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An Open Letter to Kim Jong-Un

Dear President Kim Jong-Un

Supreme Leader of North Korea

We write this letter to you to raise a number of points that would demonstrate the depth of international concern about your country. In so doing, our wish is to help you improve your country’s image, strengthen your leadership and help the people of North Korea.

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2013 can be a time of opportunity for you to open a door that has long been shut without regard to the shifts in the world around. You can start off by reworking some policies and practices perpetuated since your father’s time—for the wellbeing of your own people.

More than 200,000 men, women and children are still being held in prisons and gulag camps in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Most of them have been incarcerated for political reasons and are not guilty of any internationally recognised crimes. Prisoners have to endure conditions that resemble the worst forms of human rights abuse and many die of starvation.

The human rights of the people of North Korea are routinely violated, despite its ratification of numerous international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

People are living in constant fear and insecurity, knowing if they do not follow the government-scripted codes of conduct it could result in the loss of their freedom, basic human rights, and their lives. They are subject to enforced disappearance, “unfree labour”, torture and execution.

The DPRK government stands guilty of crimes against humanity and flagrant violations of international laws. It is accused of arresting people on false premises and giving harsh penalties for small offences.

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Millions of North Koreans are suffering from hunger, malnutrition and inadequate health care. According to our understanding, the DPRK government has the capacity and resources to offer a minimum level of care to people but apparently it is neglecting it.

Let’s face it. People’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion and freedom of religion are not acknowledged in your country. Access to and sharing of information is restricted. The voices of dissent are ruthlessly suppressed. Whatever we know and hear about North Korea—considered to be the most tightly closed-off region in the world—come through the filter of a state-controlled media.

Food Shortages and Famines

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In March 2011, a joint UN survey estimated that over six million people in North Korea urgently required international food assistance to avoid famine. The World Food Programme called it the worst famine in a decade. Several NGOs and media outlets reported hunger-related deaths.

Some of the causes of the famine are harsh winters, destruction of harvests through floods, economic mismanagement, and the government’s discriminating food policies that favour the military, government officials, and other loyal groups.

Since 1995 the United States has provided North Korea with over $1 billion in help, about 60 percent of which was given as food aid and 40 percent for energy, according to a Congressional Research Service report in 2008. The aid was suspended halfway through due to a lack of transparency in aid distribution and the escalating tensions caused by the North’s nuclear missile tests and restrictions on international monitors.

More recently, reports surfaced about a ‘hidden famine’ in the farming provinces of North and South Hwanghae, killing up to 10,000 people so far. People were so desperate to ward off starvation that incidents of cannibalism rose dramatically. Yes, it is hard to believe in this modern age but ‘numerous testimonies’ have confirmed the shocking findings.

The international community is always willing to provide assistance to a people in need. But it is ironic that when you ask for food aid, the first question that comes to their mind is: will it be really delivered to the people for whom it is given, or it will be manoeuvred like before? They fear the fund might be used for military purposes.

Torture and Abuse of Human Rights

Individuals arrested on criminal charges often face torture by officials aiming to enforce obedience and extract bribes and information. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Prisoners are subject to pigeon torture, in which they are forced to cross their arms behind their back, are handcuffed and hung in the air tied to a pole, and finally beaten with a club causing loss of circulation or limb-atrophy that often leads to death within weeks.

Guards sometimes rape female detainees. One study done in 2010 found that 60 percent of refugee respondents who had been incarcerated saw a death due to beating or torture. Incidents of cannibalism were also reported in some prison camps as a result of confiscation of meat rations by prison officials.

Executions

North Korea’s Criminal Code stipulates that death penalty could be applied only for a small set of crimes, but these include vaguely defined offences such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people” that could be and are applied broadly. What is concerning is that your government exercises inhuman methods of torture and execution.

In 2001, a condemned inmate had got his body torn apart by guard dogs as executioners fired. Three bullets shattered his skull, splattering blood near other prisoners who were forced to watch.

According to statements of some defectors, forced abortions have also become a common practice, and if babies are born, many of them are killed, sometimes before their mothers’ eyes.

Forced Labour Camps

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Testimonies from escapees have established that persons accused of political offences are usually sent to forced labour camps, known as “gwalliso”, operated by the National Security Agency.

The Kwan-li-so are gulags or concentration camps that, as of 2003, unlawfully detained about 200,000 North Koreans in a total of six to eight camps in remote valleys guarded by high mountains, in the country’s northern provinces. The Kwan-li-so violates international laws on multiple grounds and are generally charged with various crimes against humanity such as forced internment, forced labour, torture, rape, forced abortion, starvation, and death without charge or trial.

It is unfortunate that your government still practices collective punishment, sending people to forced labour camps to work under a “guilt-by-association” system (yeon-jwa-je), where not only the offender but also his or her relatives such as parents, spouse, children, and even grandchildren have to work. Some defected guards have said that they were taught to treat prisoners as national traitors who must suffer condemnation up to three generations of their families.

