Archive for August, 2009

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Journalist Targeted in Sri Lankan Government Witch Hunt

August 31, 2009
(REUTERS/STRINGER)

(REUTERS/STRINGER)

Sri Lanka’s High Court has dealt a huge blow to press freedoms on the island, sentencing a prominent local journalist — J.S. Tissanayagam — to 20 years’ hard labor. His crime? Publishing a series of articles between 2006 and 2007 that criticized his government’s handling of a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a separatist group that had been fighting for an ethnic Tamil homeland in northern Sri Lanka since the early 1980s.

In those articles, Tissanayagam — himself a member of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority population — talked about the hardships that the Sri Lankan military had imposed on Tamil civilians living in and around the war zones, such as its restriction of food deliveries. He was later arrested in early 2008 and held for 17 months, essentially accused of working off the LTTE payroll and publishing propaganda. (Tissanayagam denied the charges, but claimed he was later coerced into signing a confession.)

During his detention, Amnesty International and President Barack Obama highlighted Tissanayagam’s plight, but to no avail: Today, Tissanayagam became the first journalist sentenced under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act. The judge found him guilty of conspiracy, saying his articles sought to sow ethnic divisions between Sri Lanka’s majority Sinhalese and minority Tamil populations.

Those involved in the case say today’s ruling should concern news reporters everywhere who serve as voices of dissent. “He had no time tried to arouse hatred,” says Anil Silva, Tissanayagam’s defense lawyer. “Now he has been punished for what he wrote as a journalist. This will be a lesson to other journalists too.”

While the Sri Lankan military may have finally defeated the LTTE in May, ending the island’s bloody quarter-century civil war, the battle for press freedom on the island looks to be heating up.

Tissanayagam plans to appeal his sentence.

-Russell Sticklor

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A New Day in Japan

August 31, 2009
Yukio Hatoyama, likely the next Japanese Prime Minister under the newly empowered Democratic Party of Japan. (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

(TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, Japanese voters ushered in a new political era in their country.  In a landslide election, they removed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) from power, which had dominated Japan’s political establishment for more than 50 years. One of the main reasons for voters’ dramatic about face? To quote former Clinton aide James Carville, “it’s the economy, stupid” — more or less.

Japan has been mired in its most severe economic downturn since the end of the Second World War, with unemployment hovering at a record 5.7 percent. In the eyes of most voters, blame fell on the entrenched LDP, with its close ties to big business and the powerful Japanese bureaucracy.

The reins of the world’s second-largest economy are now in the hands of the relatively unproven Democratic Party of Japan, which has plans to increase social welfare funding, enact tax cuts and up the minimum wage. But whether the government ‘s planned spending spree will lift the Japanese economy out of the basement — or drive it further into the ground — is anyone’s guess.

Meanwhile, look for the newly elected Democrats to find their footing on the international stage at a series of upcoming summits in September, including a U.N. climate change meeting in New York and a gathering of the G20 nations a few days later in Pittsburgh.

Russell Sticklor

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Drug Lord Vice Presidential Hopeful?

August 31, 2009
(Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

(Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has always led with warlords in his midst. Indeed, a number of his top officials are widely-recognized criminals. But in his current bid for re-election, the president is actually naming a prominent drug trafficker as his running mate.

The nominated Marshal Muhammad Qasim Fahim—Afghanistan’s one-time Defense Minister—mortified the Bush Administration in 2002 when after receiving millions of dollars in cash to help overthrow the Taliban, was discovered flying cargo planes full of heroin into Russia.

The last administration chose to turn a blind eye on Fahim’s exploits,but the current one may not be as lenient. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton bluntly told President Karzai that his standing with the United States and other countries would be compromised by appointing Fahim as his vice presidential candidate.

Ultimately, if Fahim does secure the office, the U.S. will find itself in an uncomfortable impasse between maintaining a crucial relationship with the Karzai government and condemning one of its foremost leader’s corruption.

