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INDEX ON CENSORSHIP HONOURS CHAMPIONS OF FREE EXPRESSION

Five champions of free expression, including a blind Chinese lawyer and a jailed Egyptian blogger, have been honoured at Index on Censorship's annual free expression awards ceremony. The awards pay tribute to those who use journalism, literature, whistleblowing, films or campaigns to defend freedom of expression.

This year's journalism award went to Kareem Amer, the 22-year old blogger who was recently sentenced to four years in prison for criticising Islam and the Egyptian president.

Samir Kassir, one of Lebanon's best known journalists and historians, won the literature award posthumously for his book "Being Arab". Kassir, a vocal critic of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, was assassinated in a car bomb attack in Beirut in 2005.

The whistleblower award went to Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught, blind lawyer in China's Shandong province. Known as the "barefoot lawyer", he publicised accusations that Linyi city officials forced thousands of women to have abortions and be sterilised as late as eight months into their pregnancies to enforce China's one-child policy.

Israeli director Yoav Shamir won the film award for "Five Days", a documentary about the Israeli Defence Force and the planned, five-day evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Swaziland's Siphiwe Hlophe won the campaigning award for her work with women who have HIV/AIDS. Having suffered discrimination first hand when she discovered she was HIV-positive - her husband left her and she lost an academic scholarship - she co-founded the organisation Swazis for Positive Living, which fights gender discrimination related to HIV/Aids and helps other victims.

Index on Censorship managing director Henderson Mullin said the five winners illustrate the kinds of stories the organisation would like to bring to mainstream attention. "The people that we end up choosing tend to be symbolic of what we do and symbolic of the under-reported stories," he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The 7th annual Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards were hosted in London on 14 March by former BBC newsreader Anna Ford.

Visit these sites:
- Index on Censorship: http://tinyurl.com/2zwev3
- AFP: http://tinyurl.com/36p4ka

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