RUTH'S BLOG
Why we must not change the channel

The news from countries around the globe is appalling but we need to bear witness

06 Aug 2021
BY RUTH SMEETH
An old man watching the news/Photo: Amanna Avena

There are moments as you’re watching the news when it feels as if the world is becoming an increasingly horrible place, that totalitarianism is winning, and that violence is the acceptable norm. It’s all too easy to feel impotent as the horror becomes normalised and we move on from one devastating news cycle to the next.

This week alone, in the midst of the joy and heartbreak of the Olympics, we have seen the attempted forced removal of the Belarusian sprinter Krystina Timanovskaya from Tokyo by Lukashenko’s regime. Behind the headlines, the impact on her family has been obvious – her husband has fled to Ukraine and will seek asylum with Krystina in Poland and there have been reports that even her grandparents have been visited by KGB agents in Belarus.

This served as a stark reminder, if we needed one, that Lukashenko is an authoritarian dictator who will stop at nothing to retain power. And this is happening today – in Europe. Our own former member of staff Andrei Aliaksandrau and his partner Irina have been detained for 206 days; Andrei faces up to 15 years in prison for treason; his alleged “crime” – to pay the fines of the protestors.

In Afghanistan, reports of Taliban incursions are now a regular feature of every news bulletin, with former translators who supported NATO troops being murdered as soon as they are found and media freedom in Taliban-controlled areas now non-existent. Six journalists have been killed this year, targeted by extremists, and reporters are being forced into hiding to survive. As the Voice of America reported last month: “The day the Taliban entered Balkh district, 20 km west of Mazar e Sharif, the capital of Balkh province last month, local radio station Nawbahar shuttered its doors and most of its journalists went into hiding. Within days the station started broadcasting again, but the programming was different. Rather than the regular line-up, Nawbahar was playing Islamist anthems and shows produced by the Taliban.”

Last Sunday, Myanmar’s military leader, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, declared himself Prime Minister and denounced Aung San Suu Kyi as she faces charges of sedition. Since the military coup in February over 930 have been killed by the regime including 75 children and there seems to be no end in sight as the military continue to clamp down on any democratic activity and journalists and activists are forced to flee.

At the beginning of this week Steve Vines, a veteran journalist who had plied his trade in Hong Kong since 1987, fled after warnings that pro-Beijing forces were coming for him. The following day celebrated artist Kacey Wong left Hong Kong for Taiwan after his name appeared in a state-owned newspaper – which Wong viewed as a ‘wanted list’ by the CCP. Over a year since the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong the ramifications are still being felt as dissent is crushed and people arrested for previously democratic acts, including Anthony Wong, a musician who was arrested this week for singing at an election rally in 2018.  Dissent must be punished even if it was three years ago.

And then there is Kashmir…  On 5 August 2019, Narendra Modi’s government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status for limited autonomy. Since that time residents inside Kashmir have lived under various levels of restrictions. Over 1,000 people are still believed to be in prison, detained since the initial lockdown began, including children. Reportedly 19 civilians have died so far this year caught in clashes between the Indian Army and militants. And on the ground journalists are struggling to report as access to communications fluctuates.

Violence and silence are the recurring themes.

Belarus, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Kashmir. These are just five places I have chosen to highlight this week. Appallingly, I could have chosen any of more than a dozen.

It would be easy to try and avoid these acts of violence. To turn off the news, to move onto the next article in the paper and push these awful events to the back of our mind. But we have a responsibility to know. To speak up. To stand with the oppressed.

Behind every story, every statistic, there is a person, a family, a friend, who is scared, who is grieving and in so many cases are inspiring us daily as they stand firm against the regimes that seek to silence them. Index stands with them and as ever we shine a spotlight on their stories – so that we can all bear witness.

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