Category Archives: News

Golden Pen of Freedom to Chinese; Gunshot to Pakistani

Li Changqing, a Chinese journalist, has been awarded the 2008 Golden Pen of Freedom, which is the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers (WAN). Mr. Li, was imprisoned for three years on a charge of “fabricating and spreading false information” in January 2006. He had alerted the public to an outbreak of dengue fever before the authorities.

In making the award the Board of the WAN which met in Vienna, said “The Chinese authorities have a long history of covering up events they prefer to keep secret, and Li’s courageous decision to report on this outbreak, knowing the possible consequences, is an inspiration to journalists everywhere.”

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On the other hand a veteran reporter and investigative journalist, Zubair Ahmed Mujahid was shot dead in Pakistan in the southern province of Sindh on November 23. His killer, an unidentified gunman, was traveling on motorcycle when he shot him in his stomach.

Mr Mujahid is said to have been “killed because of his articles criticising the situation of the poor”. He is the seventh journalist to be murdered this year.

Considering Mr. Mujahid’s work as “courageous” and “admirable”, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said: “The perpetrators must be punished and learn that silencing journalists with violence is criminal and will not be tolerated.”

Media and trade unions under scrutiny?

Repression against journalists and trade unionists seems to take a new turn, at least here in Mauritius. On Wednesday three members of the press, the Editor-in-chief of Weekend newspaper and two journalists of Radio Plus, a private radio, were arrested for having allegedly diffused false news. They were brought to court yesterday and released on bail. They have also been charged for alleged defamation. They had published and broadcast a news about a big sum of money supposedly found in the locker of a senior police officer, which was denied by the police department.

A day earlier two trade union leaders were summoned to court for having participated in a union action in June last against the intended closure of the police mechanical workshop as announced in the last budget. However the court has temporarily lifted the objection to their departure to enable them participate in a conference of the International Trade Union Confederation in Ghana. Other trade unionists were questioned by police last week on their participation last year in a demonstration against the closure of the Development Works Corporation, a para-statal organisation.

Are we heading towards a rise of repression in the country? Observers seem to be concerned with this issue at a moment when the country is facing serious economic set back with the end of the sugar protocol and rising prices of basic commodities. Reporters Sans Frontieres reminds us that the last time journalists were arrested in Mauritius dates as far back as thirteen years ago. The Mauritian Premier announced some time ago his intention to bring more stringent laws against defamation and diffusion of unfounded news. What else can be done when the media hurts?

News round-up

The tsunami alert was lifted at around 11.00 am today. A series of aftershocks, the latest one recorded at around 4.00 am, warranted the maintenance of a state of vigilance in Mauritius. No major incident was recorded as the population seems to have followed the instructions. And the dreaded tsunami did not show up, although waves of about one metre were recorded at Rodrigues islands and of about 40 cm in Mauritius, not significant enough to cause panic. No doubt the authorities have managed the situation excellently well. The population was updated regularly on the evolution of the situation through radio and TV communiqués.

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Just as a follow up to my “Muslims in purge”, Ramadhan started today. The moon was visible yesterday evening as expected. Muslims here and in other parts of the world had their first fasting today. 29 more are left. The first day was quite cool here with a rainy weather.

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A sugar lorry overturned this morning on the highway to Port Louis. It left the lane to land topsy-turvy on the other side of the carriageway. Several tons of sugar was spilt on the highway. This caused a huge traffic jam and a lot of inconvenience to road users during the whole day. The driver and his helper were seriously injured. Police inquiry is on to look into the circumstances of the accident.

Tsunami alert

A tremor of 8.2 on Richter scale occurred in the Sumatra region this afternoon. An alert was launched immediately to Tsunami warning centres in the region. Several buildings in the Sumatran region are reported to have been damaged; some ten people killed and a hundred injured following several aftershocks felt.

The Mauritius Meteorological Services, which acts as a focal point for tsunami warning in the mascarenes region, received a first alert around 3.00 pm. Minutes after the news was on the air. The authorities met urgently at the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor the situation and decide on the course of action should a tsunami hit our region.

