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Belinda Cooper: Revealing secrets

Belinda Cooper[This article was cross-posted on the Huffington Post.] Nineteen years ago, nearly three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German dissidents called for a peaceful demonstration against the continued existence of the Stasi, the feared East German secret police. On January 15, 1990, I found myself in front of Stasi headquarters in East Berlin translating the demonstrators' slogans for an American photographer. Suddenly, without warning, the looming metal gates of the forbidding edifice swung open and stunned protesters poured into the building. Some opened bottles of imported orange juice in the Stasi kitchens, while others spray-painted the walls and vented their anger on furniture and equipment. This unplanned and now legendary "storming of the Stasi" came to mark the symbolic end of an institution whose fate had already been sealed politically. In the ensuing months, East Germans would dismantle the secret police apparatus once and for all, laying bare the full scope of repression exercised by an intelligence service subject to no external control. As a new administration takes over now in the United States, we might take to heart the lessons learned, in this process of dealing with the Stasi's legacy, about the crucial role of openness and oversight in democratic societies. East German activists soon discovered that the Stasi had kept literally miles of reports on ordinary people. I was one of them. As an American living in West Berlin, I had befriended dissident environmentalists in the eastern half of the city and helped them publicize the sorry state of their country's air and water—an activity prohibited under the communist dictatorship. This made me an object of interest.

Ian Williams: Pinochet's Echoes Today

Ian WilliamsSeptember 11 is a day that will live in infamy: a terrorist attack on a landmark building whose aftermath left more than 3,000 dead. Yes, Chileans will always remember the coup of September 11, 1973, when their military commanders—with tacit, and indeed active, support from Washington—bombed their own presidential palace, setting up a repressive regime that imprisoned, tortured, and executed supporters of the deposed government while driving untold more into exile. But while Osama bin Laden is being hounded around the North West Frontier, one of the architects of the Chilean coup, Henry Kissinger, is a revered advisor to governments; the other, Augusto Pinochet, died without facing trial for his involvement. “He had taken full advantage of the rights guaranteed to him by due process—rights that his victims were denied—and postponed his day of reckoning indefinitely.” On the day he died, “My feelings of hate toward Pinochet and what he represented had waned through the years; instead I felt a serene contempt for the man,” concludes Heraldo Muñoz in The Dictator's Shadow, a highly readable, fascinating, and revelatory account of the General’s career. Muñoz, now Chile's ambassador to the United Nations and one of those who had to flee his country in 1973, has written a remarkably restrained memoir assessing just how big a shadow Pinochet cast, both globally and historically.

Shaun Randol: The Rise of China’s Human Flesh Search Engine

One of the many reasons Beijing was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games was that, it was hoped, a massive influx of international visitors—journalists in tow—would help push the central government to lessen restrictions on China’s own domestic media. One dramatic outcome would have been a lasting breach in the Great Firewall of China, the country’s highly advanced internet censorship apparatus. While policies relaxed for foreign journalists reporting from China during the Olympics appear to be a welcome, permanent fixture, citizens reporting on events within China still have their work cut out for them. Four months after the lighting of the Olympic torch there seems to be little official progress in the movement to expand internet free speech to the masses of the great Middle Kingdom. China’s citizens, however, think otherwise. Glowing praise issued from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on the success of the Beijing games conveniently did not mention the few crackdowns, arrests, and internet censorship activities that occurred during the month-long spectacle. Such admonishment was left to others, like Human Rights Watch’s Minky Worden, who chastised the IOC for leaving out of its fact sheets “the extent to which the International Olympic Committee lowered its standards on human rights around the Beijing Olympic Games.” Similarly, Bob Dietz of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) commented, “I think, in the end, the government’s approach to the media hasn’t changed that much.” Indeed, a recent report from CPJ concludes “more Internet journalists are jailed worldwide today than journalists working in any other medium...45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers, Web-based reporters, or online editors.” China continues its ten-year streak at the top of this list.

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