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Caroline Stauffer: “Elections” Risk to Burma’s Marginalized Ethnic Peoples

BANGKOKIn a field cut off from the rest of Thailand by a muddy mountain pass, 1,000 people have been living under thin tarps for the past six weeks, having fled landmines and shelling in their native Myanmar.  The tarps and wood platforms do not protect them from monsoon rains or the mosquitoes that spread malaria around their makeshift villages. Factions of the Karen people have fought for greater autonomy from the country formerly known as Burma for 60 years, but the Karen villagers I spoke with just seem to be caught in the crossfire. In the last few months, the world has turned its focus to the secretive, military-ruled state. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced concern over Myanmar-North Korea military links at the July Asean Regional Forum.  The state show trial of pro-democracy leader Aung Sun Suu Kyi attracted international media coverage, brought UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to Burma and garnered a new release of the U2 song dedicated to the world’s best known prisoner of conscience. In an apparent gesture to this global clamor, the Nobel Prize-winning leader of the Burmese opposition was given what for the junta was a slap on the wristanother 18 months of detention where she has already spent half of her adult life under house arrest.

David A. Andelman: The Stoning of Neda S.

If you’d like to know the kind of people who voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran, there’s no better example than the villagers—the husband, his sons, and the citizens—of the remote stone-walled hamlet of Kupayeh who populate the vivid, at times horrifying, film called “The Stoning of Soraya M.” Opening Friday across the United States, its arrival could not come at a more opportune moment, for gathered within this tale are all the characters whose today’s real-life homologues are parading across the world’s television screens (at least those outside Iran, where anything remotely accurate is being purged). There’s Ayatollah Ali Khameini, masquerading as the venal, crooked mullah of the village, newly released from a felony stretch he was serving in jail after the Shah was overthrown and Islamic justice returned with the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini. Clearly, he sees the Koran he clutches in his crooked paw as his path to wealth, power, and, whenever he can, illicit sex extorted from any woman who seems sufficiently vulnerable or gullible. There’s Ahmadinejad, in the form of Kupayeh’s mean-spirited, opportunistic mayor with a vicious streak—frightened of his own shadow and so easily intimidated by the local mullah and a husband who by day serves as a prison guard with all the lethal tools of power at his control and at night pursues the 14-year-old daughter of a death-row inmate.

David A. Andelman: The Political Undertones of Roxana Saberi's Release

A global campaign mounted for weeks by diplomats, statesmen, scholars, and scores of her fellow journalists finally paid off early Monday when Roxana Saberi walked out of the doors of Evin Prison in Tehran and, accompanied by her father, headed for the first leg of her journey back to her home in the United States. I was one of those who pitched in as a member of the Leadership Council of the Committee to Protect Journalists that was seeking her freedom. Indeed, the CPJ pulled out all stops—enlisting an international legal team at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton under the direction of James C. Goodale, journalists, and organizations across Europe and the Middle East—in an effort to help the Iranian leadership understand how counter-productive the actions of their legal system would be at a time when the United States is doing its best to open a constructive dialogue with the government in Tehran. Part of this involved a host of direct and indirect points of contact. For myself, I refused to appear again on Press-TV—the Iranian version of France 24, Voice of America, or other government-owned broadcast outlets—until Roxana was freed and allowed to leave Iran. Clearly stung by this one-man effort, one senior producer for Press TV observed that my boycott would be “counter-productive at this time when the two governments are trying to open a dialogue.” I pointed out that even more counter-productive were the actions against Roxana, a professional journalist thoroughly innocent of the charges brought against her—who, in contravention of every known international juridical standard, was hustled through a judicial proceeding in a single day, sentenced to eight years in prison, and never allowed to examine any of the evidence against her, or allowed to confront any of her accusers. Indeed, the entire process, cloaked in mystery, was a most unfortunate demonstration of how strained the quality of justice, let alone mercy, remains in many of the darkest corners of the world—especially Iran.



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