These camps are notorious for their inhumane living conditions and gross human rights violations, including severe food shortages, little or no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, mistreatment and torture by guards, and executions.

Forced labour at the gwalliso often involves strenuous manual labour such as mining, logging, and agricultural work, all done with rudimentary tools in dangerous and harsh conditions. Death rates in these camps are reportedly extremely high.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

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Your government has criminalised leaving the country without state permission and those who leave face harsh punishment if caught, including interrogation, torture, and other penalties. Those suspected of religious or political activities, including contact with South Koreans, are given lengthier terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labour camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment by guards.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have fled since the 1990s, and some have settled in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Beijing categorically labels North Koreans in China “illegal” economic migrants and routinely repatriates them.

A number of North Korean women and girls have been trafficked into marriage or prostitution in China. Many children of such unrecognised marriages have been forced to live without a legal identity or access to elementary education, because their parents fear that if they register they would be identified by Chinese authorities and forcibly sent back home.

Government-Controlled Judiciary

Your country’s judiciary system is not independent as all staff including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks and jury members are appointed and controlled by the Supreme People’s Assembly. The judges remain highly vulnerable to threats from the government which can subject them to “criminal liability” for handing down “unjust judgments.” The penal code, with definitions of offences and penalties often ambiguous and open to interpretation, is not also consistent with the principles of modern criminal law.

Anything done in opposition to the regime is treated as political crimes, leading to strict punishment and subjugation. When a person is arrested for political crimes, suspects are not even sent through a nominal judicial process; after interrogation they are either executed or sent to a forced labour camp, often with their entire families.

Your government uses fear by threats of forced labour and public executions to prevent dissent, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information, association, assembly, and travel.

Your government periodically investigates the “political background” of the citizens to review their level of allegiance to the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WRK), and forces those who fail such assessments to leave the capital.

Military-First Policy

A strong leadership for a battered economy like yours is essential. But you seem to have chosen your father’s military-first policy instead of a peaceful and diplomatic process. Your actions stand in direct contrast to your pronounced resolve to rebuild your country’s moribund economic condition.

This was proven once again on Saturday (26 January) when you decided to take the path of “retaliation” in response to an American-led United Nations sanction on North Korea. You have reportedly ordered your party officials to take “substantial and high-profile state measures” to conduct a third nuclear test to show your ability to “target” the U.S. But the sanction, which was also a response to your government’s December 12 rocket launching, was not uncalled-for. Carrying out such expensive and destructive experiments is not the way to boost an impoverished economy.

Last words

Dear President Kim Jong-Un, have you ever paused for a moment and considered how you really want to be remembered by your people? As a dictator? Or a people’s leader? Perhaps you should. How you are remembered would be determined by how you act as a statesman.

The fact is, your treatment of your people resembles the way some former dictators used to treat their people, sending them to camps or execute them. Hitler organised the execution of the Holocaust, the systematic extermination of six million Jews and millions of other non-Aryans. Josef Stalin deliberately orchestrated the famine that claimed between 7 and 11 million lives in Ukraine and in parts of the Soviet Union. Pol Pot, through his hegemonic agrarian socialism, caused the deaths of approximately 26 percent of the total Cambodian population.

These dictators died a very disgraceful death. Not to mention, their people hated them for what they did and associated them with all that is evil and heinous. We urge you to take lesson from their fates and end all violations of human rights in your country.

We urge you to abandon the decades-long systematic pattern of human rights abuses committed by Pyongyang against its people and sincerely hope that you will create your own legacy. You can restore the North Koreans’ trust in their rulers and gain their respect by upholding their human rights.

If you want to be remembered as the man who stood against the current and abandoned a brutal legacy, it is the time. Your people need democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion. We are in the 21st century and there is no room for dictatorship at the expense of precious lives and basic rights.

Your late father, Kim Jong-II, isolated your people from the modern world, so much so that those few North Koreans who managed to escape had to spend several months in special care schools to adjust themselves to the ways of the 21st century.

Whom are you trying to punish? The western world doesn’t suffer from this, only your people do. Last year’s rocket launch failure cost your government $850 million, enough to feed millions who are starving to death.

Women suffer the most in a famine situation; every 40 of 1000 women had died in the previous famines. They also suffer due to the gendered structure of North Korean society. Women face problems like anaemia, premature birth and haemorrhage because of vitamin deficiency.

Children also face high mortality rates. The main reason behind the deaths of infants under two is the lack of breastfeeding. A child may die because of various reasons such as prenatal, neonatal and postnatal complications. A child may die even long after it was born owing to reasons of malnutrition, infections and so on. So, a high-impact prevention policy is necessary to redress the mortality problems.

