Zimbabwean law lecturer faces death penalty for #Egypt lessons

Munyaradzi Gwisai is a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe who has been charged with treason. The government is saying he showed internet videos about the democracy struggle in Egypt to his students. If convicted he faces the death penalty.

While he has been released on bail pending his next court appearance on 20 April, Gwisai testified at an earlier hearing that he and other accused were brutally tortured after their arrest by state security agents.

An event organised by Adele Carles MLA, Melissa Parke MP and Senator Scott Ludlam at the Fremantle Town Hall this week will call for the rule of law and freedom to be restored in Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, 20 April at 7pm.

Another one about Sri Lanka: civil war, or genocide? [war]

So Sri Lanka’s been in this big civil war for longer than I’ve been alive.  It’s such a lovely place, but it’s been tormented for so long.

My mum’s gone to Sri Lanka for a my cousin’s wedding.  The last time she was there, there was an air raid on the air force base next to the airport.  My mother was actually on board a plane that was taxiing on the runway at the time.  The time before that, there was that tsunami thing.  Right now, the fighting between government forces and the Tamil Tiger rebels has escalated to some of the worst combat I can remember.

Wow, she gets all the fun stuff, huh?

I was surprised hear that SL was the top breaking news story on news.com.au last night (although it was to do with a Australian UN worker who’s trapped in the war-zone, so I guess it’s not that surprising), because for so long the conflict there has been overshadowed by various other goings-on around the world.  There was an article about that trend on New Matilda late last year.

The UN and Red Cross have claimed that over 250,000 civilians are trapped in the conflict zone in the north and east of the island, but Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has told the BBC that those international organisations have got that wrong:

“I’m not saying they are lying but they are exaggerating,” he said.

He also ruled out any ceasefire for humanitarian reasons, saying it would give the Tigers a chance to reorganise.

“The purpose of this offensive is to eradicate them,” he said.

Hrm.  That seems kind mean, doesn’t it?

Well if it does, then this should make you worry:  Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (who is the brother of Mahinda, Sri Lanka’s president; assassinated newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge claimed the president and the government are responsible for his death) is a US citizen who might be getting indicted for genocide and war crimes in the next couple of weeks.

Yeah. Now that’s Dodgy (with a capital D!).

In news via Twitter, constitutional lawyer Bruce Fein has been preparing a 1,000-page model indictment against G Rajapaksa and army commander Sarath Fonseka for allegedly violating Section 1091 of the United States Criminal Code:

The model indictment is scheduled for publication within two weeks and will be presented to the US Congress, the Department of Justice and the State Department.

The lawyer represents Tamils Against Genocide, a non-profit organization based in the United States, whose mission is to obtain US or international indictments against the two US citizens or green card holders currently serving in the government of Sri Lanka for alleged complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, including torture and extrajudicial killings, against Sri Lanka’s civilian Tamil population.

Now, Fein is clearly not just some schmuck.  He graduated from Harvard Law School with honours, clerked for a federal judge,  had a bunch of high profile government-law positions and has written for Slate about impeaching Cheney.  I think I like this guy.

The allegations about extrajudicial killings are nothing out of the blue for me.  I’ve heard a bunch of stories about people getting taken away in “white vans” and never returning (and this has happened to both Singhalese and Tamil people) and then there’s the whole war-on-journalism thing.  And Booker Prize-winning author Michael Ondaatje’s 2001 book Anil’s Ghost is the story of an ex-pat Sri Lankan forensic anthropologist who had been sent by an international human rights group to discover the source of the organised campaigns of murder on the island.  Things over there are seriously messed up.

But what is out of the blue, at least for me, is this allegation from an article about Fein’s indictment (from a site called TamilSydney via TamilNet, so I know it needs to be taken with a grain of salt):

Mr. Fein said that Sri Lanka was a unique nation whose history reveals an ongoing cultural genocide, adding, “the myths of the Mahavamsa say that Sri Lanka belongs to no one but the Sinhalese, and the text celebrates kings for slaughtering Tamils. Secondly, the teachings of Dharmapala, celebrate the purity of the Aryan race and establish the idea of racial supremacy. Because Dharmapala is as sacred to the Sinhalese as Jesus to the Christians, the Sinhalese believe and act with the notion of racial supremacy. This legacy is being continued by Sinhalese Buddhist monks and this legacy is used by Buddhists in classrooms in the South, as an instruction in genocide.”

