Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Human Rights Activists - Fr. Roberto Reyes - The Running Priest

Whether you address him as ‘Robert’, ‘Roberto’ or ‘Father Roberto’, Fr. Roberto (as I call him) is all things to all men. I might be getting myself into trouble with the Catholic Church if I said that Fr. Roberto was a humanitarian first and a priest second, but the fact remains that Fr. Roberto is there for the people, catholic or otherwise; a priest, a confessor, but first and foremost, a friend.

Fr. Roberto was born in Tondo, Manila, the eldest of four children. His parents, now retired, were an accountant and a school teacher. In 1970, Fr. Roberto entered the San Jose Seminary School in Novaliches, Quezon City and eventually became a priest. After serving in numerous parishes, he became head of the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines.

It was in the year 2000 that Fr. Roberto was to earn the nickname, the Running Priest when he did solo marathons to drum up support for a campaign to force the then President Joseph Estrada to step down. During that period he spoke at Catholic schools and universities, on issues of political reform and good governance and it was not long before his personal convictions got him into trouble.

In 2002, Fr. Roberto surrendered to the police to face libel charges filed by Cagayan Representative Jackie Ponce Enrile, whom he allegedly implicated in the murder of his nephew during Martial Law. He was immediately freed after two days of incarceration through the help of the members of Parish of the Holy Sacrifice.

More recently he has been involved in numerous protest activities supporting the call to remove President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from office. At the peak of his protest activities against Arroyo's government, he was advised by his superiors to take indefinite leave of absence. He went to southern China and spent a year teaching English. A year later, he moved to Hong Kong and taught anthropology of religion in a university before joining the Asian Human Rights Commission in 2007.

Throughout this period Fr. Roberto Reyes remained involved in missionary work, including administering to sick and dying overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). His experience was chronicled in a book "Vincent, Dying and Living," which contains his personal reflections and recollections as he detailed the struggle of his brother who died of lung cancer, as well the struggles of many OFWs in Hong Kong whom he had met and ministered to in the last days of their lives. It was during this time that I personally came to know Fr. Roberto and realised the depth of his compassion and commitment when he ministered, and continues to minister, to my wife, Quirina, who is an end-stage renal patient.

On November 29, 2007, Reyes was arrested and imprisoned for 15 days at Camp Crame for his participation in an attempted coup d' etat known as the Manila Peninsula Rebellion. In 2008, a year after his incarceration, while associated with the Asian Human Rights Commission, he published his prison journal entitled, Prisons... Manila Pen and Beyond, in which he narrated his memories on the fifteen days he spent in prison.

In September 2008, Reyes launched his website, Parokya sa, the first virtual parish in the Philippines, where his reflections on daily Bible readings, his homilies during Sunday masses, and inspirational messages are posted and shared with everybody. It is Fr. Roberto's wish to reach out to the millions of Filipinos working overseas in various parts of Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. The Philippine Online Chronicles, a weekly online publication managed by Vibal Foundation, hosts the website.

(Text by Stewart Sloan, additional information courtesy of http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Roberto_Reyes)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Human Rights Activists – Danilo Andres Reyes

Danilo, as he is known to his friends and colleagues was born in Tagum, Davao Del Norte, the Philippines in 1979. He graduated from the Lagao National High School in 1995 and in the same year entered the University of Mindanao where he gained a BA (AB) in Mass Communications graduating in 1999. He also did post graduate studies in English. In order to support himself during his studies Danilo worked in a handy craft shop earning five pesos an hour. In the morning before going to university he would sell dried fish in the market. It was during his years at university that Danilo became involved in the student movement attending rallies and discussion meetings on such issues as increases in tuition fees and general issues of social concern such as price hikes.

Danilo’s first paid job was writing for a local weekly newspaper, the Southern Review in General Santos City. His first introduction to human rights violations and abuse by the police was when he was working for the Sun Star Newspaper, also in General Santos city. Part of Danilo’s beat was the local police station where he had, what he thought, was a good rapport with the officers. It was on the occasion of the arrest of several men for alleged terrorist activities in 2001 that Danilo witnessed the extent of police brutality. It was a big case which, at the time was covered extensively in the country’s press. Following their arrest the suspects were taken to the station where Danilo tried to take their photographs. The police officer in charge grabbed his camera and warned him to keep out of the way. The men were taken into the officer’s room and shortly after Danilo heard their cries of pain.