Another thing that you should look into is the violation of individual’s right to privacy. Every home in your country is forced to set up a portrait of the “Great Leader” Kim II Sung and the “Dear Leader” Kim Jong II. Inspectors come on a surprise visit and hand out fines if the portraits are not well-kept. Every adult citizen must also wear a button of Kim II Sung!

It is quite ironic that since its establishment, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea could never justify the purpose of its official name. When a country’s name says it is democratic, it has a moral obligation to be so. Its leadership should work towards uplifting the democratic values and allow people to apply their choices to elect or change their own representatives. If North Korea is a democratic state, it is indeed the worst kind of it in the entire history of democracy. There can be no justification for Mao Tse-Tung—styled “people’s democratic dictatorship,” which is only an extended version of dictatorship sustaining repression and regimentation.

A democracy should serve its people’s interests and work for their prosperity by empowering them with the power of their rights and freedom to choose their path of livelihood. The citizens of North Korea under your leadership are far from getting any such privileges. Over the years their lives have been made miserable and their rights deliberately denied.

We, on behalf of your people who have no means to express themselves, would like to pose a few questions which may provide some food for your thought:

Q.1. Being a young leader of this country, what are the ways you seek to bring the lives of the people at par with the lives of those on the other side of the DMZ?

Q.2. Do you and your regime still think you have the consent and mandate from common people to continue your job?

Q.3. In this world of globalisation, is this right to keep North Korea isolated and its people more like distant aliens away from the advancements of civilisation?

Q.4. Is it not your duty to respect the rights of your people who have obeyed your family’s leadership for decades, albeit with little improvement in their living conditions?

Q.5. In what context does your leadership thinks that North Korea could be a role model for peace and humanity for the world?

Q.6. Are nuclear weapons more important than your people’s prosperity? Should they remain hungry and half-fed to fuel your baseless ambitions?

Q.7. Does North Korea’s age-old socialistic framework, which has no acceptance and practicability in this age of democracy, still holds the future for its people?

Mr. President, before you answer these questions, you must first think that even those whom your regime has followed as leadership models were washed over by the tides of time and their system had to be remodelled to suit the needs of a changing world.

You should analyse your position in light of that. The direction in which you and regime have being heading has outlived its relevance. You must change your direction now and democracy is all you have at the moment. You are standing at a crossroads in history and a bold decision can seal your place permanently in the heart of your people. Even with a functional democracy you can continue your lineage and continue to serve your people.

Our humble wish is that you would be able to rise to the occasion and do what must be done today or tomorrow.

On behalf of ‘The Oslo Times’

Yours Sincerely,

Hatef Mokhtar

Editor in Chief

Oslo, Norway

Editor in Chief of The Oslo Times interview with the Hungarian Ambassador Mr. Géza Jeszenszky

Oslo – This is to inform to our readers that today a meeting was to conduct an exclusive interview at the embassy of Hungary with the honorable Ambassador Mr. Géza Jeszenszky.

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The interview was held successfully under the supervision of our editor in chief Mr. Hatef Mokhtar who had gone and conducted this exclusive interview session with the honorable Ambassador. It was a 40 minutes session of questions and answers.

Various issues and concerns were raised during this interview that range from simple economics to the concerning issues like of human rights and democratic transition.

The best part and most vocal message which The Oslo Times got from Mr. Jeszenszky was that he has been an open critique of Communism which he defines it as a long date of the world politics.

The interview session has clearly put across the most vital and strategic point across on the position of Hungary towards global politics, economic crises in Europe, situation of democracy / human rights / media in the erstwhile Communist states that are now progressing towards a major shift to democratic framework in particular Hungary which is experiencing the great leap forward towards the integration with the rest of Europe and the world at large.

In a few days of time The Oslo Times would be going to publish this exclusive interview and wish its readers would find something extra that rest of the media misses out these days.

Stay connected to The Oslo Times for more news updates.

New Year message from the Editor

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It is the time of the year when we reflect over the past and hope for the best in the days and months to come. We carry with us the lessons we learned and the memories we hold dear. As we enter the New Year, we are perfectly aware of the realities of our world—a world that poses formidable challenges yet leaves ample room for new rays of hope to come in.

 

No doubt 2013 will also have its fair share of prospects and challenges. But each challenge will make us stronger and further united in what we do and what we believe in.

In the past year, there have been a lot of challenges, difficulties and tremendous losses. From The Oslo Times, we did our best to update our readers on all important developments. We worked hard to promote human rights and freedom of speech—the two issues fundamental to our movement.
 

There are still a large number of media workers, bloggers and human rights activists behind bars, imprisoned unlawfully for raising their voices for the right causes. People living under corrupt and oppressive regimes are still afraid to speak up and stand for their fundamental rights.

 

They are afraid of consequences if they protest against repression, discrimination and violations of their freedom of expression. All these challenges may very likely be with us in 2013 as well.

