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Featured Organization

Index on Censorship

Courtesy of Index on Censorship

Index on Censorship is a nonprofit organization dedicated to defending free expression and supporting free expression advocates worldwide. Index on Censorship believes that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of persecution, regardless of their views. Headquartered in London, the organization has combated censorship by promoting the value of free speech since 1972.

Index on Censorship reaches an international audience through a variety of programs, publications, and campaigns. Each year, the organization identifies some of the greatest threats to free expression worldwide and organizes advocacy campaigns to inspire change in legislation or public attitudes. Index on Censorship promotes debate with performances, exhibitions, talks, and concerts that exemplify the value of free discourse. The organization also raises the voices of censored artists, activists, and journalists by publishing their work in its award-winning quarterly magazine. Finally, Index on Censorship supports individuals directly through the year-long Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship.

“For me, freedom of expression is like breathing and being able to move every day. It’s something natural that enables us to improve ourselves and grow.”

— Yanelys Nuñez Leyva, 2018 Fellow

Index on Censorship offers both in-person and online resources to promote artistic freedom. The Art and the Law resource combines case studies, reports, and commentary on the legal protections for artists in England and Wales. The Risks, Rights, and Reputations workshop offers in-person training for leaders of cultural and arts organizations who want to learn more about the laws protecting artistic expression in England and Wales. Their focus expands internationally with the Turkey Uncensored project, which publishes work and profiles of censored Turkish writers and artists, including Zehra Doğan. (See her ARC artist profile here.) ARC is also focused on raising awareness of censorship in Turkey. Documentary filmmakers Çayan Demirel, an award-winning director, and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, a veteran journalist, are currently on trial for their film Bakur.

Cuban artist Yasser Castellanos

There is significant demand for direct support of the artists, activists, and journalists working every day to push back censorship. Index on Censorship meets this need with the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship, which seeks to maximize the impact and sustainability of voices against censorship. The fellowship offers a full year of support to qualified individuals in each of four categories: Arts, Campaigning, Digital Activism, and Journalism. The judging panel is looking for individuals who have courageously found innovative ways to impact their communities in the face of censorship. Over 400 individuals were nominated for the 2018 fellowship awards. Fellows receive a year of direct assistance, beginning with an intensive training week in London. This direct support allows individual artists, journalists, and activists to continue their essential work. 

The Museum of Dissent in Cuba won the 2018 Freedom of Expression Fellowship for Art. This public art project created in 2016 celebrates dissent among Cuban artists. Founders Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara and Yanelys Nuñez Leyva recently organized the first successful independent art biennial in Cuba. The exhibition featured works of visual poetry by ARC-profiled artist Francis Sánchez. This is just one example of the incredible success that Freedom of Expression Fellows have achieved, even in the face of censorship.

Index on Censorship has been publishing its quarterly magazine for over 45 years. The very first issue included a previously unpublished poem from Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who later went on to win the Nobel prize. He wrote the poem while detained in a Russian gulag. The magazine continues to publish work by censored or oppressed writers in addition to photography and reports on free expression. The Summer 2018 Issue features articles, interviews, and reports on the darker side of travel destinations, including an interview with Federica Angeli, a journalist who lives under 24-hour police protection following her exposé of the mafia in the pretty Italian seaside resort of Ostia.

Over the course of its publication, the Index on Censorship magazine has stood against Apartheid in South Africa, reported on a Public Broadcasting Service censorship controversy in the United States, and published work by award-winning authors like Kurt Vonnegut.

“Freedom of expression is not self-perpetuating, but rather has to be maintained through the constant vigilance of those who care about it.”

— Index on Censorship magazine, 1972

Protecting media freedom requires protecting journalists, so Index on Censorship investigates international media freedom and publishes their findings in the annual Mapping Media Freedom report. Additional projects include the Journalist’s Toolbox, a collection of articles available in Spanish, Russian, and Arabic that offers helpful advice to journalists, especially those facing censorship. Project Exile tells the stories of individual journalists who have survived kidnappings, police raids, and other threats to their work and personal safety. Sharing these stories allows a larger audience to support threatened journalists.

Index on Censorship effectively promotes free expression by supporting individuals through fellowships and serving as a resource for the community of censored writers, artists, journalists, and activists. 

By Reed Canaan, November 2018. Reed is a senior at Stanford University studying English and Human Rights. She is passionate about supporting the creative people telling the world’s stories. 

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