Yemeni artist and Syrian journalist recognised at freedom awards

Yemeni artist and Syrian journalist recognised at freedom awards
Two Arab artists were among the four winners of the 2016 Freedom of Expression Awards held on Wednesday night, for their work in defying censorship and working towards free speech.
2 min read
14 April, 2016
From left, Farieha Aziz (Bolo Bhi), Serge Bambara (aka 'Smockey'), Murad Subay, Zaina Erhaim [IoC]

Arab campaigners won two of the four prizes at the 2016 Freedom of Expression Awards, held in London on Wednesday evening.

Organised by Index on Censorship, the awards looked at recognising the brave work done by artists and activists in authoritarian and war-torn countries across the world.

Among those nominated from the Arab world was Yemeni street artist Murad Subay, who won the arts category.

Subay has used the walls of Yemeni buildings as canvases to protest against the country's civil war - which has left 6,500 dead - endemic corruption and the "forced disappearances" of activists and ordinary people.

"I dedicate this award today to the unknown people who struggle to survive," he said on collecting the award.

Also nominated in the category was Yemeni-Indonesian stand-up comedian Sakdiyah Ma'ruf who uses humour to challenge fundamentalist strands within Islam and to promote women's rights.

In an interview with The New Arab, Ma'ruf said that humour was one of the best devices that can be used to tackle Islamic extremism.

"I try my best to deliver something that is undeniably true," she explained. "So that if the fundamentalists care to see my performance, they can look at themselves and laugh."

Read more: Sakdiyah Ma'ruf - Extinguishing extremism with laughter

Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim also picked up an award at the ceremony.

Erhaim has defied anti-freedom elements within Syria - from the regime to the Islamic State group - by returning to the country and provided media training to Syrian women.

Operating from rebel-held northern Syria, Erhaim has helped women in these areas tell their own stories about the war - which have provided invaluable, impartial despatches of life under bombs.

"I was surprised how many women were actually interested. Some are now making a living from writing for our website Damascus Bureau and other websites, which turned their conservative, closed-minded husbands from opposing to supporting their work," she told the Index.

These winners are free speech heroes who deserve global recognition
- Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg

China transparency advocates Greatfire, whose work helps circumvent the country's online "Great Firewall", were also winners at the ceremony.

Pakistan's women's-led digital rights campaign group Bolo Bhi, meanwhile, won the campaigning category.

The four winners were among a shortlist of 20, whittled down from 400 names.

The Index hopes their recognition will help promote the principles of activism and people power in other countries where individual freedoms are restricted.

"These winners are free speech heroes who deserve global recognition," said Index on Censorship CEO Jodie Ginsberg.

"They, like all of those nominated, face huge personal and political hurdles in their fight to ensure that others can express themselves freely."