 

I would like to thank all our readers and contributors for their support in 2012, and hope that they would continue their support for us. I would also like to thank those who inspired and enriched us with their insightful feedback and lighted our ways with their visions.

With our readership continuing to grow, we could not be more enthusiastic about 2013 and what we can accomplish together with your feedback and continued support.

As the first dawn of the New Year is about to break very soon, let us take a pause and think. Have we come all the way up here, after all the struggles and sacrifices for a just world, only to lapse into silence at this stage?

 

If we cannot join the protests on the streets, let us do what any thinking person can do: share news of HR violations and use our pens to unmask the violators. As Winston Churchill once wrote: “You see these dictators on their pedestals, surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police…yet, in their hearts, there is unspoken fear. They are afraid of words and thoughts: words spoken abroad, thoughts stirring at home – all the more powerful because forbidden – terrify them. A little mouse of thought appears in the room, and even the mightiest potentates are thrown into panic.”
 

HAPPY NEW YEAR

 

Hatef Mokhtar

Editor in Chief

The Oslo Times

Cubans were clever in dealing Guantanamo Bay with US – says Mileydi Fougstedt from Cuba

Mileydi Fougstedt was born in Havana, Cuba in 1970. After finishing high school she moved to Sweden.
There she began looking for some kind of organization that worked for democracy promotion in Cuba. But there were very few Cubans in Sweden and the cold war was still raging.

Many years later she got involved in the struggle for democracy. At first she did it anonymously to enable her to return home and visit her family.

After visiting Cuba in 2007 and deciding that the system must be changed as soon as possible, she started working openly. Directly after the “elections” in Cuba in 2008 she was invited to comment on them on Swedish TV and was subsequently informed that she would not be welcome to Cuba any more…

Mileydi continued working on the magazine and eventually was offered a full-time position as editor. They have different projects with the independent press and the independent libraries which work with both children and adults. Her dream is to start a project helping women on the road to empowerment, especially in terms of education (entrepreneurship) and to get them more involved in political issues.

When ‘The Oslo Times – Editor in Chief Hatef Mokhtar’ met her for an exclusive interview this is what she has to say about her struggle and the Cuban state of Communism.

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TOT: Being born in Cuba, what do you think that Communism has done to the Cuban culture and people?

Mileydi: The first thing that comes to mind is that the communist system has broken family ties; it has divided families and forced them to emigrate to other countries. In my case, four out of five family members now live outside Cuba. Regrettably the communist system has also destroyed many of the rich traditions, both cultural and religious, that Cuba enjoyed as a country founded on many nationalities, besides Spanish, African and indigenous, as well as nine religions that have co-existed peacefully for centuries.

TOT: What consequences have you and your people faced for taking a stand against Communism?

Mileydi: In a country like Cuba there is no space for individuals to express their thoughts, let alone act on them. There are no free elections, no freedom of press or expression, no freedom to create NGOs, civil organizations or parties. The government has total control of the media. An article in the Cuban constitution approves “freedom of speech, press and all the other rights and liberties stated in the Human Rights Convention” but the following article states that “None of the above rights and liberties mentioned in the Cuban constitution can be used against the Socialist State. If so, it is punishable…”.

This means that you can be persecuted and imprisoned for your views or actions, even if they are non-violent.

TOT: What do you have to say about Fidel Castro’s leadership and his effect on Cuban society?

Mileydi: Fidel Castro is a very cunning man who came to power at the right moment, back in 1959 when a change was needed. Right after that the personal cult around him grew to be limitless. Soon pictures of him, his brother Raul and Che Guevara appeared everywhere on the streets alongside the slogans. Fidel Castro became the figurehead of the revolution. He is very eloquent but manipulative. Soon people hung pictures of him in their living room beside pictures of their relatives out of fear, to show any visitors that they supported Fidel Castro and the revolution. His image and the ideals of the revolution became the new religion of Cubans.

TOT: Do you think Fidel Castro’s role has lead Cuba into economic and political isolation from the rest of the world? If yes, what policies were they?

Mileydi: This is a very complex question. Fidel Castro started by nationalizing all the companies in Cuba which might have been needed at the time if he wanted to make the nation, “national”, which was what he had promised to the Cuban people. However, he soon aligned with the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. This gave him the economic, political and military support to promote Communism elsewhere, or wherever the Russians instructed him to. This was also a time when the Cuban revolution inspired other Latin American countries, so that its leader, Castro had the chance to send troops. Even Che Guevara left Cuba for Bolivia after driving the Cuban economy to the bottom during his time as Director of Cuban National Bank.

TOT: What is the situation regarding women’s rights in Cuba? How they are treated in Cuban society?

Mileydi: This is a question that lies very close to my heart. There is a lot of work to be done for the rights of Cuban women. Women in Cuba have access to education and health care in general. Even if women have more rights than “before the revolution”, e.g. the right to work without the permission of the husband, access to contraception, the right to divorce a man, and also have the final word when it comes to the difficult question of abortion, women still lack social acceptance in many aspects and are still considered the weaker gender.

