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Guest post: “the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors to educate the donors’ taxpayers” – Thierry Uwamahoro

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“Free Kavumbagu” cause makes its way to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC – guest post by Thierry Uwamahoro

Yes, you saw right! That was a “Free Kavumbagu” sign among the thousands of other rally signs that either made you laugh or left you scratching your head as you attempted to understand what they meant or who their intended audience was.

This Saturday (10.30.10), hundreds of thousands of Americans flocked to Washington, DC to join a rally whose objective was to restore sanity in the discourse of American politics.

However, American politics are never too far from world affairs as the American people pride themselves in calling their President, the “Leader of the Free World”. As a Burundian residing near Washington, DC, I was drawn to think of a fellow Burundian – a journalist – who was not part of the “Free World” as the Rally to Restore Sanity went on.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu is an internationally-renowned journalist and human rights defender who has been unjustly arrested five times in this decade, but has never been found guilty. Today, he remains behind bars, despite promises by Burundian authorities and global calls for his release.

On July 17th, 2010, Jean Claude Kavumbagu was arrested and later jailed over an article that he published on his online journal “Net Press”. The article questioned the preparedness of the Burundian security forces, were the Somalia based militia Al-Shabab to attack Bujumbura (Burundi). The Burundian government considered the publication of such article “treason”, a charge that carries a life imprisonment sentence. Paradoxically, treason is an offense that Burundian law only recognizes when the country is at war due to external aggression. This is not the case today!

Last September, after meetings with some of Burundi’s highest officials, Omar Faruk Osman (President of the Federation of African Journalists) and his delegation left Bujumbura (Burundi) on a highly promising and optimistic note summed up in these words: “We agreed with the leadership of the country the urgency to resolve the case of Kavumbagu and our message was clear that was no longer a mere Burundian affair but an African and international press freedom case”.

Jean Claude Kavumbagu’s freedom has become a national, regional, continental and global issue. The Union of Burundian Journalists and the entire Burundian civil society, the East African Journalists Association, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the Federation of African Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, FrontLine, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the International Federation of Journalists, Human Rights Watch; to name just a few – have all called for the release of Jean Claude Kavumbagu.

But all these calls have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Kavumbagu has –this week – passed the 100 day mark behind bars in the notorious “Mpimba” prison, despite his constitutional rights to freedom of opinion and expression. The call for Kavumbagu’s freedom must not fade. This is no time to despair and quit.

But why carry the call to Washington, DC? This week, according to the journal Arc-en-Ciel, Washington hosted a high level delegation comprised of Burundian security apparatus heavyweights: the Director of military cabinet in the office of the President (Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye), the Minister of Internal Security (General Alain Guillaume Bunyoni) and the army chief of staff (Major General Godefroid Niyombare) alongside the top civilian advisor to the President. The delegation’s goal, according to trusted sources, was to promote greater cooperation between Bujumbura and Washington, and to secure funding for capacity building projects for Burundian securities forces.

If Washington and the American taxpayers are to fund these forces (the same forces that are carrying out the arrests of journalists), one can safely assume that Washington will have a greater voice in demanding that these security institutions improve their human rights record; or, at least, that should Washington voice any concern, Bujumbura would listen.

Ideally, a few months after celebrating our 48th independence anniversary, Burundians should not be expecting foreign powers’ coercion to be the safeguard to our freedoms. However, we have to be realistic. When a given government’s budget is financed at the tune of 70% by the international community, the perverse outcome is accountability to its donors (instead of its citizens). It is unfortunate! In the meantime, the Burundian diaspora will need to pick up signs, rally, blog, write letters to editors wherever they reside to educate the donors’ taxpayers. This Saturday, a few Americans learned of Burundi and of another name that they weren’t able to pronounce: Kavumbagu.

by Thierry Uwamahoro

Written by Richard Wilson

November 1, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Massive Denial-of-Service attack on human rights group Survival International

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Help beat the torturers and their cyber-hacking buddies – please blog or tweet about the attack on Survival International

The video that someone, somewhere doesn’t want you to see

Survival International works to defend the rights of tribal communities under threat from repressive governments and rogue corporations.

Last week they published and distributed a shocking video of Indonesian soldiers torturing tribal people in West Papua. This week their website was attacked and taken out of action. Other websites that published the torture video were also reportedly attacked.

According to Survival:

Starting with a test attack at 5pm (London time) on Wednesday 27 October, and building to a very sophisticated ‘distributed denial-of-service’ onslaught that evening, many thousands of PCs around the world simultaneously bombarded Survival’s website, knocking it offline.

Other organizations that hosted the torture video have also had their websites attacked.

