Admirable Women – Good Morning, Conflict Zone

9 03 2011

Real, serious reporting is getting rarer by the day, replaced with sensationalistic garbage passed off as the unbiased and unvarnished truth even though it sometimes requires a suspension of rational thinking in order to accept. Still the are some brave people who are still willing to the story itself, no matter where it is taking place. You turn on the TV, channel surf until you find some real reporting, and there they are. And some are women. It sounds silly, almost diminishing at this point in history, to separate them from their male counterparts, especially considering I have never known it to be any other way. There have always been women reporting and the quality of their work has not varied from that of their male colleagues, however, while the work is of the same caliber and done in the same way, the job can be much different and it has nothing to do with those reporters. Some of the places where news is being made aren’t good places to be a woman, let alone a woman with a job which requires her to interact with men and be seen as an equal. That makes an already dangerous line of work much more perilous. Yet they still go. In many of these same places simply being both a reporter and a female is enough to endanger your life. In addition to the issues that face women specifically, there are also the problems faced by every reporter who is in harm’s way. Pushing the boundaries does make for edgy work, but it doesn’t make very popular with those with power and influence or with government officials. There is also the biggest danger – the danger that they will get on the wrong side of someone who has not qualms about injuring or killing them to keep them quiet. Below are some women who have endured much to deliver the news no matter how challenging or dangerous it was to report, or how unpopular it was with those with power and/or weapons. This post really doesn’t do justice to them or those who I was unable to mention, but I have tried to at least make a decent effort.

 

As and investigative reporter, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya covered stories of human rights abuses the plight of ethnic minorities. She spoke out against the way Chechen citizens were treated by the pro-Kremlin officials and military there. In one case she not only reported on the attack on an old people’s home in Grozny, but was able to help instigate the evacuation of its residents with her reporting and her popularity. She is probably best known in the West for her criticism of the Putin regime. She accused them of limiting civil liberties. As you can imagine, none of this earned her many friends in high places. She received death threats regularly. While in Chechnya in late 2001, she was interrogated, beaten, threatened with rape, and subjected to a mock execution. In 2004 she became very ill and many suspected that she had been poisoned. She recovered and continued reporting. In 2006, she was found dead in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. Her murder remains unsolved and several others connected with her work were killed shortly after her death. This is an article written two years later about the difficulties of other Russian women in the journalistic field in the wake of her death.

Marie Colvin is a correspondent for the UK Sunday Times and has been one for over twenty years. She has cover conflicts in the Balkans, Chechnya, East Timor, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and pretty much anywhere else things are blowing up. She was on CNN reporting from Libya last week. Though I can find tons of her work, I can’t find any biographical profiles. This piece, written in 2000 for the American Journalism Review, and this five-year-old article from the New York Daily News are the best I could do. I love her work because she goes places few will and stays after most leave. Such actions make good copy, but some with serious risk to life and limb. In 1999, Ms. Colvin lost her left eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war in an incident which reads remarkably like a set up. Her work has not gone without recognition. In 2010, Ms. Colvin won the British Press Award for Best Foreign Journalist of the Year.

When many of us think of censorship we think of China. Indeed  it seems like they have quietly turned the systematic suppression of information into an art form. Such is the case with Tibetan writer and blogger Tsering Woeser. Her story is less violent, but no less important. Throughout her career she has been fired from her job as a reporter, interrogated, forced into “self-exile”, placed under house arrest, had her various internet accounts  and blogs hacked or shut down. Her movement within China as well as her ability to leave it are restricted and she is under constant surveillance. She has not stopped writing and has become one of China’s best sources of news about Tibet.

Nepalese reporter Uma Singh paid for her reporting on the turbulent politics of her country with her life in 2009. In her very brief career, she took on the problems of corruption and inequality, sparing no group or faction that bore guilt. A witness who overheard the brutal attack said one of the murders was yelling “This is for writing so much.” As far as I know, the crime remains unsolved. The writer of the article I linked to quotes a piece by Kanak Mani Dixit, editor of Himal magazine and I find this one statement tragically, beautifully, perfect. “Uma Singh died alone and amidst horrific cruelty, a fighter for democracy.”

Chouchou Namegabe never intended to shake the Democratic Republic of the Congo with her radio news broadcasts, but that is what she does. In a nation where rape and other atrocities more sadistic than most horror film scenarios are committed against women and are considered perfectly acceptable weapons of war Ms. Namegabe gives these women as voice by airing their graphic stories and by co-founding the South Kivu Women’s Media Association, an organization which advocates gender equity in all areas of life and women’s involvement in the media.

Claudia Duque, an investigative reporter from Radio Nizkor in Columbia who works on politically and socially taboo subjects, has spent years being hunted by her country’s secret police. She has lived in exile three different times but she always returns to Columbia. In the early 2000′s, she was researching the murder of political humorist Jaime Garzón, she discovered that the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) had tampered with evidence in the case. Since then she has continued to receive death threats relating to that case. A contract hit had been put on her and her daughter has been targeted as well. Last year she disclosed documents that indicate that the Columbian president was aware of the DAS actions taken against her, 15 other journalists, and 300 other people including political opponents.