Um, is this true, you guys? Because if it is, I am jumping on a plane right now to go an smack some people in the head.  What atrocious horrendousness, people? Atrocious. Horrendousness.

I am a Singalese Buddhist but my brother’s BFF is Tamil (how Romeo & Juliet) and, dude, I am not racist or biased just because of the family I was born into.  I want all people to be happy and get along and stuff.  The whole thing has upset me for some time. because it never seems like ending and the people in charge (of both sides) have been arrogant douche-bags (or, if they’ve been alright, have been shot or blown up).

So here’s my stance on this thing: I hate the Tamil Tigers, right — they’re terrorists, they pioneered suicide bombers, they make women and children fight.  But gods-damn, I hate bigotry of any description and war and violence at that, so if those government bastards did get involved in war crimes, I want them to rot. Slowly and painfully.

I don’t know if there’s a solution that doesn’t involve getting all of those bastards in jail first, and then getting decent people to take over and settle this.  But something more has to be done… just don’t know if, during all these economic troubles and Middle East mess and  climate change crises etc etc, if the world has the capacity to deal with this, too.

By the way, a group of Tamil students have started a hunger strike in Sydney’s St Martins Place in an attempt to get the Australian government to take action and they’ve posted YouTube vids of civilian casualties on their blog: http://fastuntoaction.wordpress.com/ (warning: there’s heartwrenching music and horrific images).

Update: The ABC has a news story on the footage, and in good journalistic form, it’s pointed out that the videos haven’t been verified and no one is sure when and where this was taped.

The one about blogs and branding and bitching, oh my! [online shenanigans]

Yesterday, via Twitter, I found my new favourite blog: Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist.  Now, I’m not sure how I hadn’t found this blog earlier, because it is written by a co-founder of my favourite blog-network, Brazen Careerist, but as the old saying goes: better late than never.

Penelope’s blog is on a bunch of topics relevant to a young, vivacious upstart such as myself (the tweeted post was entitled 5 Career tips women should run from; and my fave post is 5 Time management tricks I learned from years of hating Tim Ferriss — about hating that knob who wrote 4-Hour Work Week, which I stupidly bought and now refuse to finish) but this one particular post, called My name is not really Penelope, got me thinking about myself and my decision to start a new blog/website (I know, I know; it’s not a very hard task– what blogger who writes about their life online and has a vanity domain doesn’t think about themselves every 3 seconds? Also, I am a Leo).

The post is about how “Penelope” changed her name a few times to accommodate (among other things) her views about patriarchy, her boss and her editors, and also mentions the whole “personal brand” thing as well as how she got busted for mentioning stuff that was recognised by others and the shit hit the fan.

Returning to me (of course) let’s start with that last thing.  A bit over a week ago, I was (figuratively) hit over the head with the revelation that people had read some things I had Tweeted or blogged about and, as a result of what I had said out there in the public forum, became upset or decided that I was not a very nice person (or something like that).

I was quite surprised because I didn’t think anyone who wasn’t registered on Twitter would be stalking me (because I get notified every time someone properly “follows” me) and for about a nano-second it crossed my mind that I should protect my Twitter updates. But I realised that doing so would defeat The. Whole. Point of Twittering (I am looking straight at you, @mattkeogh) and I love Twittering so I would never actually to do that.

This happened on the very day I registered my new domain name, but it was entirely coincidental as I did not know about the shit-on-fan issue until after I’d already signed up (and the decision to do was made well before that), so I hope nobody thinks I did the whole “it’s time to grow up” thing because I got told off (but boy, did I get Told Off).

Now, I don’t think I said anything defamatory, and I feel as if everything I said was justified in the circumstances (which weren’t very nice, for all involved) but I have promised not to be mean and stuff anymore.

Which sucks, because, as I have said, I am not one to hold back on an opinion and, as I tweeted the next day, self-censorship makes Baby Jesus get butt-raped my gay-pedophile Catholic priests (oh yes, I went there. Again).