Similar attacks occurred during Survival’s campaign against the Botswana government, after the Bushmen were evicted from their traditional lands.

Survival’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyberterrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes or Botswana’s Bushmen. This is not just a local struggle for the survival of the few hundred remaining hunting Bushmen in Africa, or the more than one million oppressed tribespeople in Indonesian West Papua, it also epitomizes the onslaught against those who dare to reject the domination of money and government over human rights. The forces ranged against us are colossal, and may have won this round, but we will never give up.’

Written by Richard Wilson

October 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm

Complicity in sleaze: UK Parliamentary Standards Commission kept MacShane investigation secret from voters during 2010 General Election

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Today it was revealed that the UK Parliamentary Standards Commissioner has reported Denis MacShane MP to the police over his alleged misuse of Parliamentary expenses.

But they appear to have decided that the voters of Rotherham had no right to know, during this year’s General Election, that their MP was under investigation. The Labour Party, too, appears to have had little interest in allowing voters to make an informed choice.

Denis MacShane today told the BBC that he had been under investigation following a complaint made against him in June 2009.

Yet, when in March this year, I made a Freedom of Information Act request to the Parliamentary Standards Office asking how many MPs were being investigated, and who those MPs were, the request was formally refused.

Someone called Bob Castle (more on his connection to the MPs expenses scandal here) stated frostily that:

The number of inquiries under way as at 31 March 2010 is information that will be included in the Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2009-10, which is expected to be published in the early summer. It is therefore exempt from publication under s22  of the Freedom of Information Act (information intended for future publication).

To release the names of any MPs under investigation would, he told me, infringe the “privileges of Parliament”.

In response, I wrote to Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, asking them which, if any, of their MPs were under investigation. None responded.

I’ve argued before that cleaning up Parliament will require a wholesale clear-out not only of the corrupt MPs who have been abusing the system for personal gain, but also of the unelected, unaccountable officials who have worked so hard to help them get away with it.

The Parliamentary Standards Office made a deliberate decision to withhold crucial information from UK voters ahead of the 2010 General Election. The voters of Rotherham – and for all we know many other constituencies around the country – were thus prevented from making an informed choice about the candidates seeking their votes. It’s only now, five months after the election has taken place, that the full picture is beginning to emerge. It may be another four years before Rotherham voters can express their judgement on this at the ballot box.

Yet again, the Standards Commission has put the “privileges of Parliament” before the rights of the electorate, and brought our democracy into further disrepute.

Written by Richard Wilson

October 14, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Posted in Democracy

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“Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation”

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From the Columbia Journalism Review

Politico astutely pointed out the other day that Fox News now employs four of the leading Republican presidential candidates: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, and Rick Santorum.

It’s hardly news that Fox News is more propaganda outlet than news organization. But this ought to be a more troubling development than it seems to have been thus far…

…it’s uncertain how other news organizations can cover the early stages of the presidential race when some of the main GOP contenders are contractually forbidden to appear on any TV network besides Fox.

C-SPAN Political Editor Steve Scully said that when C-SPAN tried to have Palin on for an interview, he was told he had to first get Fox’s permission — which the network, citing her contract, ultimately denied. Producers at NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN and MSNBC all report similar experiences…

Murdoch, at least, is a naturalized American citizen, and who can forget the heart-warming story of why he became one: To get past legal requirements so he could snap up TV stations here.

But I’ve never understood why the UK allows a foreigner like Murdoch to have so much control over its press—he controls some 40 percent of newspaper circulation and has huge influence over television, too…

That News of the World scandal and coverup continues to unravel, and Murdoch’s influence is one of the key stories there. It looks for all the world as if Scotland Yard was so in debt to and/or scared of News Corporation that it wouldn’t investigate the crimes properly—and even helped cover them up.

Guess who’s also on the Murdoch payroll? The Scotland Yard cop who headed up the failed investigation….

Written by Richard Wilson

October 5, 2010 at 5:16 am

Cameron’s spin doctor Andy Coulson accused of “lies” by former News Of The World colleague

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From The Guardian

Andy Coulson, the No 10 communications chief, found himself in the direct line of fire in the News of the World phone hacking scandal tonight when a former colleague alleged that he issued direct orders to journalists to carry out the illegal practice.

As former home secretary Alan Johnson demanded the right to be able to review government papers relating to the police investigation, Coulson stood accused of presiding over a “culture of dark arts” which encouraged phone hacking.

The hacking scandal blew up again this week after the New York Times published a lengthy article including the claim that Coulson freely discussed the use of unlawful news-gathering techniques during his time as editor of the tabloid. Coulson resigned as editor of the News of the World after its royal reporter and a private investigator were jailed. He denies any knowledge of phone hacking.

