“All sorts of torturers, dictators, fanatics, and demagogues struggling for power by way of a few loudly shouted slogans also enjoy their jobs, and they too perform their duties with inventive fervor. Well, yes, but they “know.” They know, and whatever they know is enough for them once and for all. They don’t want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish their arguments’ force. And any knowledge that doesn’t lead to new questions quickly dies out: it fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life. In the most extreme cases, cases well known from ancient and modern history, it even poses a lethal threat to society.”
Osmond Ugwu and Raphael Elobuike are Nigerian labour activists and human rights defenders currently spending their second month in Enugu Federal Prison in South East Nigeria. They are being detained on charges of attempted murder of a policeman following their arrest at a workers rally on 24th October 2011 at Enugu.
Osmond and Raphael, who Amnesty International regards as Prisoners of Conscience, have both been beaten and tortured during their arrest and while in police custody. Osmond has suffered considerable physical and psychological harassment and intimidation in the course of his human rights and labour activism. These include punitive transfer and eventual termination of his employment by the government; constant threat to his life, detention and imprisonment.
As the Chairman of the Enugu state chapter of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Osmond has consistently remained non violence in his human rights activism. As the leader of the Enugu State Workers Forum (EWF), Osmand mobilised workers for strikes, peaceful marches, demonstration and work boycott as a means of achieving their aims.
As fellow fighters for human rights in Nigeria, we are calling on the governor of Enugu State, Sullivan Chime, to immediately release Osmond Ugwu and Raphael Elobuike and drop all charges against them. Fearing the physical safety of Osmund, who is at risk of possible assasination attempts, we also seek government protection of him.
Killed because they were girls - Christie Blatchford for the National Post
Looking directly at Shafia, 58, Yahya, 42, and their oldest son Hamed as they stood before him in the prisoners’ box for the last time, the judge concluded with a stinging denunciation.
"The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameless murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."
(Washington, D.C.) — A bill passed by the French senate (January 23rd) would violate freedom of expression by making it a criminal offense to publicly question events termed as “genocide” under French law, Amnesty International said today.
In 2001, a French law officially declared that the mass…
While the Special Rapporteur’s conclusions are nuanced in respect of blocking sites or providing limited access, he is clear that restricting access completely will always be a breach of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to freedom of expression.
But not everyone agrees with the UN’s conclusion. Vint Cerf, a so-called “father of the internet” and a vice-president at Google, argued in a New York Times editorial that internet access is not a human right:
The best way to characterise human rights is to identify the outcomes that we are trying to ensure. These include critical freedoms like freedom of speech and freedom of access to information — and those are not necessarily bound to any particular technology at any particular time. Indeed, even the United Nations report, which was widely hailed as declaring internet access a human right, acknowledged that the internet was valuable as a means to an end, not as an end in itself.
Cerf does concede that internet access may be a civil right, defined as a right which is “conferred upon us by law” (arguably a definition which does not apply to the UK where the European Convention on Human Rights has been incorporated into our law). He says:
While the US has never decreed that everyone has a “right” to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now broadband internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.
There have been some interesting responses to Cerf’s op-ed. Amnesty International’s USA blog argues that he provides an “exceptionally narrow portrayal of human rights from a legal and philosophical perspective”. Moreover, his means versus ends characterisation of rights is philosophically incoherent, for:
while access to the physical town square may not be a human right in isolation, it has always been for most inseparable from the right to association and expression
So, applying the same logic, internet access is inseparable from freedom of expression and its lesser spotted cousin, freedom of access to information. Moreover, I would argue that internet use may also fall within Article 8 ECHR, the right to family and private life, as email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter are now essential tools of interaction between friends and family.
From the technological standpoint, JD Rucker on the Techi Blog argues that outcomes are key, and elevating the internet to the status of an inalienable right will result in “increased opportunity, improved education, and the end of hostilities based upon ignorance”.