Following this introduction to the realities of human rights abuses Danilo then went on to join an organisation documenting abuses by the military and police in Mindanao. This was during President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s all out war against the Moro Rebels in 2003. One of Danilo’s memories is of having an after work drink with a colleague at a sari sari store just a hundred yards away from the army camp. When the soldiers started their bombardment against the advancing rebels the ramshackle shop and the ground beneath them shook. While the other customers fled Danilo and his companion continued drinking, much to the delight of the proprietor. Such was the level of Danilo’s desensitisation to the situation.

It was during this period that Danilo started sending documented cases to the Asian Human Rights Commission, and when his contract with the human rights organisation ended he was offered an internship with the commission.

Danilo’s commitment and ability was immediately recognised and when he finished his internship the commission offered him a position in a branch office in Manila where he worked on general human rights issues and more importantly, the appalling problem of the extrajudicial killings that were then taking place in the Philippines in huge numbers. An estimated 700 people consisting of grass root and human rights activists were killed or forcibly disappeared during this period.

Now, back in Hong Kong, Danilo continues his work in human rights and is also active with several groups offering assistance to overseas workers, including cancer survivors from the Philippines which number in the hundreds of thousands in the territory. He is also a columnist with United Press International (Asia).

The following newspaper article is a report on the capture of the terrorist which Danilo witnessed when working as a journalist for the Sun Star.

Filipino hostage leader is captured
Richard Lloyd Parry Asia Correspondent - The Independent - Tuesday, 10 July 2001

Filipino troops yesterday seized one of the senior commanders of Abu Sayyaf, the Islamic guerrilla group that has kidnapped and ransomed dozens of people in the southern Philippines. Najmi Sabdula, whose alias is Commander Global, was captured in the town of General Santos on the southern island of Mindanao, 560 miles from their lair on the remote Jolo Island.

Philippines officers said he was responsible for the Abu Sayyaf raid five weeks ago on a luxury island resort and the kidnap of 20 tourists, including three Americans. Since then the guerrillas have humiliated the Philippines armed forces, slipping through the jungle with their hostages with thousands of soldiers and Special Forces in hot pursuit.

Lieutenant-General Jaime de los Santos said: "The capture of Commander Global is a great setback for the ASG [Abu Sayyaf Group]. I think, with this capture, we expect to get further information on their operations."

Brigadier-General Edilberto Adan, a military spokesman, paraded Global on a televised news conference in Manila, saying: "The number one effect is psychological. Now they are realising that wherever they go, they can be captured. They might be able to stage a raid, but they will be pursued and they cannot hide."

The captured guerrilla stood with his hands cuffed and his shoulders bowed, and shook his head in answer to reporters' questions. Three other members of the ASG – identified as Saltima Alih, Alex Sabdali and Jamar – were also captured, after a tip-off that they were in a house close to the airport of General Santos.

Rigoberto Tiglao, a spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said: "We see it as another indication that the Abu Sayyaf network is being gradually, but surely dismantled. We see that we're turning the corner now in the fight against the Abu Sayyaf."

But the effect on the ASG remains to be seen. Yesterday, army spokesmen were describing their captive as a mastermind. "He's the think-tank of the group," Colonel Danilo Servando said. "He hatches the plan and other groups carry out the mission."

In reality, Abu Sayyaf, which claims to be fighting for an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines, is a loose organisation of bandit groups led by individual commanders of equal rank. Several commanders have childish nicknames: there is a Commander Robot and a Commander Boy, as well as a Commander Global, who was nicknamed, like a classroom swot, because of his impressive learning and international perspective. Global and Robot organised the ASG's first kidnap of foreign hostages, from a Malaysian resort island in spring last year. As much as m (£18m) in ransom was paid for the release of the mixed group of Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Malaysian and South African hostages.

Negotiators and intermediaries who met Global describe him as quietly spoken and intelligent, with a distinctive bullet scar on his right cheek. "He's very silent, a good listener, because he listens to what you say and then he'll refute you," one negotiator said. "It's true that he's a thinker – he thinks globally."

Philippines television said the press conference had been delayed after soldiers and police squabbled over the five million pesos (£65,000) offered for Global's capture. (Please see the AHRC Statement PHILIPPINES: Policemen squabble in open court over custody of a detainee for bounty at: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2009statements/2236/).

