issue 315 - August 1999
Government attacks critical journalism
CHRIS STOWERS / PANOS PICTURES
One of Pakistan’s most respected journalists, chief editor of the weekly The Friday Times Najam Sethi, was dragged out of bed and beaten up in a Gestapo-style operation by over a dozen men, along with two uniformed police, who barged into his home in Lahore. Sethi’s wife, Jugnu Mohsin, herself an editor and publisher of the magazine and a respected journalist, was pushed aside. When she asked to see an arrest warrant, Jugnu was told that she would get ‘your husband’s corpse instead’.
The next day, a government spokesperson reported that the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), had arrested Sethi. He accused Sethi of delivering a highly objectionable speech in New Delhi, capital of Pakistan’s traditionally hostile neighbour, India. The ISI is now reportedly investigating Sethi’s ‘nexus’ with the Indian spy service known as the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).
Sethi belongs to one of the highly influential families of Punjab, the home province of Pakistan’s right-wing premier Nawaz Sharif. ‘Sethi was personally very close to the first couple,’ says Zamir Niazi, chronicler of the long and ongoing skirmish between the press and the establishment. He implies that if the state could target high-profile Sethi, no other journalist is safe.
Sethi’s case is now in the Supreme Court. He has been booked under the extra-civilian Army Act 1962 and also under the draconian Official Secrets Act.
Sethi’s arrest was not the first incident of its kind. On 4 May, another high-profile journalist and Pakistan’s former ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hussain Haqqani, was picked up while he was going to the Islamabad airport. Haqqani was leaving for Dubai to meet self-exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
After his arrest, several cases of corruption were leveled against him. Yet a third investigative journalist, MAK Lodhi, was picked up and tortured. He was freed two days later.
These were not isolated incidents: Sethi, Haqqani and Lodhi had assisted a BBC team to prepare the weekly documentary, Correspondent. The Government appears to be scared stiff that its corruption might become public knowledge internationally, say independent observers.
In the first editorial since Sethi’s arrest, The Friday Times comments: ‘Journalism is a tough job in countries where the tradition of freedom is weak, where governments are intolerant, where rulers have skeletons rattling away in their cupboards. From tax evasion to spurious cases to harassment to apostasy and now to downright abduction, every trick has been tried to tame the profession’.
Celebrated author Bapsi Sidhwa aptly sums up the present situation. In her letter to The Friday Times, she says: ‘Freedom of the press was something Pakistanis prized, something they had become accustomed to in the past decade or so. Already I am talking of it in the past tense, for we have just seen its demise.’
But like the other typewriter guerrillas – who support the minuscule but vibrant Pakistani press – Sidhwa does not lose hope: ‘I mourn its passing, but with the efforts of journalists the world over, and of organizations like the Freedom Forum, one hopes for a resurrection.’
Lolita & The Prophet are ostracized
Egypt’s censors have banned dozens of books ordered by the American University bookstore in Cairo. Over the past ten months the authorities have banned 70 titles and requested the revision of over 450 books, more than they have requested over the past 10 years according to the University’s press director Mark Linz. Banned works include Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, The Prophet by Kahil Gibran, Islamic Political Thought by Montgomery Watt and Cities of Salt by Abdel-Rahman Mounif. State censorship intensified last year when the University was forced to drop the book Mohammed by Maxime Rodinson last year due to complaints from alumni and parents. Al Khubz Al Hafi (For Bread Alone) by Moroccan writer Mohamed Choukri was also dropped after parents claimed it was ‘destructive to the morals of our children’.
World Press Review Vol 46 No 6
‘Dolphin safe’ is going to take on a whole new meaning in the US. Now new government regulations will allow the label to be used on cans of tuna – even if the fish were caught by boats that chased and encircled schools of dolphins. For the past nine years only tuna caught when no dolphins were present could be labelled as ‘dolphin safe’. Now ‘safe’ means no dolphins were killed or injured when the fish were caught. ‘These labels will simply be lying to the public,’ says Mark Palmer of the Earth Island Institute, who argues dolphins snared by the nets and released may be injured and could die later. The new regulation may have little immediate impact as the manufacturers of the three biggest-selling brands of tuna in the US which control 90 per cent of the domestic market – Bumblebee, Chicken of the Sea and Star-Kist – say they will only use tuna caught by previous ‘dolphin safe’ methods.
New Scientist No 2186
Activists seek to reveal the privatization of warfare
Britain’s mercenary outfits and their links with the Government should be made transparent, argues a report by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT). It states that mercenaries: ‘make things worse, not better. They encourage African leaders to seek military rather than political solutions, to engage in the zero-sum, winner-takes-all approach to politics that is the root of Africa’s troubles. And the solutions they offer are at best partial and short-term. Four years after Executive Outcomes’ (EO) victory over UNITA – if that’s what it was – the civil war rumbles on in Angola. Less than two years after EO’s 1995 successes in Sierra Leone, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) did take Freetown, in alliance with the disgruntled army, and in January 1999 they came back and burned it down. This was notwithstanding the continuing presence of Sandline [another mercenary company] and many EO personnel, not to mention the Nigerian troops. It is even suggested that mining companies jealous of the privileges enjoyed by DiamondWorks have been covertly backing the rebels. Peace and democracy have certainly not returned to Sierra Leone.
Britain’s Blair Government has refused to sign the UN Convention of 1989 against mercenaries, arguing that there is little prospect of its coming into force since few have signed it. CAAT also claims that if the Government wanted to outlaw activities such as those of Sandline or EO it could use national legislation passed in 1870 which makes the recruitment of mercenaries a criminal offence.