-Ellesse Sorbonne

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China Finally Pushes Voluntary Organ Transplant Initiative

August 26, 2009
(Martin Bureau/AFP)

(Martin Bureau/AFP)

After decades of seedy, even alarming, organ transplant accounts, China has initiated a new voluntary organ donor initiative. The program hopes to replace the current norm of gleaning organs from

executed convicts, from the black market, and more often than not—not gleaning any organs at all.According to officials, out of China’s population of 1.3 billion an astonishing mere 36 individuals donated their organs last year. Chen Zhonghua, from the Institute of Organ Transplantation in Shanghai, blames this lack of enthusiasm on China’s grisly history of organ
trafficking. It’s not surprising that the population prefers to avoid the topic when kidney-lacking corpses like the one found June 15 in Guizhou Province frequently surface in the news.

Chen acknowledged that it will be a daunting task to get China’s voluntary program up to speed with other countries. But with more than 1.5 million Chinese citizens estimated to require an organ transplant and the Chinese government simultaneously clamping down on death penalties, it is an adjustment that will have to happen soon.

Ellesse Sorbonne

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Let the [blame] games begin

August 26, 2009
Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images

Photo by Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images

Infuriated by last Wednesday’s bombings in Baghdad, Iraqi officials are insisting that Syria extradite two Iraqi Baathists based in Syria suspected of orchestrating the deadly attacks. Syria has rejected all accusations of involvement and has not extradited Mohammad Younis al-Ahmed nor Sattam Farhan. The three bombs, the most devastating attack in a year, killed almost 100 people and injured more than 500. Yesterday, Iraq recalled its ambassador to Syria, prompting Syria to also withdraw its ambassador to Iraq.

Syria is not the only recipient of blame; Iraqi government officials, Defense Minister Abdul Qadir al-Obaidi and Interior Minister Jawad Bolani, are blaming each other for the lapse in security. Iran, as usual, is getting its fair share of finger pointing and several Iraqis have been arrested. Meanwhile, an insurgent group called the Islamic State of Iraq has claimed responsibility for the bombings, though there is no proof yet of who is actually responsible for the attack.

Iraqis have been worried that the withdrawal of US troops would mean an increase in insurgent violence; last Wednesday is just one episode confirming that fear.

Evonne Liew

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Greek Prime Minister in the Hot Seat

August 26, 2009
(AP Photo/Icon/Dimitri Doudoumis)

(AP Photo/Icon/Dimitri Doudoumis)

Almost every government is strained in keeping up public support during this global economic crisis, but Greece’s incumbent, Costas Karamanlis, is particularly in the hot seat. Not only has the Greek Prime Minister faced his share of financial woes—including an injured tourist industry and flailing bank system—but also both of his terms in office have been plagued by massive fires.

The first conflagration swelled almost two years ago in September 2007. After destroying a national park and claiming over 70 lives, the public reacted with outrage. Culpability was laid on the government for its minimal forest fire prevention services, and Karamanlis barely clung onto reelection.

The current inferno is generating equal, if not greater, public fury as it appears that Karamanlis’ 2007 promises to vamp up preventative measures were largely hollow. Indeed, the number of available Greek firefighting planes is the same as in 2007—a measly 21.

In addition to accusations of blatant government irresponsibility, there are also speculations that the fires may have been the work of arsonists hired by the government to make more land available for development. While these allegations are most likely unfounded, they are doing nothing to decrease the heat Karamanlis is facing.

Ellesse Sorbonne

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A Panacea for International Woes?

August 25, 2009
REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO)

REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly (DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO)

In the midst of skepticism over the ultimate effectiveness of pouring financial aid into poor nations, hope—real hope—is being located in a surprising place. The United Nations has termed this proposed solution “the highest-return investment available in the developing world” and the Hunger Project has declared that it is “the key to ending hunger in Africa.” What is evoking this great optimism? Simply the empowerment of the world’s marginalized women.

The New York Times issued a report yesterday that the providing of microloans and education to 3rd-world women is directly correlated to healthier and more learned children—essentially a stronger rising generation. The grim truth is that in the developing world male financial habits are statistically less sustainable than those of their female counterparts. Men tend to allocate their funds among bars and brothels, while women, if given the opportunity, devote their income to food, medicine, and schooling. 3rd World advocates are not the only ones greeting this solution with enthusiasm.

The international defense community is also considering the support of women to be a tool for undermining extremist nations. Their interest has been piqued by scholars’ assertions that the terrorism rampant in Muslim nations is not so much due to Islamic teachings about infidels or violence, but rather the suppressed levels of educated and financially-involved women. Ultimately, the global empowerment of women is not just ethical for its own sake, but also for the world at large.

Ellesse Sorbonne