I am always blown away by the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards. But for some reason, last night’s event seemd to throw up an even more astonishing roster of award winners than usual. It was also good that so many were there in person. (In a surreal touch, Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, was also there in person at a table he had bought for the occasion).
The Sri Lankan paper, The Sunday Leader, won the journalism award, which was collected by Lal Wickrematunge. Lal explained he and his brother Lasantha had started the magazine 15 years ago on a shoestring budget and distributed it from the back of a car. Unfortunately, Lasantha couldn’t be there because he was assassinated in January.
Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma, a novel about the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, was the unanimous choice for the book award. In his acceptance speech the writer explained that ever since the atrocity, on the eve of the 4 June anniversary Chinese police visit the homes of former demonstrators with duvets and camp out to make sure they don’t talk to foreign journalists. What a weird and deeply sinister image of a repressive regime that is.
But I was particularly taken with the New Media award, which went to the creators pf Psiphon, a software programme to allow internet access in countries where censorship is imposed. The programme, developed at Citizen Lab at the Univeristy of Toronto allows people in non-censored countries to turn any computer into an encrypted server. However, I did think the award should have gone jointly to Hossein "Hoder" Derakhshan, an Iranian blogger who can take credit for a revolution in blogging in his country. In 2001 he invented a way for Persian characters to be represesented on the web. He was arrested for his activities in November 2008 and is being held in an unknown location.