Freedom of Expression Awards 2019 (all images courtesy of the Index on Censorship)

The Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards, an annual award established to recognize outspoken artists and journalists from around the world, has announced the list of nominees for 2019 who have made a significant contribution to fighting censorship worldwide.

Each year, the award partners with a panel of independent judges to nominate individuals in one of four categories: arts, campaigning, digital activism, and journalism. This year, the panel of judges include the Palestinian actor and filmmaker Khalid Abdalla; writer and social activist Nimco Ali; professor at King’s College London Kate Devlin; and CEO and executive editor of Rappler, a Philippine news outlet, Maria Ressa. Winners will be honored at a gala celebration in London and will join the Index’s Awards Fellowship program, where they will receive dedicated training, funding, and support.

Arts nominees

Arts — for artists and arts producers whose work challenges repression and injustice and celebrates artistic free expression

ArtLords, a grassroots community movement of artists and volunteers from Afghanistan, were recognized by the panel of judges for their work with ordinary citizens, especially women and children, painting issues that concern them on so-called “blast walls” — walls in Afghanistan that the country’s rich and the powerful have built to protect them from violence, marginalizing the poor and all who remain outside them. Also nominated in the arts category is Zehra Doğan, the Kurdish artist and journalist who has been imprisoned since July 2016, after she was detained for painting the destruction of the predominantly Kurdish city of Nusaybin.

ElMadina, an Egyptian art collective working at the intersection of public performance and socially engaged art, was recognized by the panel of judges for defying the country’s restrictive laws through story-telling, dance and theatre, transforming “public spaces and marginalized areas in Alexandria and beyond into thriving environments where people can freely express themselves.” Rounding out the list of nominees in the arts category, Ms. Saffaa, a self-exiled Saudi street artist living in Australia, was recognized by Index for challenging “Saudi authorities’ linear and limited narrative of women’s position in Saudi society and offers a counter-narrative through her art.”

Campaigning nominees

Campaigning — for activists and campaigners who have had a marked impact in fighting censorship and promoting freedom of expression

In the campaigning category, Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) have been recognized for their work monitoring threats and abuses against editorial cartoonists worldwide. The Institute for Media and Society, based in Nigeria, was selected for “fostering the creation of community radio stations in rural areas at a time when local journalism globally is under threat.” Another organization based in Nigeria, Media Rights Agenda, has spent the last two decades working to fight for media freedoms in front of the Nigerian court system, garnering their nomination in the campaigning category. P24, a platform for independent journalism in Turkey, earned the judges attention for their pro bono legal work defending journalists and academics who are on trial for exercising their right to free expression in the notoriously censorious country.

Digital activism nominees

Digital activism — for innovative uses of technology to circumvent censorship and enable free and independent exchange of information

In the digital activism category, Fundación Karisma‘s “Sharing is not a crime” campaign — which supports open access to knowledge against the backdrop of Colombia’s restrictive copyright legislation — was recognized by the Index panel of judges for bringing together civil society groups around themes that include tracking online trolling, to stopping internet abuse. Mohammed Al-Maskati, a digital security consultant who provides training to activists in the Middle East and in North Africa, was selected on account of his dedicated work helping his professional colleagues avoid evasive government snooping. The Software Freedom Law Centre, based in India, which provides legal recourse that establishes a connection between lawyers, policy analysts, and technologists, was nominated for their work fighting for digital rights in the world’s second most populous country after China, and also for providing pro bono legal services to activists and journalists.

Journalism nominees

Journalism — for courageous, high-impact and determined journalism that exposes censorship and threats to free expression 

A group of independent investigative journalists in Ukraine,, were recognized by the panel of judges for fearless reporting on over 100 cases of corruption against government officials. “Chasing money trails, murky real estate ownership and Russian passports, produces hard-hitting, in-depth TV reports for popular television programme, Nashi Hroshi (Our Money),” the Index reports. Underpinning the need for developing hard-hitting, investigative journalism, the Center for Investigative Reporting of Serbia (CINS) stood out on account of being one of the few remaining independent, non-partisan media outlets left in Serbia. While Mehman Huseynov, an Azerbaijani journalist and human rights defender, drew the attention of the Index panel of judges for his work exposing corruption in numerous real estate and business deals of the country’s government officials, scrutinizing the decisions of president Ilham Aliyev. The Cameroonian journalist, Mimi Mefo, was rewarded for her work in helping to give voice marginalized groups. “An award-winning broadcast journalist and the first-ever woman editor-in-chief of private media house Equinoxe TV and Radio, Mefo was arrested in November 2018 after she published reports that the military was behind the death of an American missionary in the country.”

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Dorian Batycka

Dorian Batycka is an independent curator, art critic, and DJ currently based Berlin. Previously, he was curator of contemporary art at Bait Muzna for Art Film (Muscat, Oman), assistant curator for the...