Cuban women, for example, lack protection against domestic violence. Even though there is a law against killing a woman there is no law against a man hitting her. If there is a case of domestic violence, there is still the conception that “she likes it – that is why she stays with him”. The Police would say that they have no authority to interfere “between a man and a woman”.

In a rape case, the woman is questioned more as to how many men she has had, what clothes she was wearing. etc. A woman has a lower social standing if she does not have a man by her side. This is particularly difficult for the older generation, as so many men have left the country in the search for a better future and the women stayed behind to look after the families.

Many Cuban women have some kind of degree or at least a diploma that could make them finally independent. However they cannot provide for their families. Even if a Cuban woman who is an engineer makes as much money as her male counterpart, it is totally worthless because the salary is not enough to cover even basic expenses.

Unfortunately, with the opening of tourism in Cuba, prostitution has returned, and it might be as high or even higher than “when Cuba was the Americans’ playground with all the American marines”. But while back then these prostitutes had no education, women today have degrees and do not sell themselves only to the Americans but to men (and maybe women) of all other nationalities that come to Cuba to enjoy themselves. Even Fidel Castro himself talked to the nation during early 90s stating “that the Cuban prostitutes had the highest level of education, they are true professionals”. Please give me a break!!!

TOT: Do people with certain rights under the constitution of Cuba have remained in prolonged suppression since then?

Mileydi: The current constitution was created 1976 and was amended in 1992 and 2002. As I mentioned before, Cuban citizens have the right to vote for their closest neighbour, representing them to the next municipal level, but they don’t stand a chance of voting at the really high decision-making level, which would mean the difference, meaning the Parliament. At the same time, what is the point in voting if we only have one party which is communist and does not accept any other ideology, and when there is more or less only one candidate? We need a multiparty system. At the moment, all the changes which Raúl Castro’s government is proposing are in fact unconstitutional since they do not comply with the Socialist ideals stated in the last amendment to the constitution in 2002. This is how arbitrarily the country is being run.

TOT: Does discrimination exist in Cuba between white & black? And if so, to what extent has it affected Cuban society?

Mileydi: You only need to take a look at the composition of the current Cuban government to realize that racism is not over in Cuba. Officially the Cuban government is made up of 41% women, 31% coloured and blacks and the rest white males. The main question, however, is whether these 41 and 31 ‘percent’ have any real power. There is only one black man and one coloured woman in more centralized power. Of course there have been improvements since 1959, especially with regard to legislation. Interracial marriages in Cuba are more accepted today and in general everyone goes to school and socialises with children of all colours. But deep down there is still differentiation and discrimination against people of darker skin colour, one of the worst legacies left over from colonial times. This is also one of the biggest social challenges; it is still in the neighbourhoods where the majority of the population is black that we face the biggest social problems and poverty. We want equal opportunities for all!

TOT: What forced you to leave your country and under what circumstances?

Mileydi: As soon as I became conscious about the rights and wrongs in terms of politics, I woke up. I was a very rebellious teenager generally. I was an elite fencing athlete and they did not trust me simply because I spoke English and I enjoyed British and American music, i.e. the music of the enemy. I did not like the idea that “my” medals were the revolution’s medals, as they tried to imprint in our brains, and I expressed those ideas openly. I was never trusted and never allowed to participate in international competitions. That was the beginning of my political awakening. On a social level I was not happy with the way women were treated generally. Eventually I left the country because I met a lovely Swedish man. He was a journalist, hardly a profession which he could exercise in Cuba, with all the rights and credentials a normal journalist is entitled to, and we eventually decided to move to Sweden.

TOT: Which Castro brother do you think has brought most change to the lives of Cubans? Is it Fidel or Raul? Are there any reforms which have been introduced recently by Raul’s government?

Mileydi: The direct answer to that question is of course Fidel Castro. He was in power for many years and his manipulative style lasted only until 2006 when he fell ill. Otherwise he would still be running the show to this day. There are many changes brought about by them that we could talk about, some of them might be true. Free education, free health care, free sports practice, highly subsidized cultural events and so forth. But what is the advantage of having free education, but not being able to decide what you can read or write. W what is the point with free health care if, at this point for example, many Cuban doctors are in other countries, working for a salary of USD 200, while the government charges at least USD 2,000 each month for their services, and they are monitored all the time. The shortage of medications is high and the prices in CUC are equivalent to at least a month’s salary. Additionally, the conditions in Cuban hospitals are deplorable, despite what the government says. The hospitals for the Cuban population are a disgrace!

Raúl Castro is a military man, pragmatic, does not want to lose power. He would do anything not to lose it. Last year, before the party congress, there was a document with 300 suggested improvements for Cuba. Among these was the possibility to open your own business irrespective of whether or not you have the skills. This was the solution that Raúl Castro found when he mentioned that “measures had to be taken because Cuba was on the verge of collapsing”. The state, being the only employer, decided to fire over one million people over a year, with no pension, no unemployment insurance and no offers for re-education or training. Eventually it turned out that people could run a small business but with the state in charge of wholesale! This proves that even if they say that they want to “lighten up”, they are in fact just “tightening the rope” from a different angle.

TOT: What is your take on what the US detention facility at Guantanamo has done to Cuba’s image?

Mileydi: I think that the Cuban government has been very clever in dealing with this matter. The base is on Cuban soil, but it belongs to and it is governed by the Americans. From the beginning the Cuban government tried to implement a kind of embargo on the base. For example, they are not allowed to recruit locals and the drinking water supply was cut off. Today, however, the base is totally self-sufficient and only two locals of very old age cross the “Gate” every day to work on the base. Whatever happens on the base is the Americans’ responsibility. For example when the ten Afghan men were imprisoned in Guantanamo Navy Base without proper legal representation, this was an excellent opportunity for the Cuban government to demonstrate “that the Americans are the bad guys”, just like they love categorizing the US government. The Cuban government uses the issue of the Naval Base however and whenever it suits them. It is as simple as that.

TOT: What steps have you have taken to promote democracy and its values in Cuban society?

Mileydi: I was always interested in promoting democracy in Cuba but as I mentioned before you will be harassed and jailed for expressing any opinion against the current regime. Since mid-2000 I have collaborated with the organization Misceláneas de Cuba. At the beginning I did so sporadically and anonymously in order to be able to visit Cuba. But since February 2008 I have worked openly and at the end of 2010 was finally offered a full-time position as Web Editor. Misceláneas de Cuba is a platform to support the opposition, the bloggers, human rights activists, NGOs, HBT organizations, the independent press and the network for independent libraries. Misceláneas de Cuba publishes news from the independent press daily on the web, as well as a weekly newsletter and a magazine which comes every two month. We have a big project with the Independent Libraries Network and we are hoping to develop other projects in the near future.

TOT: How you see Cuba in the near future and do you believe that there will be a major transformation in the country? 

Mileydi: The current government is a “gerontocracy” as we call it in Cuba (old men who have shared the power amongst themselves). The average age on the Central Committee is 69. Due to nature laws there will be changes in the Cuba government structure in the next ten years. A sudden change, such as the death of Raúl or Fidel Castro, could trigger political change but we do not know to what extent since some of the “old men” will still be in power. The younger generations want change, and if they, along with the opposition, are given the opportunity to hold fair elections change is inevitable. The government itself is implementing a few so-called “decadent capitalist” reforms under their own blessing. It would not be surprising to see those changes slipping out of their hands. This is why they are “loosening the leash at one end and tightening it at the other”.

TOT: How do you find Sweden’s role in granting you support for your cause and role for the Cuban people?

Mileydi: I am very grateful for Sweden’s support for our cause. The left-wing Swedish governments through the years have been very friendly with the Cuban government but in recent years there have been an awakening in Sweden about the real situation of Human Rights and about the importance of a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba. The current government is very conscious of the reality in Cuba and works actively also within the EU to pressure the Cuban government into reforms.

TOT: In your view what are the challenges being faced by Cuban people in the 21st century

Mileydi: There are different types of challenges ahead: economic, social and political. The biggest economic challenge that Cuban people will have to face is trying to rebuild a country totally run-down by the communist system. Whatever infrastructure there was 50 years ago is totally destroyed today. Industries that were big and lucrative, such as sugar cane, are today in ruins. Corruption has grown enormously, especially among the Police and the Military, to an extent that even Raúl Castro has admitted publicly.

Regarding the social challenges, a crucial one is trying to convince the people, especially the youth, that there is a future waiting for them and that it is worth engaging in the work of contributing to a long overdue improvement. In addition to this, although the regime denies it, the class system in Cuba exists and in recent years has strengthened. The living conditions in the capital and in rural areas are not equal and parts of the population are living well below a decent standard, which is not decent considering the Cuban government denies this reality.

Regarding political challenges, it is not only the lack of free elections, fair play, democracy, respects for human rights and all the other basic rights that Cuban citizens are entitled to and lack today. The biggest political challenge lies in regaining the confidence and trust of people, not only in politicians but also each other. They have been let down for over 50 years through a system of snooping and spying on each other and it might take another 50 to repair it completely. But I believe that campaigning, educating and following up the compliance of the democratic rules and values is a good way to speed up this process once a new government is in place.

TOT: Do you think Cuba has come out of the pariah state that it used to be? If yes, then what has helped Cuba to enter the main world stage?