Of course, this is not just a philosophical debate. States already ban internet use in one form or another regularly. Closer to home, there are already a number of laws which allow state authorities to restrict internet access, most notably rules relating to sex offenders and terrorist suspects. The troubled Digital Economy Act has been attacked over proposed powers to ban websites which host copyright material without permission. The government subsequently backed down over the issue, but the Act remains controversial.
The court ruled that the internet was an “essential part of everyday living” and therefore, a complete ban on use in this case would be disproportionate. This was expressed very wide terms, and it is difficult to imagine many scenarios where a complete ban would be permitted by law.Lord Justice Hughes said:
Before the creation of the internet, if a defendant kept books of pictures of child pornography it would not have occurred to anyone to ban him from possession of all printed material. The internet is a modern equivalent.
Interestingly, in AM the judge accepted the security services’ evidence that it would be practically impossible to monitor the suspect’s internet use, due in part to vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system. This sounds highly debatable, but perhaps that technical argument will be had on another day.
Ultimately, it seems that the current position in UK law - reflecting but not wholly endorsing the UN report - is that internet access will remain, reflecting freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR, a qualified right. That is, it can be restricted but only if that restriction is provided for by law and necessary/proportionate in a democratic society, unlike for example the absolute restriction on inhuman and degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR.
Indeed, the UN Report accepts that in some scenarios internet access will need to be restricted, for example in the case of sex offenders and terrorist suspects – which is also the conclusion of this excellent 2011 post on Inforrm’s blog.
This is a question which will certainly be revisited in the coming years. Whether the UN or Vint Cerf is right on a philosophical level as to whether internet access should be characterised as a human right, technology is changing rapidly and the courts will have to do their best to keep up. Whether or not it is a human right in its own respect, the internet provides the gateway to other freedoms, notably freedom of expression and the right to family and private life and therefore access to can be, practically, inseparable from the rights themselves.
It is highly unlikely that internet access will ever attain the status of an absolute right. However, the current position of UK courts rightly makes it very difficult indeed for the state to ban completely a citizen’s use of the internet, however strong the justification.
Even with the City of Joy open and operating in the Congo, women continue to be abused at the hands of power-driven men. Check this video out for the untold stories of these girls and women: The Greatest Silence.
I wrote a short blurb for a photo essay last year bearing a lighter note, but the severity of the situation remains.
Here is that photo essay celebrating a step in the right direction, but not nearly the end of this war against women. (published in Excalibur March 2011)
On Feb. 4, 2011, women of the Democratic Republic of Congo danced and sang at the opening celebration of Bukavu’s City of Joy.
Jurate Kazickas of Women’s eNews quotes Eve Ensler, Vagina Monologues playwright and V-Day founder, in explaining the initiative’s potential: “The City of Joy will be a gathering place for the women to find their voices, their vision and their power. And when the women find their power, all of the Congo will change.”
For 13 years, over 500,000 Congolese women have been subjected to rape, kidnapping and forced prostitution. The survivors of these atrocities continue to be shunned in their communities as a result of the stigma attached to rape victims.
The City of Joy creates a safe haven where women can find privacy, therapeutic council and education, and can learn life-skills that will allow them to cultivate their voices rather than have them stifled. Donning black t-shirts that read “Stop Raping Our Greatest Resource,” women establish their worth and unyielding spirit.
Though United Nation peacekeepers have entered the area, their presence has failed to prompt dramatic social change. When asked how to begin amending these deeply-rooted injustices in the Congo, Ensler responded, “You build an army of women.”
HollerDay! powered by Journalists for Human Rights - video
Principled and Pragmatic Peace by Metta Spencer, editor of Peace Magazine, summarizes Gene Sharp’s paper “What Are the Options in Acute Conflicts for Believers in Principled Nonviolence?”.
Gene Sharp is known for his writings on nonviolent struggle.
It’s lengthy but worth every word.