Thousands of wanted posters, with photos of him and five other Abu Sayyaf commanders, have been put up across Mindanao and dropped by plane into the jungle.

Abu Sayyaf commanders are still holding an American missionary couple, who were seized from the resort in May. A third American hostage, Guillermo Sobero, is reported to have been beheaded by the rebels, although there has been no sign of his body.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders - Mr. F M Abdur Razzak

Human rights defender Abdur Razzak and a colleague, Shankar Kumar Dhali were arrested by five police officers on the morning of 3rd November 2008. They were arrested without warrants, and taken to the Paikgachha police station in Khulna district, south western Bangladesh.

Born in the south of Bangladesh in 1967, Razzak is a law graduate and is presently working as a lawyer’s assistant. He graduated from Southeast University, Dhaka in 2001. Prior to his arrest he supplemented his income by editing a fortnightly newspaper, Gonomichhil, which has published many stories critical of the police and judges, as well as the bribery prevalent in the country.

After being informed of his arrest, his family members went to the police station, arriving at about 11am. They asked Razzak if he had been tortured by the police while in custody. His swollen face gave them the answer they feared. Also his shirt had been taken and he was made to sit on the floor of the cell.

It became evident that Razzak had upset someone with his critical reporting when his wife, Rahima, was told by the Officer-in-Charge of the station that he was under pressure from the court to arrest him. One month earlier a Magistrate had announced in an open court that if anyone were to arrest Abdur Razzak he would issue a warrant of arrest without any delay or hesitation.

The families of Razzak and his companion canvassed anyone they thought might help them to convince the police to release the men. Their rationale was simple; if the police had no case against them they should be released. But more importantly, if there was, in fact, a case against the men they should not be ill-treated or tortured. With Razzak being the only breadwinner, Rahima had to borrow money from her relatives. She also sent her three young children to stay with her sister, so that she was free to visit the police station and other places as necessary. When she was not running other errands, Rahima spent her time outside the police station in fear that something would happen to her husband. Even visiting her husband required the payment of a bribe to the officers.

It transpired that Razzak had been arrested due to his alleged involvement in an abduction case. The police were ordered to conduct inquiries on the 22nd October but even 10 days later, nothing had been done. While in custody Razzak was beaten and publicly humiliated (he was made to walk to and from court in handcuffs with his arms held out in front on him). Huge sums of money were repeatedly demanded from Rahima and other members of the family which they had no choice but to pay in order to protect him from further torture. She also had to prepare his meals, as the police would not provide any food, and then bribe the officers to allow him to eat.

Finally the police investigation in the abduction case started moving and it was found that the young girl who had supposedly been abducted had, in fact, run away from home. Rahima then had to pay for the police to take the girls statement. The payments included transportation costs and food for the officers. She was able to raise the money by selling the little jewelry she had left. Eventually, after a final bribe to a Senior Inspector the abduction case was deemed to be false and after several court appearances was withdrawn in January 2009. At that time Razzak was suffering from a water-borne disease contracted in jail. Rahima was also sick, due to prolonged stress and fatigue. Later, in February 2009, the court dismissed the case as the charge of abduction was proven false.

It says a great deal for Abdur Razzak that despite his ordeal he continues to work on human rights issues. In Bangladesh the tarnishing of individual’s reputation is another problem. In Razzak’s case, his reputation as an honest human rights defender was affected by the many unfounded rumours regarding the causes and circumstances of his arrest and detention. F.M. Abdur Razzak is the Director of the Human Rights Development Centre (HRDC) based in Khulna and is now the editor of the Pakhik Ganomisil Newspaper. He is currently undergoing an internship with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human rights defenders - Roya Hakakian

Roya Hakakian was born in 1966 in Iran and raised in a Jewish family in Tehran. In May of 1985, 19-year-old Roya arrived in the United States seeking political asylum, which was granted. She studied psychology at Brooklyn College and went on to earn a Master of Social Work at Hunter College, both of the City University of New York.

Roya is a founding member of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, and currently serves on the board of Refugees International. She has appeared on numerous television shows speaking on the subject of the Middle East and human rights.