Mileydi: Cuba is still a pariah state. Its allies are countries that commit most of the crimes against Human Rights and what is worse, they deny it and help each other cover their back at UN and EU meetings. When the subject of Human Rights comes up they interrupt the speaker of any country who is about to denounce a human right violation in their own country or the country of an ally. Cuba has a long way to go before it can enter main world stage.

TOT: How do you want to see Cuba in the future and where?

Mileydi: Oh, my dream for Cuba to become prosperous nation, not only in terms of economy, but also socially, politically and spiritually. I want to see a nation free from tyranny and military rule of any kind. I want peace, transparency, tolerance, free elections, and freedom of speech, increased respect and basic rights for the children, women and minority groups. Cubans need liberty to develop the country economically. All Cubans should be free to decide what to do with their lives, whether they live on the island or not, and they should not need a visa or pay high sums of money to return home.

All Cubans on the island should have the right to travel abroad without restrictions. Like many of the Cuban migrants to the USA, the Cuban people have already shown that they are able to prosper when given the opportunity. On the other hand they have also proven to be very inventive in the way they survive despite the lack of opportunity in Cuba. Maybe there would be a bridge (why not physical as well?) between Havana and Miami.

In any case, ties between Cubans on both sides of the water will keep getting better and stronger. This is a dream scenario: people putting the memories of a horrific government behind them and building a better future for Cuba together. And if I can dream a little bit more, I like to see all this happening from a little house by the beach in Havana, with a small boat parked in front.

 

©The Oslo Times  All Rights Reserved.

Dictatorship covered in oil

As we read about the modern day dictators especially in the Middle East, Azerbaijan’s dictator President hasn’t been spoken about as much as the others. It is one of the worst countries with a suppressing brutality, undemocratic but with huge oil resources. Azerbaijan is characterized by low levels of freedom of expression and listed among the bottom 20 in Reporters Without Borders, recently released Press Freedom Index 2010. The entire list consists of 178 states.

Azerbaijan has a short history as it was created in 1920 as the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. They got Zaratustras teaching from the Persians before they were Christianized around 400 BC. A couple of hundred years after, the Arabs brought Islam but the tension remained between Russia, Turkey and the Persians. In 1812, the Russian Tsar won a military campaign against the Shah and the Russians gained control over most of Azerbaijan but the northern part declared its independence in 1918 but was quickly occupied by the Red Army. The communists now took of the silk gloves and eliminated the nationalists, religious and others who might pose a threat towards them.

1988 marked a bloody year as the armed conflict for Nagorno-Karabakh from February 1988 to May 1994 between the majority ethnic Armenians and was backed by the Republic of Armenia and Republic of Azerbaijan which resulted in an ethnic cleansing on both sides. Azerbaijan lost a large part of its territory and the situation is still tense until today.

Aliyev junior, known as a playboy and his affection for luxury life and the roulette table is trying to be more and more like his strong and iron willed father who was a former KGB chief and ruled the country for more than 30 years. Once Aliyev senior ordered shut down for all casinos in the country after his son had got into a huge debt to a Turkish man. But he has done surprisingly well after being vice President of the states oil company since 1994. Aliyev is sharp, well dressed, speaks fluent English and has a charming smile ready for any occasion. He has developed a very good knowledge of the modern world’s politics and economics but the intelligence company Stratfor.com who has links to the CIA described him; “Ilham Aliyev lacks his father’s charisma, political skills, contacts, experience, stature, intelligence and authority. Aside from that he will make a wonderful president.” Ilham Aliyev turned to rule his people with a brutal hand and doesn’t allow democracy and freedom of speech. He even wanted to change the constitution in 2009 enabling him to stand as long as he wants as a ruler.

When Anita Utseth then-Secretary of State for Petroleum and Energy, visited the Oil and Gas Conference in June 2007, she got the chance to join a meeting with Aliyev but it showed to be a disaster when she started talking about free speech and human rights. Utseth was insulted and yelled at and as the U.S. embassy memos that were leaked out to Wikileaks, Aliyev had told her that she had no right to speak about the human right issues and a serious of meetings was cancelled. Later on in a meeting with two managers of the oil company BP, an extremely upset Aliyev said that it was “unacceptable” for Norway to “teach” him about human rights. “It’s only the U.S. that can treat me like this, because the U.S. is the world’s only superpower,” he said, according to embassy note.

4 years later, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Espen Barth Eide called on the Aliyev government to respect the human rights followed by the visit of Norways Crown Prince Haakon’s visit to Baku where he expressed his protest against the suppression of human rights and freedom in Azerbaijan explaining that Norway is not only interested in oil but in democracy and human rights as well.

