Nominees for Freedom of Expression Awards 2012

Index on Censorship has announced the nominees for the 2012 Freedom of Expression Awards. This year 15 candidates were nominated in journalism, advocacy, innovation and arts categories. The winners will be announced on March 28.

Below you can find more information about fearless journalists, bloggers, poets, NGOs and companies who give voice to issues and stories from around the globe that may otherwise have passed unnoticed.

Journalism nominees

This award recognises investigative journalism of dogged determination across a range of media including print, online, radio and television, taking into consideration impact, originality and revelation.

Han Han, blogger, China
The author of China’s most widely read blog, 29-year-old Han Han has been called “the world’s most popular blogger”. He has long been considered a thorn in the side of the Chinese government.

Han Han recently sparked controversy with his essays, “On Democracy”, “On Revolution” and “Wanting Freedom”, which questioned where democracy really equals freedom and whether China will ever be capable of genuine reform.

Han Han has talked about suffering censorship: “Each time I do finish writing something and then can’t see it [after I post it, because it has been censored], I get despondent. Even if the propaganda department and the General Administration of Press and Publications are fine with something, any department issued can wipe your essay away with a simple phone call”.

Lucía Escobar, journalist, Guatemala
Lucía Escobar’s story highlights the state of press freedom in Guatemala, where journalists are regularly intimidated by paramilitary groups. Escobar is a freelance columnist for El Periódico, a publication based in Guatemala City, and also operates an online radio station, Radio Ati.

On 19 October 2011, Escobar published a column alleging that a local mayor had turned a citizens’ group into a death squad that was socially cleansing “undesirables”, such as beggars and homeless people, and committed crimes including lynchings, torture, beatings and a kidnapping.

Subsequent death threats forced Escobar to flee her home with her family, and she has said she will remain in exile until the situation improves. No action has been taken by Guatemalan authorities, pointing to a worrying trend in Central America.

Kayvan Samimi, journalist, Iran
Iranian journalist Kayvan Samimi has been instrumental in keeping dissent alive in the Islamic Republic. Despite being imprisoned since 2009, Samimi has played a significant role in highlighting the attacks against those who attempt to criticise the Iranian administration. In May 2011 Samimi co-authored a letter condemning the Iranian administration for its treatment of prisoners. The letter recorded the methods of torture used against the signatories.

He is serving a six-year prison sentence on charges of “propagating against the regime” and “assembly and collusion to disrupt national security” and has been banned from “political, social, and cultural activities” for 15 years, having been detained in the immediate aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.

Idrak Abbasov, journalist, Azerbaijan
Idrak Abbasov is an Azerbaijani journalist whose investigative work has put his life in danger. Abbasov reports for newspaper Ayna-Zerkalo, contributes to the Institute for War & Peace Reporting website, and he is one of the founding members of Azerbaijan’s Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety (IRFS).

On 9 September 2011, after Abbasov investigated the activities of a local oil company, the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) sent bulldozers to his family’s home. SOCAR claimed ownership of the site as part of a project to develop local oil resources with Global Energy Azerbaijan Ltd. His parents and brother were hospitalised after being attacked by the company’s security service during the incident.

Later his parents were again attacked at their home. One assailant reportedly said: “Tell Idrak to get smarter, or we will cut off his ears”.

Advocacy nominees

Advocacy award recognises campaigners or activists who have fought repression, or have struggled to challenge political climates.

Alaa Abd El Fattah, blogger, Egypt
Alaa Abd El Fattah is at the forefront of protests against Egypt’s current military rule. Over the last 12 months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has tried to silence dissent, crushing protests, restricting the media and questioning and imprisoning activists who criticise its actions.

Abd El Fattah is one of an estimated 12,000 civilians tried by military courts since the fall of Mubarak. The blogger and activist was arrested on suspicion of inciting violence against the military during clashes between the security forces and Coptic Christians. He was jailed on 31 October 2011 after he refused to recognise the legitimacy of the military interrogators in overseeing civilian trials. He was released pending investigation on 25 December, but continues to speak out against SCAF.

Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, NGO, Bahrain
The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR) has played a crucial role in documenting human rights violations, political repression and torture in the Gulf kingdom. Despite efforts to silence and discredit it, the BCHR has kept international attention on the brutal government crackdown that began last February. It has prevented the Bahrain government from whitewashing its international image, and at times when news media were severely restricted and foreign journalists barred, it acted as a crucial news source.

Former BCHR president Abdulhady al Khawaja is one of eight activists serving life sentences for peacefully protesting at the Pearl Roundabout which has since been demolished. Like many other activists he claims he has been tortured in prison. BCHR employees regularly experience threats, violence and harassment. In January 2012, BCHR president Nabeel Rajab was severely beaten by security forces while peacefully protesting.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC, UK
Anthony Lester is a British barrister and Liberal Democrat peer whose work in the field of human rights has transformed the legal landscape. His support for the libel reform campaign has led to one of the greatest advances for free speech in recent years in the UK, potentially transforming the most infamous and enduring chill on freedom of expression in the country. Following the introduction of Anthony Lester’s private member’s defamation bill in May 2010, the government then used it as the basis for its own bill a year later. If it becomes law this year, it will mark the end of London’s notorious reputation as “a town named sue”, the libel capital of the world, and fulfil Anthony Lester’s personal aim of providing a “catalyst for reform” in an historic moment for free speech in the UK.

Innovation nominees

This award recognises innovation and original use of new technology to circumvent censorship and foster debate, argument or dissent.