Her book, in which she recounts her memories of growing up a Jewish teenager in post-revolutionary Iran, Journey from the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran was published by Crown and was highly acclaimed. It went on to become a Barnes & Noble¡¦s Pick of the Week, a Ms. Magazine Must Read of the Summer, Publishers Weekly¡¦s Best Book of the Year, and Elle Magazine¡¦s Best Nonfiction Book of 2004. It also won the Persian Heritage Foundation¡¦s 2006 Latifeh Yarshater Book Award and was the 2005 winner of the Best Memoir by the Connecticut Center for the Book. The book has been translated into several languages and is available in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. In 2008 Roya won the Guggenheim fellowship in nonfiction.

Roya is also the author of two poetry collections. The first collection, For the Sake of Water, was nominated as poetry book of the year by Iran News in 1993. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World listed Roya among the leading new voices in Persian poetry. Her poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies around the world, including La Regle Du Jeu, Strange Times My Dear: The Pen Anthology of Contemporary Iranian Literature. It is also due to appear in the forthcoming W.W. Norton¡¦s Contemporary Voices of the Eastern World: An Anthology of Poems. Today Roya contributes to the Persian Literary Review, and served as the poetry editor of Par Magazine for six years. Her opinion columns, essays, and book reviews appear in English language publications, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal among them. She is also a contributor to the Weekend Edition of NPR¡¦s All Things Considered.

Roya Hakakian has collaborated on over a dozen hours of programming for leading journalism units on network television, including 60 Minutes and on A& E¡¦s Travels With Harry, and ABC Documentary Specials with Peter Jennings, Discovery and The Learning Channel. Commissioned by UNICEF, Roya¡¦s most recent film, ¡§Armed and Innocent,¡¨ on the subject of the involvement of underage children in wars around the world was a nominee for best short documentary at several festivals around the world.

Roya Hakakian currently lives in Connecticut.

(Information from various sources)

Human Rights Defenders -- Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie was born in Gaalkacyo, Somalia in 1965. In 1978, aged thirteen, she left Somalia to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man and went to England where she lived with and worked for her relatives. Later Waris found work at a local McDonald's in an attempt to make ends meet after a falling out with her hosts.

Her fortunes changed when she was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan, who helped secure for her the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar. Following this her modeling career took off and Waris worked for international designers such as Chanel, Levi's, L'Oréal and Revlon.

In 1987, Waris played a minor role in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights. She also appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, and in fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue. This was followed in 1995 by a BBC documentary entitled A Nomad in New York about her modeling career.

In 1997, at the height of her modeling career, Waris spoke out for the first time about the female genital mutilation (FGM) that she had undergone as a child. The interview subsequently received worldwide media coverage. That same year, Waris became a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGM.

In 1998, Waris authored her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography which went on to become an international bestseller. She later released other successful books including Desert Dawn, Letter to My Mother, and Desert Children, the latter of which was launched in tandem with a European campaign against FGM.

It was in 1997 that Waris abandoned her modeling career to focus on her work against female circumcision. In 2002, she founded the Waris Dirie Foundation in Vienna, Austria, an organization aimed at raising awareness regarding the dangers surrounding FGM. Waris followed that in January 2009 with the establishment of the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, an organization she founded along with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her Somalia.

Waris has received many prizes and awards for her tireless humanitarian work, particularly in raising awareness of the dangers of FGM. In March 2005, Waris acquired Austrian citizenship.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders -- Munir Said Thalib

Munir Said Thalib, or Munir as he was affectionately known was born into a family of Hadhrami Arab and Javanese origins on December 8, 1965, he died at the hands of an assassin shortly before his 39th birthday on September 7, 2004.

In a country that has raised numerous human rights defenders Munir is probably the most internationally well known. Munir studied law at Brawijaya University in Malang in the province of East Java, and in 1989 started his career as a legal aid officer in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya where he was legal counsel for a number of victims of official violence and repression.

Munir became one of Indonesia's leading human rights campaigners and constantly faced intimidation and death threats. He first came to public attention at the end of the Suharto period through his role in a campaign in late 1997 and early 1998 when two dozen pro-democracy activists were abducted in suspicious circumstances. It was during this period that Munir founded the human rights organisation Kontras (Commission for Disappearances and Victims of Violence) with the backing of 12 pro-democracy NGOs

It was in September 1999 that Munir was appointed to the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in East Timor (KPPHAM) which was set up by Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission. The report of this commission provided evidence of the Indonesian army's involvement in recruiting, financing, training and using the militia which caused such havoc at the time of the UN Referendum. This in turn lead to judicial investigations into the conduct of six senior army officers, including the former Chief of Staff, General Wiranto. Munir also taught human rights in police and army training, seminars and workshops, and was appointed to the drafting committee for law on human rights courts, which was intended to be presented to the Indonesian Parliament during 2000.