"Nonviolent methods have frequently succeeded, Sharp says, by paralyzing dictators, but only rarely do they succeed by ‘causing the opponents to change their opinions. More often nonviolent struggle succeeds because it imposes unacceptable costs on the opponents by slowing or halting certain operations of the opponents’ society.’"
”[…] there is a simple and reasonable moral principle behind the doctrine of the just war: If - and only if - you can do more good than harm by resorting to violence, then you are justified in doing so.”
"Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides"
Photographer Stephanie Sinclair and writer Cynthia Gorney investigate the world of prearranged child marriage, when girls as young as five are forced to wed.(courtesy nationalgeographic.com; published in print in June 2011)
Married off to a 30-year-old man for a dowry of about $4,500 (£3,000), Sahar had been kept locked in a cellar for several months, starved and tortured by her husband and his family. It is still not really clear why.
A must-read article about some of the horrors occurring to women in Afghanistan.
They sleep under the wharf that reaches out over the Atlantic Ocean or beneath the rickety market stalls in the city centre. At night, on Rawdon Street in a district called “PZ”, rows of coughing bodies plaster the uneven stoops.
There are an estimated 2,000 boys living on the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city. It’s a rough life. They are often sick and hungry; many report frequent beatings at the hands of older boys and police officers. And there’s not much in the way of help, from government or elsewhere.
A 12-year-old with faraway eyes, wringing his hands behind his head, says he sleeps under the pillars of the dock near Freetown’s city hall near a stream of garbage and sewage that spews into the sea.
“I’m not afraid, because there are many of us,” he says. “But sometimes I cannot sleep because the place is dark and cold.”
The boy ran away from home when he was 10, after years of beating at the hands of an uncle. To return would be to face more abuse.
He does odd jobs for market women in exchange for perhaps 1,000 Leones (less than 25 cents) or a bowl of food. Many evenings, he goes to a bus run by a local NGO that parks downtown and provides food, games, counseling and medical attention for street children.
The NGO, Don Bosco Fambul, also runs a rehabilitation program for street boys, housing about 60 at a time for 10 months, getting them healthy, back in school, and, hopefully, reunited with their families or in the care of a foster home.
A 2010 survey of street children by Don Bosco put hunger as the top reason children fled their homes, with about 45 per cent citing empty bellies as the trigger to their leaving. About 30 per cent of children said physical or psychological violence caused them to move.
Nearly 90 per cent of street boys polled are from outside Freetown – the country’s only large city – and three-quarters are from outside the region where Freetown is located.
Most the boys are a long, long way from home.
Three quarters of boys under 12 said they had suffered unwanted sexual acts by older street boys. Nearly a third of street boys surveyed reported violence at the hands of police. All said they were afraid of the police.
A 14-year-old boy now living at Don Bosco’s shelter said police officers came around at night several times a week, extorting money.
“If they want, they beat us or if you don’t want him to beat you, all that you have gathered all day, you give it to him,” says the boy, showing pink scars along his forearms that he said are from police officers throwing bits of burning plastic bags on sleeping street children.
Another 14-year-old still on the streets said he’d experienced the same thing – having burning plastic flicked onto him by police officers and by older boys.
“When the police come, we have two choices: either you pay or they beat you. They ask you which you rather.”
A number of calls to a police spokesperson requesting an interview were unsuccessful.
According to the Don Bosco report, 10 police officers who attended a meeting day with street children apologized and confirmed they were aware of the complaints about police.
“On the other hand they also asked for understanding for the way they acted by referring to their bad salaries and pointing out that children had no business on the streets at night,” says the report.
“Two policemen reported that at night they had tried to make clear to the children that they were to return to their families and go to school. One policeman recommended to the children to report his violent colleagues to the police. This was met with loud laughter by the children.
Amnesty International’s 2011 country profile for Sierra Leone noted that, “Few government programmes adequately addressed the continuing special needs of war-affected children and young people… Street children were vulnerable to a wide range of abuses, with little or no protection.”