Jila Baniyaghoob is the editor-in-chief of the website Kanoon Zanan Irani (Iranian Women’s Center) and a freelance journalist reporting on the social and political issue facing her highly restrictive country with a particular focus on women’s issue. She’s been beaten up, arrested, and jailed numerous times and has spent a significant portion of her career getting fired for shedding light on issues that many found taboo. She has spent time in Evin prison in Tehran, including a stay in a wing run by the Intelligence Ministry where she was interrogated and placed in isolation. Most recently, in July of 2009, she was arrested for covering the protests. She was sentenced to a year in jail and was banned from writing for thirty years. She was released on bail after a month.

Iryna Khalip is a reporter and editor at the Minsk office of Novaya Gazeta, the same newspaper that Anna Politkovsaya worked for until her death. She has been beaten, interrogated, and arrested, and is kept under surveillance. Her most recent arrest came after the recent elections in Belarus in which the current president, of whom Ms. Khalip is an outspoken critic, won a fourth term in office with a landslide 80% of the vote which many in Belarus and around the world found questionable. After his victory, Ms. Khalip and her husband who had run against him in the elections were both arrested. The government also questioned whether the grandmother the couple’s son was living with was able to properly care for him, a statement many interpreted as a veiled threat to take the boy from his family. After over a month in prison, she was released at the end of January 2011, but immediately put under house arrest. She still may face a 15 year sentence. Her husband remains in prison.

Sahar al-Haideri was a reporter in Mosul who courageously covered the rise of Islamic extremism in her city. She discussed some of their more absurd beliefs like how certain vegetables, which they saw as representing different genders, had to be served on separate plates – and the their ugly, brutal tactics when it came to the subjugation of women like so-called “honor killings” and the targeting of well-known professional women for assassination by extremist organizations. Not all of her work was focused on women, but much of it was. There are links to some of it here. She had moved her family to Syria, but she herself returned to Mosul to continue her work. In June 2007 she was gunned down as she left her home .

Anges Taile gives a voice to many problems that many in her country of Cameroon find hard to discuss. Her broadcasts on corruption, separatist aspirations among some in the English-speaking community, and issues regarding the army earned her threats on her life. In 2006, she was abducted from her home at knifepoint, beat her severely, nearly strangled her to death, and left her for dead in a ditch. For a time she was unable to speak. Once her voice returned, she was back to reporting. In 2008, she reported on the riots in Chad. She was one of the few journalist from outside the country to cover the riots and her reports were retransmitted for those outside Cameroon.

If you watch the news here in the US with any regularity, you’ve probably seen Christiane Amanpour. She gained notoriety for her work in the first Gulf War and the Bosnian War. During a telephone interview with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader hung up on her in one of her more memorable interview moments. She’s been just about anywhere news has been breaking for about the last twenty years. She has interviewed Tony Blair, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Prevez Musharraf, Hillary Clinton, and Mikhail Gorbachev among many, many others. Two weeks ago she once again got a big assignment – interviewing Muanmar Gaddafi and his sons as the Libyan Revolution raged.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Aye Aye Win does not shy away from danger in order to report on protests and other events not covered by the state media in Burma (which the governing military junta calls Myanmar). She and her husband, also a journalist are constantly monitored by the government. This has led her to become adept at using disguises in order to blend in with large crowds. The government’s harassment of her, she gives a voice to all sides in her pieces. In 2000, she traveled with pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi until she was stopped from doing so. She is also one of only a handful of women involved in Burmese journalism – at the time this article was written there were only five.

Farida Nekzad is the co-founder and managing editor of Pajhwok Afghan News, the leading independent news agency in Afghanistan, and the vice president of the South Asia Media Commission. In whichever role she finds herself in, she keeps a special focus on women’s issues. Her stories of acts of repression and violence against women, including those committed by the warlords known as mujahedeen have led to calls for her death. In 2006 she barely escaped a kidnapper. She was taking a taxi from one job to another when she noticed the car wasn’t going the right way. She jumped from the vehicle, sustaining minor injuries but living to write another day. She now switches cars and changes her schedule often to try to stay safe. She also sleeps in different rooms in her home. She continues to write and publish pieces that highlight the obstacles faced by Afghan women and she supports and encourages women to become journalists.

This is Tal al-Mallouhi. She’s from Syria. She is not a journalist. She was summoned to appear in Damascus for interrogation, presumably for some blog posts. Yes, blog posts. Tal al-Mallouhi is a 20-year-old blogger and also prisoner of conscience in Syria. She was jailed in Damascus and two days later, State Security agents went to her home and confiscated her computer, books, cd’s, and other personal items. She was held for months without charge and was then sentenced to five years in prison for espionage. So what was subversive content was she filling her blog with? Poetry and some thoughts on politics, many of which were about the Israel/Palestine situation. She was doing what I and many others – perhaps even you – do all the time. She is still in prison. The US State Department, among many, many others, has called for her release.

On this women’s day, rather than talk about some politician or starlet. I thought it was more important to highlight women fighting for the right to do what many of us take for granted and fighting to better their world in the process. I realize some of these women are obscure and that’s sort of the point. The South Kivu Women’s Media Association is on Facebook, but there are only 22 people following what they do even though so many people thing that I attacks on women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are beyond appalling.

If what I’ve written here interests you, these group have far more information than I can supply you with. This is the link to Reporters Without Borders a nonprofit, international organization focused on freedom of the press around the world. This is the link to the Institute of War and Peace Reporting and this one for the International Women’s Media Foundation. This isn’t the celebratory Women’s Day post I had thought about putting together but I think it’s more important.

Happy Women’s Day (It’s belated. Sorry!) from me.








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