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Winners of 2015 Freedom of Expression Awards announced

March 19, 2015
  • Index on Censorship announces winners of 2015 Freedom of Expression Awards
  • Special award given to journalists and activists in Azerbaijan
  • Judges included Martha Lane Fox, Mariane Pearl, Keir Starmer, and Elif Shafak

London, A Kenyan woman speaking out for women in one of the world’s most dangerous regions and a journalist who exposed an unreported uprising in Saudi Arabia are among the winners of this year’s Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards.

Now in their 15th year, the awards honour those tackling censorship and threats to freedom of expression worldwide: many of the 17 shortlisted nominees are regularly targeted by authorities or by criminal and extremist groups. The awards were presented at a ceremony at The Barbican, London, hosted by comedian Shappi Khorsandi whose father was forced into exile from Iran because of his satirical writing.

Awards are offered in four categories: journalism; arts; campaigning; and digital activism. The winners were Saudi journalist Safa Al Ahmad and Angolan reporter Rafael Marques de Morais (Journalism – jointly awarded); Moroccan rapper “El Haqed” (Arts); Kenyan women’s rights campaigner Amran Abdundi (Campaigning); and Hungarian freedom of information website Atlatszo (Digital Activism).

Safa Al Ahmad was recognised for her documentary ‘Saudi’s Secret Uprising’, which exposed details of an unreported mass uprising in Saudi Arabia. “Safa Al Ahmad dared to go into places that are difficult for women and for reporters to bring that information back and share it with the world,” said Turkish author Elif Shafak, one of the five judges.

Angolan investigative reporter Rafael Marques de Morais has been repeatedly prosecuted for his work exposing government and industry corruption. He goes on trial next week on charges of defamation for reports on human rights abuses committed during diamond mining operations. “Rafael is an important individual doing important work in a very, very difficult environment,” said judge Sir Keir Starmer QC.

The winner in the Campaigning category, Amran Abdundi,is a women’s rights activist based in north-eastern Kenya and runs a group helping women along the treacherous border with Somalia, where terrorism and extremist violence dominate. Judge Martha Lane Fox said: “Amran Abdundi was a standout candidate for me. She is doing something incredibly powerful in an unbelievably complicated and dangerous situation.”

Arts category winner Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat is a Moroccan rapper and human rights activist whose music highlights widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges three times in as many years, most recently in 2014. Lane Fox said: “He has taken his music and translated it into a kind of online activism, but then, crucially, mobilised people in the street.”

The Digital Advocacy award went to Hungarian investigative news outlet Atlatszo.hu managed by Tamás Bodoky. The website acts as watchdog to a Hungarian government which has increasingly tightened its grip on press freedom in the country. In 2014, the website uncovered

cases of state control of the media, election fraud, government corruption, tax fraud, and misuse of public funds. This award was decided by public vote.

The awards were presented by the judges along with special guests including Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

A special award was also given on the evening to honour the many Azerbaijani journalists and activists jailed or forced into exile or hiding following a recent crackdown by the government. Former award winner, journalist Idrak Abbasov, who was forced to flee Azerbaijan last year, accepted the award on behalf of all those facing persecution in the country. “I call upon the world community to help Azerbaijan… so that our colleagues might be released and that our country might become a normal state in which we and others might live freely,” Abbasov told the audience in a video speech.
The evening featured an exhibition of specially commissioned cartoons by international cartoonists, reflecting on the past 12 months for free expression. Most of the artists had direct experience of persecution over their work, including Syrian political cartoonist Ali Ferzat – a former Index award winner – and Malaysia’s Zunar. “In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, we wanted to pay homage to the work of cartoonists who are so often the first to face censorship in any move to stifle free expression,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

For more information, including arranging interviews with any of the winners, please contact Helen Galliano at helen@indexoncensorship.org or call 0207 260 2660.

Notes to editors

JOURNALISM (jointly awarded)

Safa Al Ahmad’s documentary ‘Saudis Secret Uprising’ exposed details of a unreported mass uprising in Saudi Arabia. Al Ahmad spent three years covertly filming an unreported mass uprising in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, taking enormous risks in her regular filming trips. Saudi Arabia is ranked by Freedom House as one of the most restrictive Arabic countries in terms of free expression – Al Ahmad would almost certainly have faced severe punishment if caught filming.

Rafael Marques de Morais. The Angolan reporter has been repeatedly prosecuted for his work exposing government and industry corruption during his career. In 1999, he was arrested and detained for 40 days without charge, and denied food and water for days at a time, following an article critical of the Angolan president. He currently faces nine charges of defamation for reports on human rights abuses committed during diamond mining operations in a trial that begins a week after the awards.

ARTS

Mouad “El Haqed” Belghouat. El Haqed, roughly translated as ‘the enraged’, is a Moroccan rapper and human rights activist. His music has publicised widespread poverty and endemic government corruption in Morocco since 2011, when his song ‘Stop the Silence’ galvanised Moroccans to protest against their government. He has been imprisoned on spurious charges three times in as many years, most recently for four months in 2014.

CAMPAIGNING

Amran Abdundi. A women’s rights activist based in north-eastern Kenya, Abdundi runs the Frontier Indigenous Network, an organisation that helps women set up shelters along the dangerous border with Somalia. It offers first aid and support for rape victims, including moving them to a safer part of Kenya. Abdundi has also established radio-listening groups for women, in which she encourages them to challenge repression and educates them about diseases such as tuberculosis.

DIGITAL ACTIVISM

Atlatszo.hu and Tamás Bodoky. Atlatszo.hu is an investigative news outlet founded and managed by Tamás Bodoky, the main goal of which is to promote free, transparent circulation of information in Hungary. The website, which receives around 500,000 unique visitors per month, acts as watchdog to a Hungarian government which has increasingly tightened its grip on press freedom in the country. In 2014, the website uncovered cases of state control of the media, election fraud, government corruption, tax fraud, and misuse of public funds. This award was decided by public vote.

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