNIZE JOURNALISTS, ARTISTS AND ACTIVISTS
London, UK (March 29, 2012) – Index recognized the bravery of journalists, artists and activists from around the world at the Index Freedom of Expression Awards 2012, which were held in London on March 28, 2012. This year's keynote speaker was the celebrated author Michael Morpurgo, who told the gathered guests: 'freedom of expression defines me, defines you, defines our society.'Host Jonathan Dimbleby paid tribute to outgoing Index CEO John Kampfner saying that he has, 'lifted Index to a new level'. John, in turn, welcomed Index's new CEO, Kirsty Hughes who joins the organization in April. The awards were sponsored by SAGE, Google, the Guardian and Bindmans.THE WINNERS
The Guardian Award for Journalism was presented to Azerbaijani journalist Idrak Abbasov for investigative work that put his life in danger. Accepting the award, Idrak said: 'In countries such as Azerbaijan we journalists have to make a choice, and we choose the right to tell the truth. Sometimes, this right costs a journalist his or her life.'
The Zimbabwean NGO Kubatana's Freedom Fone won the Innovation Award supported by Google. In a country where more than 90% of citizens lack regular or affordable internet access, Freedom Fone open source software has made it possible for ordinary people to engage with human rights issues and share censored information. Speaking at the awards, Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa said that it spoke volumes that Mugabe's regime, which 'seeks to suppress dissent and suffocate free expression' found the work of Kubatana so threatening and undermining.
Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat received the Arts award. His satires of President Assad and the police state have challenged one of the most autocratic regimes in the Middle East. In August 2011, Ferzat was wrenched from his vehicle in central Damascus by pro-Assad masked gunmen who beat him badly and broke his hands. On receiving the Index award, Ferzat said, 'artists know they are following the correct track when the international community and organizations honor their work and acknowledge it, they know they are on the right path towards love, peace and freedom'.
The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) received the Bindmans award for advocacy for documenting human rights violations, political repression and torture in the Gulf kingdom. The award was accepted by BCHR president Nabeel Rajab, who was severely beaten by security forces while peacefully protesting in January 2012. During a rousing speech, he appealed on behalf of Abdulhady al Khawaja who has been on hunger strike for 49 days, while serving a lifetime sentence for peacefully protesting.
To celebrate Index's issued a 40th anniversary award to Research and Information Centre Memorial, St Petersburg for their work documenting repression in former Soviet countries. The award was presented by Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, one of Index's original trustees. Memorial director, Irina Flige, said the award recognizes, 'the fact that truthful and exhaustive information about the past is just as essential to freedom as truthful and exhaustive information about the present day, and that the concealment of historical documents, the impediment of access to such documents, the persecution of those who try to make such documents freely accessible (and this still happens sometimes in Russia) are just as unacceptable as the concealment of topical information about human rights violations today'.
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