Tag Archives: freedom

Free Tibet, F*ck China

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I’ll admit that I had some trouble with picking the tile for this post. I’m trying to keep this blog politics and bad words-free you see, so before this post became what it is it was meant to be just ‘Free Tibet’ (but then I didn’t want to be yet another person screaming activist thoughts into the web), then ‘F*ck China’ (but then I started feeling guilty about the F word again) or something like ‘Peace Bookings’. The first two may come intuitively to most who read the original title, but the third one may be a bit of a throw-off. Well, just keep reading.

I’m on holidays in Poland right now and will continue to reenvelop myself in my hometown and the Polish countryside for the next week and a half. I don’t watch TV back ‘home’: I refuse to have the cable coctail of some value and mostly nonsense come into my home in London. Probably because of this self-imposed restraint, TV has a pretty mesmerising effect on me whenever we do come face-to-face. Just now I finished watching an excellent documentary called ‘Dispatches: Undercover in Tibet’ by Tash Despa.

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Despa fled Tibet 11 years ago. If you’re a bit behind on why anyone would flee Tibe, the BBC has a very handy Q&A section on the history of the Chinese-Tibetan conflict. To make the film, Despa returned to Tibet with a hidden camera to film  stories of torture, murder and forced sterilisation that China does not want the world to hear. Besides the horrors described in the film, one can also easily pick up on a long-term plan of the Chinese government to eradicate the Tibetans culturally, linguistically and by their sheer power of numbers of Chinese immigrants pouring into the region. Tibetan resources’ value is estimated at $ 81.3 billion not to mention other strategic gains China is in for through their occupation of the region.

To stop the rant and try to do something a little more useful in the short term, I’ll get to the original third title option of this post, that is ‘Peace Bookings’. Peace Bookings is a site that has affiliate relationships with dozens of travel sites. Each time you click through a link to book something, a small commission for the sale (US $1 – $5) is diverted to their account that supports humanitarian causes in Tibet and Myanmar. The prices of tickets are not raised, but the commission still gets to the right hands. Through it would probably destroy Peace Bookings, it would be nice to see Kayak or other big booking sites enable similar services.

Child marriage

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My attention to the topic of child marriages was recently reignited by a Guardian report of an 8 year old Saudi girl unable to divorce her 58 year old husband. I’m not only time and again shocked and sickened by the lack of political and social freedoms for women in islamic countries, but also keep wondering when and how their rights could change. One of the most disturbing customs still present across many third world countries is child marriage. In Afghanistan between 60 and 80 percent of marriages are forced according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commision (AIHRC). Despite an offical ban of marriage of girls below 16 and boys below 18 from 2007, according to UNICEF, 57 percent of marriages in Afghanistan involve girls below the legal age. If you would like to readare more individual stories and see images, check out a slideshow about the situation of women in Afghanistan on Frontline PBS by Stephanie Sinclair. According to the Frontline report, domestic violence is common in Afghanistan and often leads to women and girls setting themselves on fire.

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Another recent case from the Middle East is that of Nojoud Muhhamed Nasser, an 8 year old girl from Yemen, who went to court by herself to divorce her 30 year old husband who raped her for about two months following the wedding. Accoring to the islamic law, marriages are not to be consummated until the brides reach puberty, but how often the rule is violated is impossible to know. Muslim men who engage in child marriages and the islamic law that allows such incidents are in priciple to follow the example of Muhammad: after his first wife died, Muhammad married his best friend’s daughter, Aisha. She was six at that time, so he waited to consummate the marriage until she was about nine. Before then, he would ‘thigh’ her, meaning ejaculate between her things. Now, is this a case of a ‘p’ for prophet or a ‘p’ for pedophile?

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Unfortunately, Middle East is not the only region infected with child marriage customs. They are not uncommon in South Asia, South America and Africa. According to UNICEF, child brides are most common in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In Niger, 77% of women between the ages of 20 and 24 were married before reaching adulthood. In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, over 50% of girls are married before the age of 15 and some girls are married as young as the age of 7. The custom is essentially a form of  establishing political or financial ties in a community where the bride is typically of a lower status than the groom. Most commonly though, young girls are simply married off to not be a financial burden to their families who then also get sums of money in return for their daughters. Young brides are mostly pulled out of education and interaction with peers and are often exposed to premature pregnancies, STDs and domestic violence.

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So what can be done to change the fate of young girls in these countries? What I cannot comprehend is how mothers allow this to happen. I can understand that protecting their children can put them at risk, but how can they allow such nightmarish futures  loom upon their children? How do they allow their daughters to be taken away and raise their sons to follow such sick customs? NGOs try to educate young women around the world, but unfortunately the victims of such customs are usually the hardest to reach. How much time does a culture need to ripen to an awareness of human rights? Can political change influence the culture behind the custom? Providing a secure legal infrastructure would certainly enhance the chances of change for the better, but that would require a change of heart in those who rule the country, almost none of whom are women.

Wikileaks

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Wikileaks is a developing platform for leaking and reading uncensored documents stemming from oppressive governments and internal corporate environments and at this point includes over 1.2 million documents. ‘Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we are of assistance to people of nations who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations,’ says the description of Wikileaks. According to the Times, Wikileaks  ‘could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act’ by providing a safe haven for those who want to expose injustice, violence or corruption within their governments or corporations without the fear of being exposed or persecuted.

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Wikileaks was started by Chinese dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and start-up company technologists, from the US, Taiwan, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Since January 2007 Wikileaks has been banned by the Chinese government. What about authenticity, you may ask; just as one can make claims about the authenticity of common knowledge on Wikipedia, one can make ones about whether what is being released on Wikileaks is authentic information. Wikileaks however claims the following: ‘Wikileaks staff, who are investigative journalists, forensically all documents and label any suspicions of inauthenticity based on a forensic analysis of the document, means, motive and opportunity, cost of forgery and so on. We have become world leaders in this, have never, as far as anyone is aware, made a mistake’. Beyond the chances of making mistakes, Wikileaks provides an important channel of free information and a source of increasing government and corporate transparency.

Iran, a nation of bloggers

Iran is often in the news because of its president and his relations with the rest of the world. The political system of Iran does not allow freedom of speech or press and currently new media is the only way of Iranians to express their discontent with their government. Four international students at Vancouver Film School, Aaron Chiesa, Hendy Sukarya, Lisa Temes and Toru Kageyama created this thought-provoking short film. The film has excellent imagery and conveys an important message about the role of new media in reinforcing the freedom of speech worldwide.