Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"True heroics" in the cause of freedom (Montreal Suburban)

A fine editorial from the The Suburban (which describes itself as "Quebec's largest English-language weekly"). Some highlights:
The year 2007 doesn’t look too promising for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. For those who have never heard of Choudhury, he is a Bangladeshi journalist arrested in 2003 on his way to a conference in Israel on the media’s role in education for peace. [....] Choudhury is about to stand trial on charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy, all of which according to Bangladeshi law, are punishable by death.

Choudhury is not alone in his plight. Every day journalists around the world risk their lives to uncover and report human rights abuses and political corruption. [....]

Sitting in the comfort of a free and democratic society, it’s hard for some people to understand why individuals such as Choudhury, [Hayar Ullah] Kahn, [Anna] Politkovskaya and dozens of others continue to risk their lives to probe, investigate, and publish articles aimed at exposing threatening regimes. Cynics would say some of these journalist are just glorified ambulance chasers, hoping to capture 15 minutes of fame by way of a prize for reporting. Others say they are foolhardy slobs with a death wish.

They are neither. They work alone, with no support, forging ahead to bring the truth into the open. The International Press Freedom Awards that recognizes courage in journalism is an important event that brings the plight of these journalist to light. But it’s not enough. They deserve encouragement and support because in dangerous situations, they champion everything we hold dear, and often take for granted.
--Jeff Weintraub
====================
The Suburban (Montreal)
January 3, 2007
Editorial — True heroics

The year 2007 doesn’t look too promising for Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. For those who have never heard of Choudhury, he is a Bangladeshi journalist arrested in 2003 on his way to a conference in Israel on the media’s role in education for peace. More specifically, Choudhury, who published his work in the Bangladesh Weekly Blitz, which he edits, has written about promoting dialogue between [Muslims and] Jews and Christians. For that crime, he has been beaten and interrogated. Two months later, with no evidence, he was charged with sedition and put in solitary confinement for 16 months in a Dhaka prison.

Choudhury was released on bail in April 2005, mostly because of pressure from the U.S. State Department and protest by the Committee to Protect Journalists and Journalistes sans frontieres. According to Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler who acts on behalf of many political prisoners around the world, as of October 2006, Choudhury was attacked by a large crowd at his newspaper offices, he was called “an agent of the Jews” and was badly beaten. When he reported the attack to police, instead of being protected, he was arrested.

Choudhury is about to stand trial on charges of sedition, treason and blasphemy, all of which according to Bangladeshi law, are punishable by death.

Choudhury is not alone in his plight. Every day journalists around the world risk their lives to uncover and report human rights abuses and political corruption. Journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a U.S.-born Russian journalist, was known for her outspoken opposition to the Chechen conflict and the administration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The 48-year-old mother of two was shot dead Oct. 7, 2006 in an elevator located in the Moscow apartment building where she lived. Reports indicate it was a contract killing carried out by a professional.

Hayar Ullah Khan, a freelance tribal reporter and photographer covering the military action in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan, was abducted in October 2005, four days after releasing pictures from an attack on North Waziristan. His reports contradicted official accounts claiming that a senior Al-Qaeda commander, Abu Hamza Rabia, died after munitions exploded inside a house. Khan’s family say he was taken prisoner by the government. His bullet-ridden body was found last June. He leaves behind his wife, Mehrunnisa Khan, and four children.

Abeer Al-Askary is an Egyptian journalist who has published several investigative reports on state security officers within the Ministry of Interior who have supervised torture against activists and prisoners. Al-Askary was one of the victims of a May 25, 2005 assault that targeted activists and journalists covering demonstrations against the referendum on constitutional amendments in Egypt. Female journalists were not only physically assaulted, but also sexually harassed.

Shi Tao is serving a 10-year prison sentence for “leaking state secrets abroad.” Shi, a freelance journalist in Internet publications and an editor for Dangdai Shang Bao, a Chinese business newspaper, drew ire from Chinese authorities because he published essays on political reform on news websites outside China.

Sitting in the comfort of a free and democratic society, it’s hard for some people to understand why individuals such as Choudhury, Kahn, Politkovskaya and dozens of others continue to risk their lives to probe, investigate, and publish articles aimed at exposing threatening regimes. Cynics would say some of these journalist are just glorified ambulance chasers, hoping to capture 15 minutes of fame by way of a prize for reporting. Others say they are foolhardy slobs with a death wish.

They are neither. They work alone, with no support, forging ahead to bring the truth into the open. The International Press Freedom Awards that recognizes courage in journalism is an important event that brings the plight of these journalist to light. But it’s not enough. They deserve encouragement and support because in dangerous situations, they champion everything we hold dear, and often take for granted.

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