Out on the streets, an adolescent boy scuffs the gravel of a vacant lot with his heel and scratches his scarred right arm over and over and over.
He doesn’t know how old he is; he’s been collecting scrap metal, snatching purses, scrounging, for about five years.
‘There Are No Human Rights Here,’ Military Officer States
(Garissa) – The Kenyan security forces are beating and arbitrarily detaining citizens and Somali refugees in Kenya’s North Eastern province, which borders on Somalia, despite repeated pledges to stop such abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
On January 11, 2012, in the latest of a series of incidents documented by Human Rights Watch since October 2011, security forces rounded up and beat residents of Garissa, the provincial capital, in an open field within the enclosure of the local military camp. A Human Rights Watch researcher witnessed the incident.
“When military officers can beat civilians in broad daylight without fearing repercussions, it’s clear that impunity has become the norm,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Repeated promises by both the police and the military to stop these abuses and investigate have amounted to nothing.”
The Kenyan police and military have been responsible for a growing number of serious abuses against civilians since the Kenya Defence Forces entered southern Somalia in October, with the stated aim of eliminating al-Shabaab, an Islamist militia. The same month, suspected al-Shabaab sympathizers initiated a series of attacks against police, military, and civilian targets in Kenya.
In response, members of the security forces have been responsible for rape, beatings, looting, and arbitrary arrests of civilians. The crackdown has largely targeted Somali refugees and Kenyan ethnic Somalis, but residents of other ethnic backgrounds in North Eastern province have also been victimized.
Frida Kahlo's and Diego Rivera's work to show at the AGO, Oct 20th-
This past summer I picked up Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera in a heated moment of desperation to understand the influential women of the past. It was a remarkable story. I long to read it again, but other works have taken precedence. The title of the Toronto-bound exhibit is Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting. It is these three intricately connected things that make Frida’s life story so provocative and wretching. (To show Frida’s political commitment as a Mexican nationalist for example, Frida changed her birth year from 1907 to 1910 - the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.)
Her life has been marked by moments of unconventiality. When she was prescribed a role, Frida’s rebellious nature would ensure that it was challenged to reflect her own autonomy. However, when a bus was hit and a steel handrail impailed Frida breaking her spinal column, collarbone and ribs, her life thereafter was marked by pain, medical contraptions and sometimes crippling immobilitiy. Of this accident Frida says, “I lost my virginity.”
But painting was soon to bring her some solace, and Diego Rivera, a devote communist and famous muralist, was to bring her affection and admiration, but also suffering and angst. The imagery that fills the biography, not only from Frida’s paintings but from her words and Herrera’s descriptions, are seared into the reader’s being so that Frida’s pain also becomes yours. Your back straightens when she must remove another cast encasing her upper body; your mood becomes sullen as she writes to a friend of her devotion to Diego knowing she is aware of his love affairs with other women; you cringe at the incisions her paintings make on your own self-understanding; and finally, Frida’s own contradictions and confusions evoke in you connectedness - for we all know the fragile nature of identity.
The biography is filled with letters written to and from Frida. Here is an excerpt Frida wrote to Alejandro Gomez Arias, her boyfriend during her years at prepatory school, a year after her accident:
"Why do you study so much? What secret are you looking for? Life will reveal it to you soon. I already know it all, without reading or writing. A little while ago, not much more than a few days ago, I was a child who went about in a world of colors, of hard and tangible forms. Everything was mysterious and something was hidden, guessing what it was was a game for me. If you knew how terrible it is to know suddenly, as if a bolt of lightning elucidated the earth. Now I live in a painful planet, transparent as ice; but it is as if I had learned everything at once in seconds. My friends, my companions became women slowly, I became old in instants and everything today is bland and lucid. I know that nothing lies behind, if there were something I would see it…..