In the US the activities of mercenaries are much more transparent than in Britain, while in South Africa a new law demands that specific approval be obtained from a designated government body before any mercenary operation is started. Perhaps due to this, EO wound up its South African operation at the end of 1998.
While arguing that mercenary activity should ultimately be stopped, CAAT urges that the British Government make all its dealings with military companies transparent; that companies be made liable for human-rights abuses or breaches of law covering war; and that mercenaries concerned with arms brokerage should come under the export licensing system.
The Privatization of Violence: New Mercenaries and the State/CAAT
The Swedish International Development Agency has apologized to Sweden’s African community for conducting a survey which asked whether it was ‘correct’, ‘not quite correct’ or ‘not correct’ that Africans are less intelligent than people in industrialized countries. Some 83 per cent answered ‘not quite correct’ and 10 per cent answered ‘correct’.
SIDA claimed that the purpose of the question was to assess public support for development assistance. But Sweden’s 50,000-strong African community saw it differently. ‘The very people who should know best are giving credibility to racist opinions,’ says Somalian Fatima Nur from the Stockholm County Council.
World Press Review Vol 46 No 6
No talk of bullets in the boardroom
DEAN CHAPMAN /
Premier Oil, the company building the Yetagun pipeline inside Burma, held a stormy AGM in London recently. The World Development Movement (WDM) and the Free Burma Campaign held a protest outside the office, next to queuing shareholders waiting for entry. Many protesters had also bought shares in the company so they could attend the meeting. These included John Jackson of the Free Burma Campaign, Yvette Mahon of WDM and journalist John Pilger.
Other ‘regular’ shareholders were also up in arms. Not about human rights of course but about the current share price of Premier, 16.5 pence (26 cents). Many people had bought shares when the price was as high as 92 pence ($1.52), even higher, and had seen the value of their investment plummet. Shareholder Roland Shaw spoke of his disgust at the drop in share price. He spoke at the meeting for around 3 million shares. If bought at 92 pence Mr Shaw and the two proxy shareholders whom he spoke for have lost around £22.8 million ($36.5 million). Not what one would call a great investment.
There was also consternation that the entire board only owned around £200,000 ($320,000) in shares between them, that the recruitment of John Van der Welle to Premier’s board had allowed him an unfair amount of share options and that the directors were paid a bonus on oil reserves and not sales. The board rejected all the shareholders’ accusations and innuendo. When it was revealed that a member of the board was earning £8,000 ($12,800) a week slight gasps were heard across the hall. Moreover, when the point was made that any sacked directors of Premier are allowed 24 months’ notice it nearly brought the ornate roofing down. One shareholder drew a parallel between these privileged working conditions and his own less fortunate situation. This drew laughter and applause. The board claimed that in order to attract the right calibre of people such conditions had to be part of their recruitment. Premier also, not surprisingly, rebuffed any questions about whether it was aiding, ignoring or encouraging any human-rights abuses by the junta. Many questions were levelled at the board, many were met with stony silence by the rest of the shareholders but there were calls of ‘objection’ and tuts and moans from various people present. Obviously the subject of human rights inside Burma was getting in the way of their missing money and was not appreciated.
Outside one shareholder named George in his ‘late seventies’ complained that ‘it is too easy for these people to protest here… they are probably all on benefits anyway’. He then added that the protesters, only a handful of whom were actually Burmese, should ‘go back where they came from. They should go back and change their government. Even Joe Stalin couldn’t shoot them all, could he?’
Pregnant and penniless
The US is one of only six nations (from a total of 152 surveyed) that has no legal requirement for maternity leave, according to the International Labour Organization. ‘Yes, we don’t burn brides or practise genital mutilation,’ says Ellen Bravo of the National Association for Working Women, ‘but when I see that countries like South Africa are progressive enough to offer three months’ paid maternity leave, and we’re not, I’m certainly not proud.’ More than 70 countries surveyed offer paid benefits through their government’s social security systems. Under current US law women are entitled to 12 weeks’ leave without pay. But for many this is unaffordable and adds stress to the adjustment of having a new child. Heidi Hartmann from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research says: ‘We need to protect these breadwinners while they take the time they need for childbirth.’
International Labour Organization/all quotes from Glamour May 1999
Legal rights, social wrongs
Senegal has been applauded by international organizations including UNICEF for passing legislation banning female genital mutilation (FGM). But there has been a backlash against the legislation from many traditional leaders, especially in northern Senegal. Women from 31 villages travelled to Dakar to explain why making FGM a crime at this time would not help abolish the practice. Many say the law is viewed as having been dictated by ‘outside’ forces such as aid organizations and Northern governments rather than being presented for local debate. Opponents of the new law also argue that education is a better strategy than criminalization.
The World Health Organization estimates that 130 million women and girls in 28 African countries have been subjected to female genital mutilation. Every year more than two million females ranging from infants a few days old to mature women undergo the procedure. Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan account for 75 per cent of cases.
Go Between No 74
A South African mine worker, whose health has been ruined by exposure to asbestos, has decried his treatment by the British company Cape plc. Cupido Adams’ wife died of asbestosis and he currently suffers from it. He says workers were never told of the dangers of working at the mine, which closed in 1979. And the site is still so dangerous that doctors are unwilling to go there and treat those affected by the dust in the air and on the ground around the mine. Adams addressed shareholders and company directors at Cape’s general meeting asking: ‘I have come all the way from South Africa to ask you why you will not hear my case in court here?’ He is one of over 2,000 people who have lodged a legal claim against Cape plc.
For more information contact:
Action for Southern Africa, 28 Penton St, London N1 9SA, England.
Tel: +44 171 833 3133. Fax: +44 171 833 3133
‘Employment is the new name for peace’
Colombian President André Pastrana Arrango.