Global Freedom of Expression


Claiming Dissent: Address by Dr. Agnes Callamard at the Columbia Global Freedom of Expression Prize Ceremony 2018

Key Details

  • Themes
    Political Expression

2018 Global Freedom of Expression Prize Ceremony

Low Library, Columbia University

 April 25, 2018


Tonight, we are celebrating both resilience and conviction.

We are honoring both fact-based activism and normative risk-taking.

Tonight, we celebrate some of the many around the world who have overcome censorship even when backed by violence; have defied seemingly insurmountable power even when backed by seeming bottomless financial resources; who have stared down populism, hatred and bigotry.

Their battlefields are the court room and their armory the rule of law.

Interpreting and revealing facts through the lens and tools of the law and of global norms;

Amplifying, in the highly formal and often deeply intimidating spaces of the courts, voices from the street, experiences of those living at the margins, demands of a public more often excluded, more frequently silenced.

Against the odds, these achievements are as huge as they are humanizing.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression is immensely honored to be supporting these courageous actors and their institutions – whose actions are protecting the rule of law and upholding international human rights norms

Doing so, at a time when both are under attack.

Doing so at a time when the reach and jurisdictional authority of the multilateral and global projects are questioned or even rejected.

With this attempted erosion, the very notion of our common humanity is scorned: for migrants and refugees, for the poor, minorities, citizens and non-citizens, for them and for us.

There is a sense that our world is at an historical junction – at history’s cross roads. Of a world undergoing dynamics of intense disruption.

The post-WWII international system and the principles upon which it is predicated – the freedoms from fear and want; the freedom of information as a cornerstone of our global society – these seem under increasing duress and their demise is no longer something only to be envisaged in a science fiction novel.

But our time is not and will not be defined only by these attacks.  It is defined just as much by our responses to attacks.   By our resistance – by the resistance.

Debates for the soul and over the values of our democracies and of global community have turned sour.

But against executive decisions and reform motivated by bigotry and greed for power, the Streets, the Media, and the Digital space are “speaking.”

And they are being backed up by courts, judges and lawyers who are upholding the rule of law and protecting fundamental principles.

The Columbia Global Freedom of Expression prize nominees and winners stand tall among the ranks of our resistance.  They have demonstrated the fantastic outreach of freedom of expression and information, the capacity of this fundamental right to protect our right to health, to protect us against discrimination, and to preserve our dignity.

This evening, we are celebrating those who disrupt the disruption.  Who Demand boldly.  Who Inquire courageously.  Who Want and claim dissent. And there is much to dissent against.

Our key note speaker and our master of ceremony is particularly well suited for our celebration.

He is a master at disruption.

A medical doctor turned satirist, who has used humor and his popular TV show AlBernameg to criticise the ruling powers in his home country Egypt, he has been on the receiving end of tens of lawsuits filed against him. Even as an arrest warrant was issued against him in March 2013 and Youssef turned himself in the next day where he was questioned for five hours and then released on bail.

In recognition of his impact however, Youssef was listed by Time Magazine on the most influential list for 2013 – under the “Pioneers” category.  He was awarded the International Press Freedom Award by the CPJ, and was chosen by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the global thinkers during the same year.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Bassem Youssef.


Agnès Callamard

Secretary General, Amnesty International
Former Director, Columbia Global Freedom of Expression; Special Adviser to the President, Columbia University; United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions