Monday, March 24, 2008

Silencing the Truth: Russian style

Slow but steady, journalists face systematic annihilation

“I survived! Now I am a Dissident! Don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I already wrote here that at one newspaper in the Dagestan, journalists struggle with the founders. Those, in the words of journalists wanted to use them as information killers. Potential killers strike. But that case too serious and strange to my mind... Founders gave the list of people who can not be printed in this newspaper, and even... communicate with them inside the walls of editorial offices. And here I am, there is at the forefront of! At the head of the list!The most ridiculous that the newspaper... notes about their travels, where I did not touch the political situation in Zimbabwe, and a current describe where I went... I do not write anything seditious. In politics, or even about... I do not, because I have laziness... Can founders know something about me that I do not know what I did? Maybe I need to “suitcase-station- Israel” (and) not become the second Khodorkovsky?”

The above quote is a roughly translated March 20, 2008 blog entry of Ilyas Shurpayev at on the website of Odnoklassniki, a Russian social networking site.

What makes the quote to be quoted here is that it’s the last quote from the Russian television journalist who was found dead in his flat in Moscow only hours after posting this blog entry in which he joked that he had become a dissident.

Something somewhere is not right in Russia and its getting more and more dangerous to report, as Shurpayev had reported from all the most dangerous parts of Russia, including Chechnya and his native Dagestan. Found strangled with a belt around his neck and multiple knife wounds, Shurpayev, 32, had recently moved to Moscow from Dagestan, a violence- ridden republic neighbouring Chechnya, the war-torn part of Russia.

Local media reports cited the concierge in his building saying that Shurpayev apparently knew his killers because he called down for two young men to be let in. As usual, the prosecutors told media a criminal investigation has been opened into the case and the possibility that the killing might be related to his work was not ruled out.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) issued a statement calling on the Russian authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the case, saying the journalist appeared to be a target of media repression. “We fear that this has all the hallmarks of a targeted attack on a journalist who was reporting from the frontlines of conflict on Russia’s borders,” the IFJ’s head Aidan White said in a statement in Brussels.

As the media was still coming to grips with this murder of a fellow journalist, the Interfax news agency citing the Russian state prosecutor Yuri Chaika reported that Gaji Abashilova, the head of the state radio and television in the same Dagestan region was shot dead in the capital Makhachkala. Abashilova, who was shot on the street in Makhachkala by assailants who fired from a car, according to the Interfax report, which added that Chaika would personally take over the investigation into the murder. Abashilov, 58, had also been deputy information minister in the Dagestani government in the past.

With dozens of journalists killed, some like Anna Politkovskaya in 2006, wellknown through their work against well-known figures, others not so well-known on international, or even national levels as they are reporting on local corruption and power-abuse, one fact gets reported crystalclear: that the Russian state is systematically failing to protect journalists with its failure to prosecute these crimes.

On one hand, Russian ex- KGB leaders are striving to bring back the glory of a superpower to Moscow, but on the other, with today’s Russia being allegedly labelled as the most dangerous place to work as a journalist, the modus operandi of their ambitious project is quite murky.

In a war-zone, journalists are aware of the dangers, while in Russia, death stalks in “safe” residential areas. Shurpayev, who was of Dagestani origin, survived the former in Caucasus to die in the latter arena of Moscow as his employer Channel One pointed out in its statement: “His CV includes all the hotspots in the Caucasus... And very often he would work in practically combat-like conditions.”

It’s not the murder of one journalist that kills free media but the failure of society to bring to book the culprits, emboldens the repressive forces to repeat the offence and slow but steady silence the voice of truth.

Obama: Path to Change

Americans at the crossroads of history to lead by example

American presidential elections are not only about money, power and prestige within the world’s most vibrant democracy, but also a guiding light to the believers of democratic principles and human rights followers. In 2008, the world is watching the presidential campaign in the melting pot of civilisations and beaconing land of opportunities for the last centuries, and there is one man, Barack Obama, who has caught the attention like never before in the recent past.

Watching former presidential candidate Bill Richardson endorse his fellow Democratic frontrunner Obama brought out many points why Obama has generated so much interest in the Old Continent and other parts of the world.

Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, symbolises the Hispanic vox populi and was being wooed openly by dynastic presidential runner Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president, Bill Clinton.

Putting on back burner his personal bonds with his friends the Clintons, and an official relationship with former president Clinton under whom he served as UN ambassador and energy secretary, Richardson was candid in his appeal to the voters while endorsing Obama.

With a flavour of spiritualism sprinkled over pragmatic choice of words, Richardson spoke with his heart and soul about Obama. “There’s something special about this guy… I’ve been trying to figure it out, but it’s very good.” “Your candidacy is a oncein- a-lifetime opportunity for our nation and you are a once in a lifetime leader,” he told Obama.

The much-acclaimed Obama speech on the need for unity in the diversified spectrum of Americans got special mention from Richardson, who himself is of Hispanic origin, in his decision to endorse Obama, who is the son of a “father from Kenya” and “mother from Kansas.”

“I’ve been troubled by the demonisation of immigrants, specifically Hispanics, by too many in this country,” Richardson said. Obama’s “words are one of a courageous, thoughtful leader who understands that a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

“Senator Barack Obama addressed the issue of race with the eloquence and sincerity and decency and optimism we have come to expect of him. “He did not seek to evade tough issues or to soothe us with comforting half-truths. Rather, he inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing in our own responsibility,” he said.

He added: “Senator Obama could have given a safer speech. He is, after all, well ahead in the delegate count for our party’s nomination.” Obama earlier had called for the country to rise above its racial divisions in a speech prompted by the controversy over his former pastor and spiritual advisor Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr’s incendiary comments about race in sermons.

Obama said, “But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor.”

Striking a chord with his supporters, Obama explained in detail, “I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy … absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country.”

Not only condemning the remarks, but also asking Americans to get together, Obama added, “As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially-charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.”

Going down memory lane to highlight the struggle for freedom and equality in the American history, Obama said, “And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every colour and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States.” “What would be needed... to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time,” Obama said.

The voters in the United States of America this year are facing this choice of our time to deliver with their ballot a change in the ongoing dynastic repetition in the US presidential race.

Anyone eligible to vote 32 years ago (or nearly 56 years of age today) in 1976 would have had the fortune to see a presidential ballot without a Bush or a Clinton name on it as, after that, no single ballot paper has escaped a Bush or a Clinton. That says a lot about the dynastic rulers in the democracy of US.

On the other hand, Richardson hinted at an honourable and unselfish move to drop out of the race for Clinton saying, “I’m not going to advise any other candidate when to get in and out of the race.”

Mincing no words to make it clearer, the governor added, “Senator Clinton has a right to stay in the race, but eventually we don’t want to go into the Democratic convention bloodied. This was another reason for my getting in and endorsing, the need to perhaps send a message that we need unity.”

“It is time ... for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and to prepare for the tough fight we will face against John McCain in the fall,” Richardson said at a rally with Obama in Portland, Oregon.

Last but not least, Richardson reflected on a minor detail from their sitting together during a presidential debate. “I had just been asked a question - I don’t remember which one - and Obama was sitting right next to me. Then the moderator went across the room, I think to Chris Dodd, so I thought I was home free for a while. I wasn’t going to listen to the next question. I was about to say something to Obama when the moderator turned to me and said, ‘So, Gov. Richardson, what do you think of that?’ But I wasn’t paying any attention! I was about to say, ‘Could you repeat the question? I wasn’t listening.’ But I wasn’t about to say I wasn’t listening. I looked at Obama. I was just horrified. And Obama whispered, ‘Katrina. Katrina.’ The question was on Katrina! So I said, ‘On Katrina, my policy . . .’ Obama could have just thrown me under the bus. So I said, ‘Obama that was good of you to do that.’”