Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director and media freedoms lawyer Veysel Ok has been presented the 2020 Freedom of Expression by the London-based international free speech organization Index on Censorship in the campaigning category for his work in defending journalists prosecuted in Turkey for their work.
The award was split between two candidates this year and Ok shares the award with Bahraini human rights activist Sayed Ahmet Alwadei.
The award ceremony, which was initially scheduled to take place in London on 1 April, was held digitally on Index on Censorship Twitter account on 16 April at 10 am London time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ceremony started with an introduction to the award categories by author Timandra Harkness, the host of the award ceremony. The winners were announced live on Index’s social media throughout the day.
Ok was recognized with this award for providing pro-bono legal support to journalists, activists and academics who have been subjected to intimidation, surveillance, smear campaigns and harassment. According to Index, “his work has been instrumental in the release of several unlawfully detained journalists and writers.Index on Censorship recalls that he is one of the first to challenge the Turkish laws of accreditation which determine whether a journalist meets official requirements to do their job.”
“A gain for the fight for free speech in Turkey”
In his acceptance speech, Ok said: “In reality, the fight for human rights is crucial for everyone in Turkey whose lives are at risk for defending human rights, it is not just about the work I do. For the past 12 years I have been fighting for the right to freedom of expression of journalists, writers and all citizens. For the past three years, we are continuing this fight through MLSA, where I am co-director. We provide legal support to journalists and activists who are in prison with no access to legal services. We stand by them and fight for their freedoms, defending tens of journalists. We fight for access to information and the right to news in Turkey and at times we are able to achieve results. This is why the work I and MLSA do is vitally important. This award is a gain for the fight for free speech in Turkey. It shows that our work has found support of the international community and that there is greater international awareness. This gives us incredible hope and pride. Thanks to this award, we will be able to make our work known to wider communities and support even more people through our work. Thank you one more time for this award.”
Index also recalled that as part of his work, Ok received a five month suspended sentence for criticising the independence of the Turkish judiciary and has been subject to surveillance and harassment ever since.
In 2019, the winner of this category was Cartoonists Rights Network International, which challenges threats and abuses against editorial cartoonists worldwide.
Shortlist in campaigning
The groups and individuals shortlisted in the same category were LEGABIBO, a Botswanan LGBT rights group; the Prove They Are Alive! campaign focusing on rights of detainees in Turkmen prisons; and Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei; a Bahraini activist currently living in exile in the UK.
More information on the awards and the panel of judges can be found on indexoncensorship.com