Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Winners

by Michael Solano-Mullings    /  March 25, 2011  / No comments

Index on Censorship’s 11th annual Freedom of Expression Awards were presented yesterday at a ceremony in London. The awards honor those who, often at great personal risk, give voice to issues and stories from around the globe that may otherwise have passed unnoticed.

Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award
Gao Zhisheng

Chinese lawyer Gao Zhisheng has been persecuted by the state for speaking out on human rights issues. Gao, a self-taught lawyer, forged a career representing the underdog in cases involving medical malpractice, land redistribution, employment disputes and forced sterilization.

He has also defended journalists and religious minorities including Christians and members of Falun Gong. In 2005, he resigned from the Communist Party and wrote an open letter to President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, documenting the suffering of Falun Gong practitioners and calling on the leaders to end their “large-scale, organised” abuse.

Security forces took Gao from his home in Shaanxi province on 4 February 2009. Gao claimed the security forces tortured him. The state denied any knowledge of his whereabouts until January 2010, when a foreign ministry official said the lawyer was “where he should be”. Gao disappeared again in April 2010, and the Chinese state has refused to register him as a missing person.

The Guardian Journalism Award
Ibrahim Eissa

Ibrahim Eissa - Guardian Journalism Award Winner

After accepting the award Ibrahim Eissa said ”I consider this to be a prize for Tahrir Square”.

Ibrahim Eissa is Egypt’s leading independent editor, described as a “one-man barometer of Egypt’s struggle for political and civic freedom”. Throughout his career, he has faced prosecution when his push for media freedom has fallen foul of the government. In 2010, he was fired from his position as editor of the independent newspaper al Dostour, after new owners bought the paper; his popular satellite talk show was also taken off air. His sacking came in the midst of a wider media crackdown in the run-up to the parliamentary elections, when Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party emerged victorious amid accusations of unprecedented vote rigging.

When Eissa was sacked from his job last year, the novelist Alaa al Aswany wrote: “Ibrahim Eissa did not oppose the government; he opposed the system … He called for real democratic change through free and fair elections and regular change at the top.

The Intelligent Life Arts Award
MF Husain

MF Husain

Celebrated and critically-acclaimed Indian artist Maqbool Fida (MF) Husain has been battling against censorship in his native India and elsewhere for close to 20 years. Born in 1915, he is recognized as one of India’s greatest living artists. He has lived in exile since 2006.

Husain’s work has caused controversy in sections of the conservative Hindu community, who regard his depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses in the nude as blasphemous and offensive. Husain has received numerous threats and exhibitions of his work have come under attack on several occasions; in India, he has faced hundreds of legal actions relating to his work.

In January 2011, three of Husain’s artworks were removed from the Indian Art Summit in New Delhi following threats. Organizers said they could not guarantee the safety of the artwork or of those visiting the exhibition.

The New Media Award
TuniLeaks

tunileaks

After accepting the award, Sami Ben Gharbia, co-founder of Nawaat, said: “This award is very important to us. It is given to us the very year we are celebrating the Tunisian revolution and seven years of our existence as a collective blog, which was censored from its launch by Ben Ali’s regime.”

TuniLeaks is a selection of the WikiLeaks State Department cables published by Nawaat.org, an independent group blog run by Tunisian net activists.

TuniLeaks, like its parent site Nawaat, is entirely independent and does not receive funds from any political party.

The TuniLeaks cables revealed the extent of the corruption deeply entrenched in many aspects of Tunisian life. Despite attempts to block the site, news of the cables being released swiftly spread around the country and Nawaat helped informal media networks link communities that had been cut off by government censors.

Nawaat highlights how important transparency is in a country like Tunisia, where citizens had for so many years been cut off from vital information and dialogue. “The aim is to get everyone to read, to get an idea and give meaning to the facts provided,” the website states. “The debate is open.”

Learn about all the other nominees.

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