Friday, July 27, 2012

Sex, Spooks and Wikileaks: Assange and Swedish justice

Photo: Ali Bell
A colleague and Broadsword columnist on the Pacific Media Centre Online now lives in Stockholm. She has been taking a keen interest in the Wikileaks and Julian Assange extradition case.  She has some interesting insights. Check out her introductory thoughts here and then read the rest of the article at PMC Online.

By Ali Bell

I have been asked so many times by folk in New Zealand what Swedes make of the Assange case, I thought it would be clarifying to put it together in an article, but crystal clear it isn't. “The truth” might be out there but nowhere I can swear by.

So much of what is reported is speculation, rumour and online leaks, following it is like following a plot more convoluted than an episode of TV's Spooks, with just as many possible inside governmental plots and backstage international alliances, with attractive “stock characters” as sexy Swedish female patsies or (least likely) honeytrapping spies, and with secrecy in every phonecall nook and governmental-memo cranny.

Thrown in to boot – a momentous hot potato like Wikileaks but with a hard-to-warm-to protagonist, and on top of all this a sexual-crimes case that has us all gobsmacked (including at least one of the victims) and set it in one of the most socio-politically idealistic but judicially flawed countries in the Western world – it would be an enthralling TV show indeed.  24  (or in this case 23 months and counting) eat your heart out.

But it hasn't been 24 hours, and we are getting media fatigue – I know I am – from the case. How long can Assange hang out in the Ecuadorian embassy in London after all?

No Swede I have talked to believes this rape/sex crimes charge comes from a genuine wish to clean up the world for women's sexual safety. (Rapes in Sweden can be as difficult as other Western countries to get a conviction for.)

Everyone mentions the timing of the charges as being far too convenient (in order to get Assange into custody here), and no-one doubts, erroneously or not, that the Swedes intend to hand him over to the Americans and that Assange has every reason to fear this.

It must be noted that the public prosecutor in charge of this case vehemently denies that this is Sweden's intention.

What we do know is there were leaks everywhere – and not just from Assange's condoms.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ouvéa massacre film gripping tale of betrayal and political opportunism

Kanak militant leader Alphonse Dianou … “played superbly by his cousin Iabe Lapacas”. Image: Rebellion
WHEN THE headlines hit France in April 1988 about the latest saga in “les évènements” down under in New Caledonia, filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz was just 18. He remembers the gritty images of the Gossanna cave siege on television.

Indigenous Kanaks had massacred a quartet of gendarmes with machetes and shotguns and taken 27 others hostage.

There were also false reports of alleged decapitations and rape on Ouvéa in the remote Loyalty Islands.

But 13 years ago, Kassovitz’s father handed him the League of Human Rights report on the cave siege and he read the chilling real story for the first time.

A French military force of some 300 had been deployed in a retaliatory “invasion” of the island and the report detailed atrocities and summary executions that had left 19 Kanak hostage-takers dead in a dawn assault on 5 May 1988.

Kassovitz (La Haîne and Café au Lait) noted then how an elite police counter-terrorism unit negotiator, Captain Philippe Legorjus of the CIGN, was a central character in the disturbing events.

“I knew then there was the material for a wonderful movie and the script was virtually written,” Kassovitz recalled in a Femail interview. “The dramatic structure was in the report of those 10 days.”

Director Mathieu Kassovitz as the negotiator Captain Philippe Legorjus … “inspirational and credible”. Image: Rebellion
Many obstacles
On his first trip to Ouvéa to explore the possibility of making the movie, it seemed many obstacles could block getting such a project off the ground.

“Ten years had passed but people were still withdrawn into their grief. The subject was tabu. There had been no closure,” he says.

“There was a lot of religious and political in-fighting within the Kanak community.”

A decade on and 25 film scripts later, against all the odds and being forced to make the film on the French Polynesian island of Anaa instead of Ouvéa, a courageous 136min testimony to the Kanak struggle and search for justice has been finally achieved.

The film was released in France last November with the title L’Order et La Morale – a play on words from the title of the Legorjus autobiography, La Morale et l’Action, and on a statement by the hated Minister of Overseas Territories Bernard Pons, who said rather cynically: “Sometimes some deaths are necessary to uphold order and morality.”

Last night, the gripping docudrama was screened for the first time at the New Zealand International Film Festival – under the English-language title Rebellion, which loses the nuances of the French name.

But the film was never shown in New Caledonia on general release in the largest cinema chain. The Pacific territory's French operator refused to screen it.