Information obtained subsequently revealed a slight rise in sea level varying between 10 to 30 cm in the eastern region, near Cocos and Christmas islands. The population was nevertheless warned through frequent bulletins not to venture at sea as significant waves could be expected at around 9.00 pm in our waters. Boats were advised to remain on high seas.

Although a small tsunami hit the Indonesian region, no tsunami was experienced on our side, fortunately. It will be long before people can forget the December 2004 tsunami episode that killed more than 200 000 people. In Mauritius people living in the southern coasts still have the trauma sequels of the tidal waves that hit the island earlier this year. Riviere des Galets inhabitants know something about it. But communication and alert systems have since considerably improved with rapid dissemination of information through the multiple media systems.

New Occupational Safety & Health Act proclaimed in Mauritius

Just a quick follow-up post to my “A glimpse of the evolution of Health & Safety Legislation in Mauritius” posted on 27 August, to tell you that the Occupational Safety & Health Act 2005 (OSHA 2005) has been proclaimed on 1 September, nearly two years after its enactment.

The Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Minister announced it at a press conference held this morning at Port Louis. He stressed upon the urgent need to review the previous law in order to make it current with on-going developments.

The new law aims at reinforcing the duties and responsibilities of all stakeholders and enhancing their commitment to safety and health at work.

Daughter-in-law stabbed

About two weeks ago I mentioned a case of infanticide. Latest information reveals that the 17-year-old mother was taken in custody immediately after her discharge from hospital and brought to court. She denied charges against her and she’s been released on bail.

This time it’s the case of a 58-year-old labourer physically assaulting his daughter-in-law. The 24-year-old mother of two sustained 18 stab wounds. She died of cerebral lacerations and fracture of the skull shortly after her admission to the hospital. The killer has been arrested on a provisional charge of murder. In a statement to the police he said having acted on provocation. Neighbours say the two were at daggers drawn.

But that’s not the end of the series of family related crimes. Quite a number of cases of patricide, fratricide and incest have been reported recently. I don’t know whether it has to do with the social situation of people. But the stress of the rising cost of living is definitely putting some pressure on the households.

Newly-born stabbed to death

Horrible! It’s the least that can be said when you discover a newly-born, innocent, less-than-a-day-old child, draped in a piece of cloth and inert in a school bag. And on further probe you end up with a lifeless being, hardly born enough. Deeply lacerated and perforated at various places, the baby’s corpse bore a serious head wound and several cuts around the neck.

Yes, that was the horrible scene police found when they reached a small house in the suburbs of Port Louis, after a phone call at 7.00 pm on Sunday.

The baby’s mother, a 17-year-old student, was there too. She had apparently had a clandestine delivery, far from the specialized health care facilities, during the day. She had kept her pregnancy secret and nobody, not even her close relatives, ever knew about her health condition.

Postmortem examination revealed the baby-girl died from “multiple stab wounds of the chest”. Some 30 spots of severe injury, with serious throat cuts, were found. As of now there are no solid clues as to the real circumstances of the crime. Police inquiry is on and will definitely target the baby’s mother as soon as she’s released from hospital where she’s been admitted just after the police raid.

Life on Mars?

Has life existed on Mars? Could there be life? Those are the main concerns of the NASA people who’ve just launched a mission to reach Mars in May 2008. Scientific operations on the Martian surface will last about three months. Investigators believe there is water ice some centimeters below the surface. They’ll probe into whether there are signs of the ice melting. This could provide clues as to the history of the water ice and whether it could support microbial life.

Peter Smith who is a professor at the University of Arizona and the mission’s principal investigator said they’d try to find out whether the ice has melted. “Liquid water in contact with soil may provide us with a habitable environment.”