It’s not difficult to see that after the accident the things that Frida once came to identify herself with also crumbled. Her youth ended, and her adult life was but a slow, limping walk to the finish line. Out of the depths of loneliness and boredom (as she was often bedridden), Frida began painting to show the reality that she lived in - a surrealist aesthetic was only the product of this, not its direction. “I paint myself because I am so often alone,” Frida said, “because I am the subject I know best.” Herrara, an art historian, does an impeccable job of explaining Frida’s paintings in insightful and painful detail.
The love between Frida and Diego…I will leave you to discover.
From her childhood to her death, Herrera’s A Biography of Frida Kahlo does justice to the legacy of a complex woman and artist.
It’s a fear of releasing the wrong man that keeps Gitmo open rather than the fear of imprisoning an innocent one, says Michelle Shephard
Michelle Shephard is the national security reporter for the Toronto Star. Her involvement with Guantanamo Bay has been extensive. Her newly published book “Decade of Fear” consolidated 10 years of Shephard’s “reporting from terrorism’s grey zone.” I highly recommed it. Regarding Guantanamo, she has primarily reported on the detainment of Omar Kadhr - a Canadian. Her book provides a chilling reality of how journalists themselves are treated at the facility. Finally, Shephard writes in today’s article that the closing of Guantanamo is not in sight for this year.
Amnesty International has long been advocating the shutting down of Guantanamo Bay. They summarize its human rights violations as such, “shocking abuses, including arbitrary and secret detentions, torture and ill-treatment, renditions, and unfair trials.”
Today, on the 10th anniversary of its opening, Amnesty writes on the failure of the U.S. government to close the “notorious prison.”
"In 10 years, only one of the 779 detainees held at the base has been transferred to the USA for prosecution in an ordinary federal court. Others have faced unfair trials by military commission. The administration is currently intending to seek the death penalty against six of the detainees at such trials."
For a counter argument on why Guantanamo is needed read Edwin Meese II’s article for CNN.
"There have been 779 detainees at Guantanamo. Today, there are only 171. But over the past decade, we have not only kept dangerous terrorists at Guantanamo and thus away from the battlefield, we have learned a great deal from them during long-term, lawful interrogations. Without a safe, secure detention and interrogation facility, we would not have gained the tactical and strategic intelligence needed to degrade and ultimately defeat the enemy."
Ivers, senior health and policy adviser for Partners in Health who lives in Haiti, said people in rural areas often live several hours from a water pump that draws from a clean water source. Many people cannot afford to buy soap to wash their hands or fuel to boil the water and kill the cholera organism, she said.
“It’s not a question in Haiti of ignorance. It’s access,” Ivers said.
The Malaysian government must repeal the criminal sodomy law used in a politically motivated attempt to bar Anwar Ibrahim from politics, Amnesty International said today after the opposition leader was acquitted by the country’s High Court. Laws criminalizing consensual sexual activity between adults are contrary to international human rights standards. The sodomy law violates the rights of gay Malaysians. Moreover, it was used as a tool of political repression against Anwar. (published by Amnesty International)
Write for Rights is a branch of Amnesty International. A write-a-thon is happening on December 10th, Human Rights Day, in celebration of Amnesty’s 50th anniversary. You can sign up and pledge any number of letters, you are able to work individually or with a team. As of this moment, there are 20, 404 letter-writers signed up with a total of 43, 058 letters pledged. Sign up and write a letter!
On her 18th birthday, Mya* was kicked out of the Toronto apartment she shared with her parents. “They had an idea of how I should live my life,” said Mya, “which wasn’t how I wanted to live it.” Lacking any financial support from her family and fed up with their strictness and abuse, Mya stayed at a friend’s place with only a garbage bag full of clothes in her possession. Within weeks the supportive accommodation became more than what Mya had bargained for. “I had to be her mom’s psychologist, while dealing with my own problems.” A month later, with the subtle hints from her friend’s mom, Mya moved to Covenant House’s Rights of Passage transitional housing, sacrificing pride for her wellbeing. Mya reveals this to be the worst year of her life. “All my support systems were gone. I felt like I couldn’t control my life.”
