Saturday, 30 May 2009

Then they came for me

As a journalist, I am always awed by the number of colleagues who are prepared to die for what they believe is their duty: to uncover and report what needs to be told. Lasantha Wikramatunga, the editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader, continued to write about state terrorism and the need to address to root causes of separatist terrorism, knowing very well he would be killed. He was gunned down on 8 January. His last editorial, published three days after this death, declared that that the duty of his paper was to be “there for everyone- be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.”

Here is a short extract of his 2,500-word editorial. (Parts of it were reprinted in Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2009.)

“We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? After all, I too am a husband, and a father of three wonderful children. Is it worth the risks? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognizing the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right to residence in their countries…

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is called conscience…

When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me… It is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantages or the persecuted.

His last words haunt me; his words so powerful that the government felt he needed to be silenced…

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Free Aung San Suu Kyi

From Avaaz:

After 13 years of detention, Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has been jailed again on trumped up charges by the brutal Burmese regime. Call on UN Secretary General to secure her and all political prisoners' release:

We have just six days to get a flood of petition signatures to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon calling on him to make their release a top priority -- he can make this a condition for renewed international engagement. Follow the link to sign the petition, and forward this email on to friends to ensure Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners are freed. Burmese activists will present the global petition to the media on May 26th:

Sources say that the military regime is fearful of this unified and massive online call to the UN -- over 160 Burma exile and solidarity groups in 24 countries are participating in the campaign. And the Secretary General and key regional players that are looking to re-engage with the Burmese regime, can influence the fate of these prisoners. Last week Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: 'Aung San Suu Kyi and all those that have a contribution to make to the future of their country must be free'. Let's overwhelm him with a global call to urgently act on his words and stop the arrests and brutality:

Find out more about Aung San Suu Kyi:

About this blog

This should have been my first post.

This is my very first attempt at social media, so this blog is still a bit primitive and trying to find its voice, but I am very excited.

This blog is a forum for ideas, stories, questions and calls for action on/about social issues, social justice, humanitarian and environmental issues and human rights.

I am a journalist writing about these issues for the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, New Internationalist, San Francisco Chronicle and many other publications, but it is a bit restrictive and limiting. There are so many voices that need to be heard, so many pressing stories that need to be told and so many interesting tidbits that never make it to the papers. I’d like to use this blog to share some of these, and create a dialogue, connections and collaborations.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Falun Gong repression: ten years later

I've met Annie Yang at a press briefing at the Foreign Press Association in London last week. She works in a Fish&Chips shop in London and lives alone, thousands of miles away from her son and former life as an antique trader in Beijing. If she were to go back to China, she would be re-arrested, tortured again, and probably killed.

Yang was arrested in 2005 and sent to two years in labour camp for being a member of Falun Gong, a Buddha-school spiritual movement, which counts millions of members mostly in China, but also all over the world.

The Chinese government, unsettled by the size of the movement, banned Falun Gong as an “evil cult” in July 1999, two months after 10,000 practitioners staged a day of silent protest in Beijing on April 25 1999.

Now, ten years later, the brutal repression shows no signs of abating, but the world's attention has shifted elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Falun Gong followers remain imprisoned in Chinese labour camps and prisons - the largest single population of prisoners of conscience in the country, according to Amnesty International. Tens of thousands have been tortured and over 3,200 have lost their lives. Millions others face destitution, job loss, expulsion from school and other form of discrimination.

On the tenth anniversary of the persecution, Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European Parliament, who spoke at the Foreign Press Association recently, is urging Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations to investigate “the systematic process of imprisonment without trial, escalating torture and the murder of thousands of innocent people under torture,” he said at a recent press conference in London. “The age of impunity is over and those who know what is taking place in China look to you to take action,” his letter to Ki-moon reads.

He is particularly concerned by the fact that Falun Gong members, who neither drink nor smoke, have become the prime source for the People's Liberation Army's lucrative organ transplant trade.