Freedom Fone by Kubatana, mobile phone technology NGO, Zimbabwe
Kubatana is an NGO based in Harare that uses a variety of new and traditional media to encourage ordinary Zimbabweans to be informed, inspired and active about civic and human rights issues. As an organisation, it continuously seeks innovative fixes to the challenges of sharing independent information in Zimbabwe’s restrictive media environment. Freedom Fone is one of Kubatana’s solutions.

An open-source software, Freedom Fone helps organisations create interactive voice response (IVR) menus to enable them to share pre-recorded audio information in any language via mobile phones and landlines with their members or the general public. The software is aimed at organisations or individuals wishing to set up interactive information services for users where the free flow of information may be denied for economic, political, technological or other reasons. Freedom Fone is one of the many ways Kubatana reaches across the digital divide to inform and inspire the vast majority of Zimbabweans who do not have regular or affordable internet access.

ObscuraCam, smartphone app, USA
ObscuraCam is a free smartphone application that uses facial recognition to blur individual faces automatically. Developed by WITNESS and the Guardian Project, it enables users to protect their personal security, privacy and anonymity. In 2011 and 2012, uprisings throughout the Middle East have shown the power and danger of mobile video footage. ObscuraCam helps protect activists who fear reprisals but want to safely capture evidence of state brutality. Launched in June 2011 and based in the USA, ObscuraCam is the only facial blurring or masking application that has responded to the concerns of human rights groups, citizen activists and journalists. In addition to obscuring faces, the application removes identifying data such as GPS location data and the phone make and model., data visualisation resource, international was created to help make data visualisation more accessible to the general public. Data analysts and graphic designers have set themselves the challenge of sharing a constantly proliferating body of public data in an accessible form. Raw data on its own might as well be censored; visualisation opens the door to open information that otherwise would be left languishing on hard disks or, if downloaded, unintelligible to the average citizen. The project offers a place to showcase work, discover remarkable visualisations and visually explore some of today’s most pressing global issues. Created by GE and Seed Media Group, promotes information literacy.

Telecomix, internet activists, across Europe
Telecomix is the collective name for a decentralised group of internet activists operating in Europe. Their focus is to expose threats to freedom of speech online. During one operation, Telecomix activists published a huge package of data which proved that the Syrian government was carrying out mass surveillance of thousands of its citizens’ internet usage. Telecomix’s revelation that the technology used was supplied by US firm Blue Coat Systems has prompted serious investigations into the involvement of western technology firms in helping repressive regimes spy on their people.

In mid-August 2011, Telecomix’s dispersed group of hackers came together to target Syria’s internet. Those attempting to access the internet though their normal browsers were confronted with a blank page bearing a warning: “This is a deliberate, temporary internet breakdown. Please read carefully and spread the following message. Your internet activity is monitored.” Following this, a page flashed up describing how to take precautions to encrypt usage.

Arts nominees

Arts award recognises artists, filmmakers and writers whose work asserts artistic freedom and battles against repression and injustice.

Voina, performance artists, Russia
Voina, meaning “War”, is a team of radical Russian anarchist artists who combine political protest and performance art. Voina carries out actions directed against the authorities. In June 2010, members painted a 65-metre phallus on a drawbridge in St Petersburg which, when raised, faced the city headquarters of the federal security service.

Voina members Vorotnikov and Leonid Nikolayev were imprisoned from November 2010 to February 2011 in connection with an anti-corruption protest and, in July 2011, Russian police issued an international arrest warrant for Vorotnikov. A warrant for the arrest of fellow artist Natalia Sokol was issued in December 2011.

Ai Weiwei, artist, China
AiWeiwei is a Chinese artist and activist whose work incorporates social and political activism. He has investigated corruption and cover-ups and openly criticised the Chinese government’s record on human rights.

Ai’s 81-day detention in 2011 caused international uproar. He was arrested in April, alongside several of his friends and colleagues. Since the Chinese authorities released him on bail in June 2011, he has been fined $2.4 million in back taxes and penalties. Though officials arrested Ai for alleged economic crimes, supporters say he was punished for his activism and vocal critiques of the government. He paid a $1.3 million bond with loans from supporters, who contributed online and in person and even throwing cash over the walls of his studio in Beijing.

In November 2011, after Ai announced that authorities were investigating his cameraman for pornography in connection with photos that featured the artist and four women naked, internet users responded tweeting nude photos of themselves in support.

Ali Ferzat, cartoonist, Syria
Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat has been called “an icon of freedom in the Arab world”. He has spent decades ridiculing dictators in more than 15,000 caricatures. His depictions of President Assad and the police state have helped galvanise revolt in Syria.

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. Passers-by found Ferzat dumped at the side of a road; his briefcase and the drawings inside it had been confiscated by his attackers.

Ferzat earned regional and international recognition in the 1980s with stinging cartoons of officials, autocrats and dictators including Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Saddam Hussein called for Ferzat’s death in 1989 after an unfavourable portrait of him was exhibited in Paris and Ferzat’s cartoons have been banned in numerous Arabic countries.

Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, poet, Burma
Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, a poet, filmmaker and screenwriter, co-founded Burma’s inaugural Arts of Freedom Film Festival, which took place in early January 2012.

Burmese citizens were invited to create a short film on the theme of freedom. Despite the state media’s refusal to cover the announcement, Ko Ko Gyi and his organisers received 188 submissions. Thousands gathered in Rangoon under the banner “Free Art, free thought, freedom”, to watch the selected films. More than 7,000 attendees voted for Cut This Scene to win one of five awards. The film is a satire of a government censorship committee struggling to set the criteria by which to censor films.

Related articles:

Winners of the Freedom of Expression Awards 2011

Freedom of Expression Awards 2011: nominations

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