Smaller cinemas played the film to packed audiences, both Kanak and French.

Inspirational performances
The movie succeeds with the inspirational and credible performances of both director Kassovitz as the frustrated but professional lead character Legorjus – who tried hard to seek a peaceful solution to the hostage crisis – and the Kanak pro-independence militant leader Alphonse Dianou, played superbly by his cousin Iabe Lapacas, aged only six at the time of the tragedy.

Negotiator Legorjus – who is also taken captive – and Dianou ironically form a trusting bond of fraternity and understanding and the French officer is released in a bid to broker a deal.

But tension builds as the film covers the 10 days of negotiations until the expediency of the power struggle between rightwing Prime Minister Jacques Chirac and socialist President François Mitterrand in Paris over the imminent outcome of the presidential elections takes over. Mitterrand calls for negotiations – but in reality orders the full catastrophe assault on the cave to free the hostages.

He wins the election.

Legorjus feels betrayed and subsequently resigns from the elite force after the assault. Dianou feels betrayed and is horrendously allowed to die from his wounds from the cave firefight.

Other Kanak prisoners were simply killed in cold blood.

And the Kanak community feel betrayed by both Legorjus and the pro-independence FLNKS. This sense of betrayal ultimately led to the assassination of charismatic FLNKS leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou and his deputy Yéiwene Yéiwene a year later in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the martyrs.

History lesson
Pastor Djubelly Wea, whose character features in the film giving Legorjus a Kanak history lesson while manacled to a coconut tree, was the assassin. He never forgave the FLNKS leadership for failing to negotiate on their behalf. (Although the FLNKS villain portrayed in the film is Franck Wahuzue).

Wea (played by relative Macki Wea) in turn was gunned down by Tjibaou’s bodyguard.

Having reported on the Kanak independence struggle for several years, watching Rebellion was an emotional rollercoaster for me. (In fact, I shared a hotel room in Manila at a “peace brigade” conference with Wea just months before the assassination).

Gossanna cave was tabu – and the film portrays traditional “custom” and beliefs very evocatively. In Kanak tradition, a promise made face-to-face is never broken.

Legorjus promised that the militants that they would live, a pledge that his superiors sabotaged for political capital. 

I don’t believe the militants ever intended to harm their captives – they were simply negotiating leverage after things went wrong in the Fayaoué hostage-taking. In fact, as portrayed in the film, the hostages were about to be freed anyway.

At the time, I wrote an account in my book Blood on their Banner – the blood being that symbolised by the Kanak flag as being shed by the martyrs of more than a century of French rule.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Repeal of Malaysian sedition law good news ... but?

A young woman buying a newspaper in a Kuala Lumpur bookstore. Photo: David Robie
MALAYSIAN news media have welcomed a planned repeal of the colonial-era sedition law as Asian communicators, journalism educators and researchers met near the capital this week to explore media issues.

But they are also cautious about plans for replacing the Sedition Act – made law in 1948 under British colonial rule and used against political opponents since independence – with a National Harmony Act as part of a political liberalisation policy.

“History has not made it easy to give up the untrammelled powers of the executive in favour of civil liberties to be arbitrated by the judiciary,” said the New Straits Times in an editorial headed “Freedom in harmony”.

The newspaper said the surprise announcement of the law change by Datuk Seri Najib Razak showed the prime minister was firm in his promise to “find the fine balance” that would realise the constitutional  provision of free expression for every citizen while keeping the peace.

However, the Times also stressed some areas with the legal changes were “non-negotiable” because they defined the political character of the multiracial nation.

“They are the ‘the monarchy, maintaining unity and the people’s rights’,” the paper said without explaining further.

Delivering the keynote address at the 40th anniversary Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC)-Universiti Teknologi Mara international conference at Shah Alam, near the capital of Kuala Lumpur, this week, Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim said Malaysia needed to set up a social media council.

Now necessity
Social media had not only become the latest trend but it was now a necessity for the Malaysian community with about 12 million users of media such as Facebook.

“Through the council, they can think on and delve into issues on our community, security and legal obligations including giving education to school and university students,” he said.

His comments came in the wake of concerns expressed at the conference that Malaysia was exerting a greater ‘chilling” control over digital media with the controversial new Evidence Act, especially Section 114a, which puts local internet users at risk with the burden of proof  being shifted to them over legal breaches.