But that little event was a good lesson about how “my brand” comes across to people who come across it.  And as I really have no control over who stumbles across my blog or my Twitter because it’s just Out There (you know, in the ether, floating around there with The Truth) it was a sombre reminder than I need to control what I can control.  That makes my stomach churn because it sounds like that lame Irish blessing/prayer thing, but meh, I don’t like paying taxes either, and sometimes we’ve just gotta do what we have to do. Sigh.

I know what happened shouldn’t surprise me too much since I had been (and, of course, continue to) blog and Twitter under my real name.  But it’s kinda funny that I (apparently) came across as mean when there’s that popular school of thought that suggests using fake names on the interwebs promotes more, unnecessary bitching.  The “Greater Internet Fuckwad [sic] Theory” is presented in this diagrammatic formula:

I know you’re more likely to bitch about someone when you know they can’t hear it, or it won’t get back to them. At least not with your name attached to it.  But saying stuff on the internet certainly isn’t the same as whispering behind someone’s back.

There’s that other old saying: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

I was asked whether I would have said what I said if I had known that it was known that I was saying what I was saying.  My answer was an unequivocal yes.

I don’t think what happened was purely about me bitching.  I felt attacked, and I attacked back.  Because I did not have the opportunity at the time to attack directly, I vented on the internet to keep myself from blowing up and, as I thought at the time, making things worse.

It turned out that I made things worse, only that happened a week later.  Frankly, I think I was being polite by not making an issue out of it when I could have.  If I was being purely selfish, I would have said what I wanted to say and let it all out, there and then; and I do think that would have been worse than what I did.  If I’d had the opportunity to say what I had to say before The Shite Hiteth The Faneth, this probably would not have blown up the way that it had.

(This is my blog and I can rationalise if I want to, thankyouverymuch.)

So it got me wondering: what’s going to happen to me by saying what I have to say (and saying it online)?

I have made assurances to people who have asked to be kept offline that I won’t say stuff about them.  That’s fine.  But what about everything else?  Because, essentially, everything else that I say online was also called nasty and horrible.

I don’t change anything on here. However I may appear is It.  That’s all, folks: nothing more, nothing less.  As my old tagline said: I tell it like I think it is.  And I don’t regret that and I don’t intend to change that.

But what happens when what I say gets me into touble? Will I lose friends?  Will I lose the respect of people who “know” me in real life?

I guess the outcome depends on whether I respect their reasons for disliking what I say.

Because if I don’t respect their reasons, I probably don’t respect them, and if one more cane toad under the tires is good for the country, one more schmoe who’s opinions don’t matter is good for me.

It also depends on whether I respect them for bringing their issues to me and explaining them to me and discussing them with me.

Because if I don’t even know they have an issue with me? Psh, bitsch pleez, how could I possibly lose sleep over it?

My conclusion is that if people are happy to let me keep saying what I say, or refuse to ask me why I say it, they can either stop reading what I have to say, or forever hold their peace.

The one about an assassinated editor from Sri Lanka [war on journalism]

Oh no. Oh no, on no, oh no.

There was an article on New Matilda a little while ago about the forgotten war in Sri Lanka that gets missed by the mainstream media.

And it took a story on boingboing.net for me to find out about the murder of a Sri Lankan journalist last week.

This makes me so sad.

Firstly, gah; I am so embarrassed that I had not subscribed to a Sri Lankan news service, after all my pontificating.  This has now been resolved.

Secondly. Oh my gods.

The murder is the worst of what I wrote about in my banned Quasi editorial about the importance of freedom of the press.

Creepily (sadly, really), Lasantha Wickrematunge (who was a lawyer before he became a journalist and editor at the Sunday Leader) wrote an editorial entitled ‘They Came for Me’, which was published on Sunday after his death.  It seems that he knew he would be killed and I assume he’d written it long before it happened.

In the editorial, he outlines the problems facing journalists and media services in Sri Lanka, emphasises the importance of a free media, and presents warnings about the dangers of staying silent:

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last. …

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it. …

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: 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 disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If people want to know why it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut some times; why I have issues with accepting authority that shows no good cause for being obeyed; why I question everything and don’t stop hounding until I get a decent answer; and why I don’t care if that gets me in to a bit of trouble — then I would really encourage them to read Wickrematunge’s final editorial.

Update: New Matilda has published another great story on the background to the whole mess.