But a former News of the World journalist quoted by the New York Times repeated his claim tonight that he had been ordered by the former editor to tap phones. Sean Hoare told BBC Radio 4’s PM: “There is an expression called the culture of dark arts. You were given a remit: just get the story. Phone tapping hadn’t just existed on the News of the World. It was endemic within the whole industry. I have gone on the record in the New York Times and said I have stood by Andy and been requested to tap phones, OK, or hack into them. He was well aware the practice existed. To deny it is simply a lie…”

Written by Richard Wilson

September 3, 2010 at 11:29 pm

England in the Eighteenth Century

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I’ve just been flipping back through some old A-level books and came across JH Plumb’s beautifully-written (1950) “England in the Eighteenth Century”. Partly inspired by Paul Kingsnorth’s “Dark Mountain” project, I’ve been looking at what life in the UK was like before we got our hands on the resources that fuel our modern economy and society. I’m trying to get a sense of where we may be headed when those resources run out, if we fail to make a smooth switch to effective alternatives.

Plumb’s account of England in 1714 – when our population was just a tenth of its current figure – makes for grim, albeit eloquent, reading…

Most cellars were inhabited, not only by people but by their pigs, fowls, sometimes even by their horses and cattle… All houses and cellars were desperately overcrowded- ten to a room was common in Manchester… Disease was rampant and unchecked… In the early part of the century, only about one child in four, born in London, survived…

Though some elements seem rather more familiar:

In the midst of death, the people sought palliatives and found them in drink, gambling and violence. The consumption of gin – drunk mixed with fruit cordials – was prodigious, but largely confined to London, where it may have affected the death rate in the thirties, although virulent influenza epidemics also took their toll…

…the ordinary merchants and prosperous shopkeepers… were still deeply attached to the puritan attitude… They were also Whigs, but it was an old-fashioned type of Whiggery which did not always see eye to eye with Walpole, for they believed in plain, fair and honest dealing, and the control of government by a Parliament – not the reverse, which was Walpole’s way…

What loyalty they had to Walpole was strained by the opposition’s exposure of corruption in high places. Their natural suspicion was aroused by the talk of England’s interests being sacrificed to Hanover. They were devoted readers of The Craftsman, the vigorous opposition newspaper, which played on their prejudices; some were taken in and voted Tory, most of them kept to the politics of their fathers…

Written by Richard Wilson

August 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

Posted in Democracy

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Support Jean-Claude Kavumbagu – Guest blog for Index on Censorship

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From Index on Censorship, Free Speech blog:

While Burundi’s war criminals go unpunished, my friend faces “treason” trial over critical article, says Richard Wilson

What do you do when someone you love gets murdered in a distant country you know almost nothing about? A decade ago my sister Charlotte died in a massacre in the small Central African state of Burundi. In the years that followed I was consumed by a need to understand why she had been killed, who had been responsible, and what, if anything could be done to bring them to book. Only a handful of people in the world could help me. Almost all were journalists. One of them was Jean-Claude Kavumbagu, editor of Burundi’s Netpress news agency.

The information, advice and contacts Jean-Claude gave me proved vital when I came to write the book about my sister’s life and death, Titanic Express. With truth comes a certain kind of cartharsis. To the extent that one ever can, I’ve “moved on” from what happened. But I will always remain endebted to those who helped my family find answers, asking nothing in return but that we do what we could to focus attention on the outrages happening in their country.

Jean-Claude has been a thorn in the side of successive governments in Burundi, both Hutu and Tutsi. His views are often controversial, but there is no questioning the price he has paid for them. In 1999, a year before my sister’s death, Jean-Claude was arrested by the Tutsi-led regime of Pierre Buyoya and held for two weeks on charges of operating an unregistered newspaper. He was detained again in 2001 by the same regime, and accused of insulting the public prosecutor. 2003 saw the installation of a new, Hutu-led government, which loudly proclaimed its commitment to peace, democracy and human rights. Three months later, Jean-Claude was arrested yet again and charged with “insulting the authorities”.

Elections in 2005 saw a landslide win for the Hutu ex-rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza, who has gained plaudits for his talk of “forgiveness” and “reconciliation”. Sadly, Nkurunziza has been markedly unforgiving of critical coverage by the independent media. While no serious efforts have been made to prosecute those responsible for the ethnic massacres that have plagued Burundi over the last two decades, in recent years dozens of independent journalists have been detained or threatened over their work.

[Click here for full article]

Written by Richard Wilson

August 14, 2010 at 11:05 pm

Posted in Censorship, Democracy

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