Kenyan woman among winners of 2015 Index on Censorship in London

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

“Our shortlisted nominees are all tackling direct and serious threats to stifle free speech,” said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg. “We were humbled and inspired by their stories, and their dedication to ensuring we can all speak freely.”

The awards were presented at a ceremony at The Barbican, London,hosted by comedian Shappi Khorsandi whose father Hadi was forced into exile from Iran because of his satirical writing.

Awards are presented 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).

The crime of free expression

Al Ahmad was recognised for her documentary Saudi’s Secret Uprising, which exposed details of an unreported mass demonstration 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. Saudi Arabia is a mystery, even to its own people, said Al Ahmad in her acceptance speech: “Parts of our history is deliberately concealed, the present is muddled with rumours and half-truths. The government-owned and controlled media play a major role in the dissemination of those false realities of ourselves and others. This makes facts a precious commodity in Saudi Arabia.”

Angolan investigative reporter Marques de Morais has been repeatedly prosecuted for his work exposing government and industry corruption and will go on trial on 23 March charged with defamation. “Rafael is a very important individual doing very important work in a very, very difficult environment,” said judge Sir Keir Starmer QC. Marques de Morais dedicated his speech to the Zone 9 group of Ethiopian bloggerscurrently in jail “for the crime of exercising their right to freedom of expression”.

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 dangerous 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.” Abdundi dedicated her award to the “marginalised women of northern Kenya… who will now know that their struggles and their efforts to fight for their rights are being recognised internationally”.

Help us let the world know the truth

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. Belghouat said in his acceptance speech: “I have been through difficult times: I was jailed, fired from my work, rejected by many friends. I am still forbidden to sing in my own country. But after all that I am still determined that I will never change my position. I will fight for freedom, equality and human rights for ever.” Lane Fox said Belghouat had taken his music and “translated it into a kind of online activism, but then, crucially, mobilised people in the street”

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