The liberty of belief and expression is a fundamental right that is under increasing threat in countries like Bangladesh and Mexico.
On St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, Catholics slaughtered Huguenots in Paris. Soon, the killings spread across France. Historians continue to debate as to who instigated the massacre. Most hold Catherine de Medici, the Machiavellian Italian mother of the weak King Charles IX, responsible. More important is the way Catholic bigwigs reacted to the genocide. Pope Gregory XIII ordered the singing of Te Deum as a special thanksgiving and struck a medal with the motto “Ugonottorum strages 1572,” which is Latin for slaughter of Huguenots. Even the dour Philip II of Spain “laughed for almost the only time on record.”
Religion still remains a good reason to kill people. This week, Nilay Chatterjee, an atheist of Hindu origin, was murdered by radical Islamists in Bangladesh. He was killed at home by men yelling “Allahu Akbar” (God is great, in Arabic) and using machetes. Ansar-ul-Islam, a local chapter of al-Qaeda, has claimed responsibility. Chatterjee’s murder follows that of three other bloggers: Avijit Roy, Washiqur Rahman and Ananta Bijoy Das. They were attacked in public places, while Chatterjee is the first blogger to be murdered at home.
Like much of South Asia, Bangladesh is witnessing an increase in religious radicalism. The Bangladeshi government has failed to deliver basic services to its 160 million people, more than 90% of whom are Muslim. When Bangladesh became independent in 1971, it represented the failure of the idea of Pakistan. The idea that all Muslims in South Asia were one nation stood discredited after the fair-skinned Punjabi, Sindhi and Pathan Pakistanis refused to accept their electoral defeat and unleashed a campaign of subjugation on Bengali Muslims. Murder, rape and torture were part of the toolkit of the Pakistani army and its Islamist collaborators. However, despite their best efforts, East Pakistan died and Bangladesh was born.
Ironically, Bangladesh is now turning toward radical Islam. The people have lost faith in their leaders. They have no hopes from the political process and are falling prey to charismatic clerics with a call. Flush with Saudi funding, these clerics are changing the gentle Islam of Bangladesh into a harsher, puritanical and unforgiving creed.
Earlier this year, Islamists submitted a list of 84 bloggers to the government, demanding that they be arrested and tried for blasphemy. To placate them, the government arrested and then bailed out six bloggers. The targeted writers are fighting for secularism. They want a separation of religion and the state. They also want justice for war crimes committed by the former henchmen of Pakistan, who invariably tend to be Islamists. Unsurprisingly, Islamists want these bloggers dead and buried.
Even as bloggers are being killed in Bangladesh, journalists are being murdered in Mexico. Rubén Espinosa Becerril, an investigative photo journalist, died this week. The police found his body along with those of four women in an apartment. Espinosa was tortured before he was shot dead. According to Reporters Without Borders, he is the 88th journalist to be murdered in Mexico since 2000.
Espinosa was the official photographer of the Veracruz governor in 2009. He criticized the violence against journalists in Veracruz and had to resign. Veracruz is one of the deadliest Mexican states for journalists and Espinosa had publicly accused Javier Duarte de Ochoa, the governor, of violating the freedom of the press. Espinosa had left Veracruz and moved to Mexico City because he feared for his life and had claimed that Duarte had threatened him.
Espinosa’s murder marks a new nadir even for Mexico. The country is ranked 148 out of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index. Both authorities and drug cartels get rid of inconvenient journalists when they fail to intimidate or buy them. It is safer to be a journalist in Iraq than in Mexico.
Citizens are not much better off. As per the Mexican government itself, 47,515 drug-related killings occurred in the country from 2006 and 2011. The real number is much higher. Mexico lacks rule of law. Its institutions are decrepit and corruption is a way of life. Extreme economic inequality and poverty continues to blight the country. The elite tend to be descendants of Spanish conquistadores who live in palatial mansions with private bodyguards, while the hoi polloi inhabit another universe where beheadings, kidnappings and extortion are daily phenomena.
For 71 years ending only in 2000, Mexico was ruled by Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian writer and Nobel laureate, rightly called the PRI government “the perfect dictatorship.” Old dictatorial habits are still alive and well. Politicians enjoy dipping their hands in the till and expect deference from journalists. Media barons put pressure on journalists too. The culture of violence makes Mexico even more intimidating than Bangladesh.
The drug lords have added a sinister dimension to Mexican journalism. Once the British East India Company grew opium in India and exported it to China. Today, the likes of El Chapo, the notorious drug lord who recently escaped from jail, carry on the fine tradition of this legendary British company. People like El Chapo lead cartels that are locked in mortal combat for the control of the multibillion dollar narcotics business. These cartels bribe officials, police, military, judges and journalists to turn a Nelson’s eye as they carry on with their daily business. Those who do not play ball are packed off to meet their maker. Might is right in modern-day Mexico. Espinosa, the murdered journalist, lost his right to life because someone powerful decreed so.
Threats to fundamental freedoms are increasing in many other countries such as Egypt, Rwanda, Pakistan, Thailand and even the United States. Concentration of power—whether in a government, church, corporation or mafia boss—is a dangerous thing. In the days to come, citizens will have to fight hard to speak truth to power.
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As Latin American women continue to struggle for autonomy over their bodies, freeing the “Las 17” is critical.
“We are here to speak for them, to call for their release. When there is an injustice, silence is complicity,” said Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch and a decades-long advocate for human rights in Latin America. He was referring to the 17 women, known as Las 17, who are currently serving 30-year sentences in prison for having miscarriages in El Salvador.
Father Bourgeois is one of the six human rights activists who staged a sit-in at the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington DC on April 24, calling for the release of the women. Four of the protesters were arrested by the Secret Service.
“It was an honor to go to the embassy and be arrested in solidarity with the women in El Salvador,” said Father Bourgeois. “Our greatest enemy in the United States is ignorance, so our job is to tell… Read more
[seperator style=”style1″]Assange: The Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice[/seperator]
As August 20 approaches, another chapter in the Julian Assange case is set to unfold. John Pilger explains.
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Lame duck President Barack Obama pulls no punches. In his major address on August 5 over on the Iran deal, Obama let his critics have it.
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The Jeremy Corbyn bandwagon rolls on in Britain, but will there will be problems ahead?
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