Homelessness is most popularly conceptualized as those who live on the streets, or those who sit on sidewalks panhandling for change. The face of homelessness is a malleable one however, especially in our unstable economic climate, and can often be one that you recognize.
*name has been changed
Read the rest of this article here. Or visit futureale.com/magazine
Ed Ou is a Canadian photojournalist whose photos of the Egyptian Revolution have drawn much attention. In a CBC video he says documenting the Arab Spring left him to feel apathetic. “When you’re photographing a people standing up against authoritative dictators, I often wondered to my self ‘Wow, I haven’t done anything of this magnitude in my life.’ It’s quite humbling to be among people who put everything on the line.” Ed Ou’s compassion toward humanity is one undefined by the things that have been used to seperate people (religion, race, gender, language, etc). “Pain and loss and suffering is universal,” he says.
Check out Ou’s CBC video at: cbc.ca/news/arts/story/2011/10/06/ed-ou-photo.html
More photos at Ou’s website: adventureswithlight.net/
Due to “development” in Afar, located in north east Ethiopia, the region has suffered a widening gap between classes. Once using natural resources to sustain their livelihood, pastoralists are now negotiating foreign intervention, the marketplace and their traditional methods of subsistence.
The term “traditional” is a relative one in this context, it is the result of institutions trying to “modernize” and “westernize” in hopes to capitlize. What is left has been termed ”traditional,” and subsequently “backwards.”
The state’s goal was to conserve natural resources, which the pastoralists were dependent on, for fear of depletion. The result was an unequal distribution of land. Kassa Negussie Getachew, author of Among the Pastoral Afar in Ethiopia, surveyed land distribution showing that the powerful elitist men owned 40 hectares of land, drastically higher than the 0.7 hectares owned by the average household.
The intrusion of the state in establishing irrigation farms along the area has diminished the access that pastoralists have to the Awash river and other resources.
Foreign farming investors with large capital who could afford the new, more “modern” forms of farming, were included in the property distribution. While the “traditional” methods used by pastoralists to feed and sustain their families were challenged, the rich investors could capitalize. Without the capital to invest in modern equipment, pastoralists continue their original ways of farming, now at a greater disadvantage.
Development agencies undermined the resourcefulness and management skills of the Afari. Without access to these resources, the Afari were pushed farther into poverty. The only viable reaction was to find other forms of income to compensate for what they had lost.
While these interventions did not cause the poverty in the Afar region, they did force farmers and families to become dependent on wage labour, for example, provided by wealthier farmers. With 40 hectares of land, surely the elite could not maintain it without hired workers.
Pastoralists who engage in wage-employment in maintenance or construction, serve as the perfect example of Afari losing their independence and ability to feed their families and livestock. They no longer have direct control over their food security, but rely heavily on secondary forms of income. This certainly is not “development.” Agencies who initially believed that the Afari way of life was unsustainable and aimed at “fixing” this, have now made insecurity a prominent reality for the Afar people.
If pastoralists consciously decide to maintain their “traditional” forms of farming because the effects of modern techniques require more captial and labour power, then who is to blame for their poverty: the development services who inflict these “forward-moving” methods or the pastoralists who resist them?
It would be unfair to place the blame on any one development organization; however, we must recognize that these interventions are without appropriate context. As such, pastoralists have been forced to abandon/modify their methods in response to these changes.
Making cultures “modern” is clearly not the way to solve poverty.
In order to survive and meet the needs of their families, pastoralists are balancing their independence and reliance on secondary forms of income. Getachew quotes a pastoralist man who says, “having one foot in town and the second in pastoral camps in the clan land is safer than having both feet in town or pastoral areas.”
"No question is too personal, political or religious," says Marina Nemat opening up the question period at her talk in Newmarket last Wednesday. Her two books, Prisoner of Tehran and After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed, are highly acclaimed memoirs revealing Nemat’s experiences as a political prisoner in Tehran, Iran, and nothing - personal, political or religious - remains unaddressed.