The Phoenix solar powered spacecraft was launched today, a day later, due to adverse weather conditions. It is equipped with various instruments to enable probing into a wide profile of the Martian environment. There’s a robotic arm to dig trenches, position tools and deliver samples to other instruments. Soil samples will be examined using microscopy, electrochemistry and conductivity analyzer. A camera is on board for taking images of the soil. A thermal and evolved-gas analyser will assess the chemical properties and look for organic compounds of samples. And of course the daily weather and seasonal changes will be tracked by a meteorological station with the use of temperature and pressure sensors.

Man’s quest for exploration has always been insatiable. At one time it was the Moon; now Mars. After the two earlier failed attempts towards Mars, let’s keep fingers crossed.

Mineral wells in Mauritian waters

Significant hydrothermal sites have been discovered in the territorial waters of Mauritius, which extend to 200 nautical miles. Minerals like zinc, copper and even gold may be present. But we are only at the research stage.

That’s what Prof. Kensaku Tamaki said at the Fourth National Ocean Science Forum held under the aegis of the Mauritian Oceanography Institute (MOI) on 11 and 12 July at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium of the University of Mauritius.

Prof K Tamaki of the University of Tokyo led a research team during November to January last in collaboration with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Mauritian government and the MOI. The team comprising scientists from Japan, Mauritius, France, US, China and Indonesia found considerable amount of manganese, which indicates the existence of hydrothermal sources.

That reminds me of another research in our waters in the 70’s when an oil slick was discovered around Mauritius. Drilling works were initiated and lasted several months before they were abandoned due to sinking evidences.

Let’s hope this time we have positive outcomes. The ocean hasn’t revealed all the secrets yet.

Childhood Asthma Probe

ORMDL3. Does that mean anything to you? Perhaps only a set of letters and a figure. That’s all. Idem for me too. Not for scientists though. It seems to be the culprit. It’s a gene found in a more significant amount in the blood cells of children with asthma than in those without. This higher level of ORMDL3 could increase the risk of having asthma by about 70%.

That’s what a group of researchers from Imperial College London, along with others from UK, France, Germany, USA and Austria, have concluded after a study carried out on more than 2000 children.

Childhood asthma is a common chronic disease. 10% of children in the UK are currently affected. It’s a tough time indeed, for the children as it is for the parents. Therapies have hitherto been limited to attenuating the episodes of asthma, without significant progress into its cure.

Deep probe has yet to be effected into the exact causes of asthma. It is not well understood how ORMLD3 exacerbates the risk of asthmatic conditions in children. But the combination of genetic and environmental factors provides a definite clue.

The researchers compared the genetic makeup of childhood asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients. They probed into the mutational behavior of the nucleotides, the building blocks of genes making up the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid – a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms carrying the genetic information). Mutations were observed and the researchers unveiled those specific to childhood asthma.

The new findings will, it is hoped, pave the way for the development of new therapies. For further information see links below:

More about the gene linked with childhood asthma.

What is asthma?

How can I treat my asthma?

Released… after 114 days of living nightmare

The world was awakened with the good news of the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston this morning. “Alan Johnston freed” reads the latest entry in the BBC Blog Network, The Editors.

Captured on 12 March in Gaza by the Army of Islam group, Mr. Alan Johnston, 45, was released early this morning. He was handed over to the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza City. He is now in the British Consulate in Jerusalem waiting to fly back to UK.

“I literally dreamt many times of being free and always woke up back in that room,” Mr. Johnston said shortly after his release.

The reporter describes his captivity as a frightening experience as he was uncertain how it’d end. He said he had fallen ill from the food but was not tortured during the captivity period. It was hard for him to believe he’d be freed as he said he was “in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable”.

Thanking his colleagues and all who supported him throughout his captivity, he cheered at the overwhelming international campaign for his release. “The thing you don’t want is to be left behind, buried alive, and have the world go on around you,” he said.

Several hundreds of thousands of people around the world had petitioned and rallied for his release.

“It’s been 114 days of a living nightmare,” said his overjoyed father Graham soon after his son’s release.

Answering to questions in the UK Parliament new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “The whole country will welcome the news that Alan Johnston, a fearless journalist whose voice was silenced for too long, is now free.”

