Tuesday, February 07, 2006

..............Journalists and Murderers..............

It was a beautiful spring morning in Victoria today. At the swank Laurel Point Inn down in the harbour, hundreds of beautiful new books were decked out on crisp white tables throughout the airy convention floor. The place was teeming with book reps and booksellers and publicists and writers.

I was there to read from my new book. It was a breakfast reading, with the novelists Eden Robinson and Billie Livingstone. Frances Backhouse was there to talk about her beautiful book about woodpeckers, and the photographer J.A. Kraulis came with his new book, and he had some very interesting observations about the things that make the Canadian landscape so distinct.

While we were all enjoying ourselves, another group of writers was experiencing a decidedly different kind of reception in Istanbul. Murat Belge, Ismet Berkan, Erol Katırcioglu and Haluk Sahin, all journalists with Turkey’s Daily Radikal, were appearing in court on charges related to newspaper articles they’d written about the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey during the early years of the 20th century. They face up to ten years in prison.

And on another side of the world, Chinese poet and journalist Shi Tao was just beginning another day in a slave labour camp in Hunan Province, where he is serving a ten-year sentence for sending an email out of the country. Shi Tao was ratted out by Yahoo!

It’s fairly easy to look up these things on Google. But not if you live in China. Two weeks ago, Google agreed to censorship rules that will prevent one-sixth of humanity from using the Google search engine to find out anything about Tibet, say, or human rights, or multiparty democracy.

Elsewhere, Prahlad Goala, a writer with the Assamese-language daily Asomiya Khabar, in India, was murdered near his home on January 6 after writing a series of articles linking corrupt forestry officials with a timber-smuggling operation. Goala, 32, riding his motorcycle, was rammed by a truck and then stabbed several times. A local forestry official has been arrested in the case.In the Phillippines, Central Luzon Forum columnist Graciano Aquino was shot and killed January 21 in the town of Morung, and freelance broadcaster Rolly Cañete, was gunned down the day before in the southern city of Pagadian. In Sri Lanka, Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, a reporter with the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, was gunned down January 24 on his way to work. He’d just finished a series on the deaths of five Tamil students that pointed to a military coverup. Last year, the Sudar Oli office was bombed, and a security guard was killed.

Their stories are here.

After a delightful morning at Laurel Point Hotel, I spent a breezy and animated lunch with my dear old friend, the writer Ben Parfitt. We discussed the affairs of the world over a wonderful meal of butter chicken. Ben had brought me a present - Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and The Murderer.

In Iran, meanwhile, Elham Afrotan and six other journalists working for the weekly Tamadone Hormozgan, in the Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, were still in prison after being arrested on January 29 for accidentally printing a lampoon of a long-dead ayatollah. They face the death penalty.

The day they were arrested, in Tehran’s Evin prison, journalist and author Akbar Ganji celebrated his birthday, alone, on the 148th day of his solitary confinement, in the sixth year of his imprisonment, for the crime of attending an April, 2000 conference in Berlin, at which social reform in Iran was discussed.

I could go on and on and on like this. I don’t mean to be dreary.

I enjoyed myself thoroughly today. I was in the company of friends and colleagues. The rewards of being a writer in a constitutional democracy were everywhere in evidence.

But my thoughts did turn to those others.

And to her.


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