On January 15, 1982, at the age of 16, Nemat was arrested in her own home at gunpoint by Islamic Revolution guards. At her talk, referring to this incident, she says, “Fear is a luxury.” She recalls only being in a state of shock, as if she was wearing a bullet proof vest that served to protect her once, but after the threat had passed, could not be taken off. “When your whole existence is threatened, you feel nothing.”
The political climate of Iran changed once Ayatollah Khomeini came out of exile and into power. Citizens soon began to disappear if they were suspected of criticizing the new government. Nemat exercised her right to free speech writing articles for her school newspaper, and refused to sit idle while government propoganda served by her teacher took precedence over calculus. For these, Nemat was accused of being involved with anti-revolutionary groups, though she had refused all invitations to be associated with them.
Shortly after, Nemat was blindfolded and brought to Evin prison where she was interrogated. She was asked if she was associated with any communist groups and for the names of any anti-revolutionary classmates. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to tell you,” she wrote. Nemat was then led to a small room with a wooden bed and metal headboard. She was handcuffed to the bed and Hamehd, the torturer, began to lash the soles of her feet - more than 16 times.
While standing in front of the two dozen women at the talk on Wednesday, Nemat reassures that she would have confessed something, had she known anything, to stop the inexplicable pain. But she didn’t. She recalls her regular size seven feet became size 14 from the swelling. The audience was silent. “The goal of torture is not to get information,” Nemat insists. “Torture is meant to break the human soul.”
Prisoners awaited their trial, but were not granted jury or the use of evidence. A form of sentencing called “The Knowledge of the Judge” was used, which operated on the basis of a single man “feeling” whether one was guilty or not, and would pass punishment accordingly. “People got the death sentence like candy,” she says. Nemat escaped execution but was forced to marry one of her interrogators, Ali, and change her religion from Christianity to Islam.
She was eventually pardoned from her life sentence with the help of Ali’s generous family only after Ali’s death. Eventually, Nemat married a boy named Andre (who she had known before being captured) and moved to Canada. She had escaped Evin prison but the 2 years, 2 months and 12 days spent within its walls caused emotional and psychological aftereffects she could not have foreseen or ignored.
Writing these memoirs not only shared with the world her life-changing experience in Iran, but also allowed her to break the silence that had begun to consume her identity and past.
In person, Nemat is a kind woman, social, polite and has an unexpected sense of humour. She is an infectious women; when she laughs, you laugh with her. She is passionate about the beauties and horrors of the world. Her hands move with fervor through the air and her eyebrows furrow with anger when she speaks of misused power at the cost of human rights.
Nemat’s books and talks demonstrate her dedication to humanity, and her belief that the human spirit cannot be destroyed. She holds strong opinions about politics, believing the ideologies that seperate a society into ‘us’ and ‘them’ work against progress - against freedom and democracy.
"Knowledge makes us accountable," she says as the talk comes to an end. Nemat’s memoirs and maturing insights hold us all accountable. She reminds us ignorance and violence have never roused any lasting good. Her unfaltering patience for kindling dialogue, in which political correctness and censorship do not command the reins of conversation, is just what is needed to awaken the world from passive slumber.
“I have something else I want to say,” a teenage prostitute in Bangladesh’s red light district bravely reveals. “Why do women have to suffer this much?” She sits cross legged on her bed in a small concrete room dressed in traditional garb, perhaps returning to work after the interview. With a brief wave of confusion and desperation she asks, “Isn’t there another path?”
Michael Glawogger, the director of the documentary, begins the screening of Whores’ Glory by stating that he intended to rid himself of everything he knew or heard or imagined about prostitution. The uncensored images of “brothel ghettos” in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico were effective for visual documentation, but the images revealed little about the women themselves.
