22 April 2009

Index on Censorship honours free expression champions

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Software that helps get around censorship and a Malaysian human rights lawyer who faced numerous death threats are among the winners of Index on Censorship's 2008 Freedom of Expression Awards, which pay tribute to people and organisations around the world that have made outstanding contributions to free expression.

This year's Guardian Journalism Award, which recognises determined and brave journalism offering a different point of view, went to Sri Lanka's paper "The Sunday Leader" and its journalists, who have been subject to threats and harassment since it was launched 15 years ago.

The assassination of editor Lasantha Wickrematunge in January sparked protests and vigils around the world. His brother Lal has since taken on the position of editor.

The Economist New Media Award went to Psiphon, a software tool developed at the University of Toronto that lets people in a country that censors the Internet get access to web pages anywhere, bypassing government restrictions. Psiphon is launching a new version next month at: http://psiphon.ca

"The Devil Came on Horseback", a documentary taking the viewer on an emotionally charged journey into the heart of Darfur, with first-hand testimony from U.S. Marine Brian Steidle, won the film award. Ultimately frustrated by the inaction of the international community, Steidle resigned from his position and returned to the U.S. to expose the stories of lives he believed were being systematically destroyed.

Ma Jian took home the TR Fyvel Book Award for "Beijing Coma", an account of the life of student Dai Wei, who took a bullet to the head on 4 June 1989 in Tiananmen Square and ended up in a coma.

And the Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award went to leading human rights lawyer in Malaysia, Malik Imtiaz Sarwar. Imtiaz has been a central figure in fighting lawsuits brought against journalists and bloggers, including Raja Petra Kamaruddin, whose release he secured last year. Because of his work, he has been declared a traitor to Islam and has had numerous death threats levelled against him.

Index on Censorship chair Jonathan Dimbleby said the awards were "a chance to celebrate those who against all odds have made distinguished contributions to this vital cause - to protect and enhance liberty in Britain and around the world."

Radio interviews by the BBC with the winners can be found on the
Index on Censorship website