Hats off Mr. Johnston for your perseverance and bravery during 16 weeks’ tough times. As we say in French: “Tout est bien qui finit bien”. (All is good that ends well).

Another female journalist slain

Media killings continue and know no barriers. Some time back I mentioned the case of media people being subject to violent treatment in Romania and Russia. There’s also the case of missing journalist in Gaza. Not later than yesterday I raised concern about killings in Afghanistan of female journalists fighting for women’s rights.

This time it’s in Iraq, where more than 180 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the beginning of the war in March 2003. In the only month of May 12 journalists have been killed there.

But what is more appalling is the case of another female journalist who was showered with bullets by gunmen in front of her house near Mosul on Thursday June 7. Mother of three girls, aged 45, Sahar al-Haidari has been working for an independent Iraqi news agency in Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad.

Although women journalists, reporters and presenters constitute a minority in such countries, they are on the increase. And it seems male dominated families exert extreme pressure on them with the result that intimidation and threats of violence are also growing.

The brutal treatment and killing of respected and brave journalists as those in the conflict zones are issues of concern not only to the media organizations and their members, but also, and mostly, to the families and close relatives of the victims.

Women bashing?

Shocking. It’s the least that we can say of cold-blooded murders of women whose only sin was to dare their own way to raise their voice in an endeavour to bring news to the people at large and contribute to the recognition of women’s status.

On the very day I was writing about “women empowerment” in India, one female reporter and presenter for Shamshad TV, Ms Shokila Sanga Amaaj was murdered in Afghanistan. One of the arrested alleged killers had, in the past, repeatedly threatened her for her determination to become an educated and professional figure.

But that’s not all. Five days later, in the same country, on 6 June another female journalist, Zakia Zaki, head of a radio station “Sada-e-Sulh” (Peace Radio), was shot dead by three armed men who broke in her home. She was sleeping with her two-year-old son and a baby less than six months’ old.

Threats against women journalists have become a major concern for media people and the International Federation of Journalists. The case of another woman journalist, Ms Shaima Raazi who worked for an independent TV channel (again in Afghanistan) murdered two years ago has remained unresolved.

These are cases that have surfaced out in one country. How many of them have remained unidentified and untracked? Which brings me back to my previous posts on the issue of the dangerous nature of the work a journalist. The posts under reference are:
Journalism – a dangerous occupation
Hats off!
Reporters and Journalists, beware

How ironical: empowering women on one side, and I’m tempted to say, “women bashing” on the other.

Divorce at…92!

Unusual story of Peter, 92 who manages to divorce his wife Madali. Yet Peter and Madali had a love marriage some 30 years ago. He was 53, she 33 when they exchanged wedding rings. Moment of intense love and passion for each other, which they lived for a short period only. A year later things started getting sour when Madali insisted to proceed to Australia. Peter accompanied her but had to come back soon to look after his business while Madali stayed longer.

Since then they’ve been living separately as Peter couldn’t leave his home and his old mother for a foreign land. He nevertheless maintained relationship because he didn’t want to break his family. They had two children, who went with their mother. In the meantime Madali effected brief visits here, but hardly lived with Peter. When she returned last year, they had a big quarrel which triggered a divorce petition, filed by Peter. And on 14 May this year the court ordered in his favour.

Divorce is not an issue only among the young. At 92 Peter says he’s relieved from the heavy burden of an isolated conjugal life. His wife has been away from him all the time.

Poor Peter, what else could he do?

Update on Salary Compensation

At its weekly meeting today, the Cabinet approved the recommendations made by the NPC. The Finance Minister stated it’ll cost more than Rs 3.5 billions to implement the recommendations. He’s is particularly concerned about the payment capacity of small enterprises who are facing fierce competitions and evolving challenges. Although he believes that some sectors can pay more than the recommended amount, he’s been all the time in favour of a compensation based on productivity and capacity to pay rather than on the only inflationary rate index.