The Fishtank brothel in Bangkok, Thailand, is an upper middle class joint. Women spend the morning putting on makeup, doing their hair and searching for their numbered button to place above their left breast. They become nothing more than numbers, sitting behind a large glass, subjected to the leering eyes of ”Johns” who may or may not choose to “buy a little happiness.”
Behind the glass wall, sitting on blue cushions, the women talk sparingly about their lives, families and children, all the while maintaining a smile for customers. One girl comments on the competition that exists behind the glass and the financial insecurity of the job. “One John per shift won’t even pay my bus tickets.”
The documentary moves its lens to the lower class red light district in Faridpur, Bangladesh. Here, desperate young girls have to find their own clients, sometimes using hostile persuasion to lay the transaction. They are responsible for their own safety and warn the men to “treat them well.”
Girls as young as 14 years of age haggle their worth with men, and give their earnings to the “Mother” (or madame) to ensure both of their livelihoods - one depends heavily on the other.
One man said he frequented the red light district once or twice a day. Without brothels he says, “Men would be so horny they’d rape [women on the street].” The girls must sacrifice a sense of dignity as prostitutes, but are in relative control of the “business.” They are able to set the rules and protect themselves. Still, it seems their only options are being raped or being a prostitute. Brothels establish a “safe” place for impoverished women to live and cope with their alternate reality, but are also self-established prisons.
Men in their cars drive up and down The Zone in Reynosa, Mexico looking for women who will do what their girlfriends and wives won’t. The women are known by the number of their room and what sexual acts they can perform.
In Mexico, Glawogger takes the camera behind closed doors and films a prostitute having sex with a customer (both probably paid by Glawogger himself for the access). After twenty minutes and two or three positions the customer hasn’t come, and without more money to give her, she tells him to leave.
The documentary does not fail to excite anger, surprise and sadness in its viewers, but it does fall short of providing greater insight into the lives of these women. We are welcomed into their bedrooms, but not into their thoughts; as viewers we remain as distant from these women as their clients. The documentary does not succeed in giving these women their own voices. Perhaps this is the result of not having complete access, or of a woman’s reservation about speaking against the system in which she is a victim, or simply, of women who have no interest in analyzing the lives they must endure.
Any true, deep emotion from women was shown in momentary subtleties: young prostitutes from Faridpur clinging, possessively onto their clients; two women from Thailand discussing how it was worse to be home because their husbands always wanted sex and, unlike at the brothel, there was no comfort of a time limit; or in Mexico where a client asked a prostitute her name, to which she disinterestedly responded “No names here, hunny.”
The women were defined by their environment and occupation, rather than how they would choose to identify themselves. Their stories - as told by them - were secondary to documenting “a day in the life of a prostitute.”
I was left only with the words of the young girl from Bangladesh unamused by the bashful giggles of other girls her age. “We try to forget sadness with a little laughter, but the sorrow and pain remains.”
I began to conceptualize this blog while reading Malalai Joya’s book, A Woman Among Warlords, whose quote heads the blog’s initiative. Moved by the relentless spirit she portrayed for her cause to free the people of Afghanistan in this time of immense internal turmoil and foreign intervention, I wanted to create a place for similar issues to be explored, debated and uncensored.
As a recent graduate in writing, I am enlivened by the ability to act as an independent journalist, covering stories that will enlighten, hold people accountable for their actions and celebrate those who risk their lives for their principles. Although every post cannot be an internal expose of an event, Reverence will publish as many firsthand accounts as possible.
As readers, I encourage you to submit your own articles or story ideas you would like Reverence to address (just click “submit” in the header). It is important that this blog expands beyond a single voice for a multitude of voices that exalt the same thing are harder to keep silent. I believe with my commitment and your involvement in Reverence’s success, it can become a new outlet for social issues to be discussed.
Prior to reading Joya’s book, I came across a passage in Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. It reads:
You have been told also that life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.
And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,
And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,
And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,
And all work is empty save when there is love;
And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.
Whoever your God may be, let us be urged, let us be educated, let us be persistent and disciplined and let us love.