Suppressing journalism

Aliyev has planned to build pipelines that would take Azaerbaijans Caspian Sea gas reserves through Turkey and to the rest of the continent and this diplomatic and global improvement has allowed the western world to ignore the human rights violations. That’s why the government has continued to imprison Eynulla Fatullayev, a 2009 CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient. The editor of two now-closed newspapers, Fatullayev was imprisoned in April 2007 on a series of fabricated charges, including terrorism and defamation, in retaliation for his investigation into the 2005 murder of his boss and mentor, Elmar Huseynov. He was sentenced to more than 8 years in prison as Fatullayev alleged that Huseynov’s murder was ordered by high-ranking officials in Baku and that authorities had engaged in a cover-up in the aftermath. Fatullayev’s supporters did also face an aggressive campaign of harassment after his arrest and an anonymous male caller telephoned Emin Fatullayev, the editor’s father, at his Baku home and said he and his son must “shut up once and for all” or “the entire family will be destroyed,” the elder Fatullayev told CPJ.

 

In 2007, the Norwegian reporter and documentary producer Erling Borgen and his cameraman Dag Inge Dahl were leaving Azerbaijan after a weeklong reporting trip focusing on freedom of expression and Fatullayev’s case when they were approached by 7 men. The men seized the journalist’s bags claiming they were overweight and checked the luggage. When the journalists arrived in Oslo, Borgen said, the reporting material, video footage, documents and papers were gone from the bags. The journalists had backed up the files, however, and completed the documentary in late year.

The government has also put restrictions about independent online news and many websites with critical journalism have been periodically blocked domestically. For example, the Azeri language website RFE/RL was blocked for two days after it posted a translation of a Washington Post story about nine luxurious homes in Dubai, worth around US$75 million, that had been purchased in the names of the president’s three young children those who documented the problems faced pressure.

President Ilham Aliyev has denied there is a problem with freedom of speech in Azerbaijan but the evidence speaks for its self as journalists and bloggers gets arrested and face restrictions. It is an assault on independent journalism and freedom of speech and I hope that the international world will see through the oil and protest on these human rights abuses.

 

Russian journalists fear for their life

Journalists and media workers all over the world have been targeted every day all over the world for their work to cover important happenings and to report it to the public. They have been experiencing torture, beating and murder and most of the crimes go unpunished.

A joint report says that since 1993, more than 300 journalists have been killed in Russia with only 52 of the murders with confirmed motive.

Novaya Gazeta

Novaya Gazeta was founded in April 1993 of former journalist from Komsomolskaja Pravda. It is published 4 times a week in 14 Russian cities. This is one of the few Russian newspapers that are critical towards Kremlin and has been known for its journalism about the Chechen conflict. In June 2006, the former President in the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbatsjov and the representative Aleksandr Lebedev bought 49% of the newspapers stocks. The rest of 51% is owed by the editorial collective. Gorbatsjov has supported the newspaper from it was founded and it has been said that he used some of the money he got from the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 to establish it. Unfortunately in the last 10 years, 5 journalists working for Novaya Gazeta been killed.

The first thing Vladimir Putin did when he became President in 2000 was to go to war against Chechnya and also against the freedom of speech. Even if everybody has internet, the freedom of speech is almost none existing. According to journalist Elena Milashina in Novaya Gazeta says that the freedom to travel abroad, that there is still open borders is the last thing left of the freedom of speech, a last sign of democracy according to her.

Elena Kostyuchenko works also at Novaya Gazeta with criminality as specialty. “The worst part is not the threats, but the phone calls from Kremlin telling us what to do and what not to do and to think about our murdered colleagues. We ask ourselves; who is next? We try not to think about it and continue our work.” The sensor is the most important media law as they always call and warn journalists of what they can write about and not to write. Many journalists have no choice to follow this rule and get paid.

Anna Politkovskaja


The journalist in Novaya Gazeta, Anna Politkovskaja gave a truthful picture of Russia through her 15 years of the bloody wars in Chechnya and North Caucasus. October 7th 2006, she was executed with several gunshots outside her apartment in Moscow.

Anna Politkovskaja was known for her opposition to the Chechen conflict and for her criticism of then Russian President Vladimir Putin. She wrote several books about the Russian and Chechen wars including the book Putin’s Russia. Her murder occurred on Vladimir Putin’s birthday and was describes as a contract killing.

The Russian government is playing double standard when it comes to journalism. They want the journalists to be the puppy of the government and write exactly what the government wants them to write. Others who want to give a true picture of the situation pay with their lives.

Dark future for paper

The paper version of the newspaper is currently under pressure as they publish 200,000 newspapers in 14 cities 4 times a week. The future looks dark for the paper version but bright at the internet. The newspaper has most readers between 30 and 50 years that are educated. Now, the new major in Moscow has imposed that the small avis kiosks are going to be removed and banned. This will hit the Novaya Gazeta hard as the avis kiosk is the most important income source. They don’t have many ads because the companies fear to publish their companies’ names as the Kremlin also calls them with warnings. Instead, the government has offered the Newspaper to sell through new newspaper in wending machines. These newspaper wending machines have space for a total of 1200 examples in a city with 16 million residents.

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