Masjaliza Hamzah, of Malaysia’s Centre for Independent Journalism, gave the conference an insightful presentation questioning the country’s reforms around new media.

Earlier this month, Syed Abdullah Hussein Al-Attas was arrested and detained under the Official Secrets Act as a result of a complaint by a group of 30 people over controversial posts about the Sultan of Johor.

A young woman who was with him at the time of his arrest is also being held, according to the media freedom organisation Reporters Sans Frontières.

Sedition charge
Three years ago, Karpal Singh, chairman of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP), was charged with sedition after being accused of insulting the Sultan of Perak state.

Over the sedition law issue, the Star reported Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin as claiming that repeal of the act was proof that the government was not making “empty promises” about political transformation.

The newspaper also reported that the proposed harmony law was being given the “thumbs up” by civil society groups and professional advocacy bodies.

Human rights group Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) chairman K. Arumugam said the new law must protect every individual’s fundamental liberties.

“If it will enable public expression and growth of information in the media, then we will welcome such an act,” he told the Star.

Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee said the government must ensure that the new law “refrained as much as possible” from “criminalising speech and ideas”.

In its editorial, the New Straits Times asked whether the “negative space” being shut down by the repeal of the Sedition Act could be replaced by an expanded “positive space” under the proposed harmony law.

Outlawed words
“From 1948 to the present, seditious words written and spoken about have been outlawed. And, for the most part, quite rightly so. Society, however, has changed from the onset of the Emergency and subsequent racial troubles to a better informed and demanding present.

“The arbitrary exercise of authority belongs to the past, and while what has been protected must continue to be protected, this should be done more judiciously.”

The Times editorial was apparently referring to the so-called Malayan Emergency, a guerrilla war fought by the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party with Commonwealth forces between 1948 and 1960, and cross-cultural clashes such as in March 2001.

The newspaper also called on citizens to support the “moral courage” and “political commitment” of the government while being patient about “temporary imperfections”.

Dr David Robie was at the AMIC conference to give a paper on East Timor, West Papua and peace journalism.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ouvéa massacre – film Rebellion sheds new light

FLASHBACK TO 1988: Excerpt from  David Robie’s 1989 book Blood on their Banner about the cave massacre of 19 Kanak militants by French troops at dawn on 5 May 1988 on Ouvéa in the Loyalty Islands:

Leaders of the [pro-independence] FLNKS immediately challenged the official version of the attack. Léopold Jorédie issued a statement in which he questioned how the “Ouvéa massacre left 19 dead among the nationalists and no one injured” and the absence of bullet marks on the trees and empty cartridges on the ground at the site”. [Yéiwene] Yéiwene insisted that at no time did the kidnappers intend to kill the hostages – “this whole massacre was engineered by [then Overseas Territories Minister Bernard] Pons who knew very well there was never any question of killing the hostages”.  [Nidoish] Naisseline also condemned the action: “Pons and Chirac have behaved like assassins.” - Blood on their Banner, p. 277.

REBELLION [L’ordre et la morale] 2012:
In his most visceral and impassioned outing since 1995’s La Haine, Mathieu Kassovitz dramatises the extraordinary French military response to a New Caledonia hostage-taking in 1988. Starring as Philippe Legorjus, a captain in an elite counter-terrorist division hastily despatched to the Pacific territory, Kassovitz leads a uniformly excellent cast. Upon arrival, he discovers that the French army has been deployed too. Legorjus’ efforts to achieve a resolution through negotiation with the indigenous Kanak independence group clash with the blunter approach of the army and a different agenda from above.

His attempts to earn the trust of the hostage takers’ leader [Alphonse  Dianou], depicted in scenes of searing intensity, are constantly imperilled by a political battle playing out in Paris. Prime Minister Jacques Chirac is challenging François Mitterrand  for the presidency, and the distant conflict has become a central issue. Chirac is determined that the rebellion be quelled – by whatever means. And time is running out.

Based on the Legorjus memoir, Rebellion  has all the seat-edge of a thriller, buttressed by a real political heft. It delivers a gripping illustration of the bloody, expedient and far-reaching potential impact of colonial powers’ internal political squabbles. – NZ International Film Festival, July 2012

Rebellion is perhaps to the Kanak struggle what Balibo (portraying the killing of the Balibo Five journalists and Roger East) is to East Timor in popularising Pacific pro-independence campaigns on a global stage.  Screening at the NZ International Film Festival at the Civic, Auckland, on Monday, July 23, at 8.45pm.

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