It was following this that he accused the Indonesian military of running a criminal network involved in illegal tree logging and drug smuggling.

On September 7, 2004, Munir died on a flight from Indonesia to The Netherlands. The autopsy by the Dutch authorities revealed lethal levels of arsenic in his body. Subsequently much has been written about the trial of the Indonesia agents that carried out the assassination and their subsequent release, re-remand and re-release. However, the purpose of this article to offer praise for this man who made the ultimate sacrifice to secure human rights for his fellow countrymen and bring to the notice of the Indonesian public and the world at large the blatant abuses being carried out by the military and the corruption that was, and sadly still remains, in the government.

Munir was named Man of the Year by the leading Muslim periodical, UMMAT, and as a "young leader for the Millennium in Asia" by Asia Week in 2000. Kontras, one of the many organisations for which Munir worked so hard, received the prestigious Yap Thiam Hien human rights award in 1998.

Human Rights Defenders - Theo Hesegem

Theo Hesegem is a human rights defender from Papua with an impressive CV.

Theo is the coordinator for the Advocation Network for Law and Human Rights Protection based in Wamena, Papua. Born in Tangma, Kurina in 1971, Theo attended the Agricultural High School in Wamena, graduating in 1992. His human rights activities started shortly after with his volunteer work as an Agricultural Village Supervisor in Tangma. In 1996 he became the Supervisor of the Village Development of IDT ((Inpres Desa Tertinggal) in Silimo. The same year he also became the treasurer of the Silo Foundation. This organisation carries out survey of land rights and culture preservation.

In 1999 Theo entered the world of journalism when he started work as a correspondent for the Jayapura-based biweekly, Jubi (Jujur Bicara) in Wamena. In 2004 he became the correspondent of the Tabloid, Suara Perempuan Papua (Voice of Papuan Women/TSPP), a post that he still holds today.

Theo¡¦s introduction to human rights began when he underwent training organized by ELSHAM Jayapura following which he became a representative of the National Commission of Human Rights Jayapura, and LBH (Legal Aids Foundation), also in Jayapura.

Theo maintains close connections with international organisations and in 2005 became a member of Peace Brigades International. Continuing with his thirst for knowledge and competence he was a trainee at the Annual Human Rights Training, organized by Lembaga Studi dan Advokasi Masyarakat (Elsam), Jakarta in 2006.

More recently Theo has carried out advocacy work, supporting numerous cases involving torture perpetrated by members of the armed forces and the police. Several of the cases he has taken up involved extrajudicial killings by these agencies.

Theo¡¦s daily routine might involve visits to political prisoners, attending commemorations and visits to the graves of human rights victims, public discussions and the presentation of films related to human rights and violence. He also joins marches in various locations celebrating human rights and Peace Days. In addition he also works on the dissemination of Human Rights Law in sub-districts of Jayawijaya and briefings on human rights for members of the police in Jayawijaya.

Active in many civil society organisations, too numerous to list here, Theo has also travelled extensively visiting the United States of America where he met with officials of the State Department, Army commanders, Senators, and a number of international NGOs based in the US. He is currently in Hong Kong where he is undergoing an internship with the Asian Human Rights Commission.

As for the future, upon the completion of this training with the AHRC Theo intends to return to Papua to continue the work he started, promoting human rights and assisting victims of human rights abuses.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders – Baseer Naveed

The following article by Jo Baker appeared in the Guardian UK on September 8th 2009. It is a poignant introduction to a man that has sacrificed so much for his beliefs – Ed).

Journalist and activist Baseer Naweed encountered the opaque operations of Pakistan’s intelligence agencies when his son Faraz Ahmed was kidnapped, tortured and killed outside his office during a major campaign against corruption. Five years and various threats later, he works for the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, but is no closer to the truth.

The Guardian UK
Tuesday September 8th 2009

My whole life I have been an activist. I was a student leader, then joined trade unions, then became an investigative journalist. I wouldn’t say that my son was following me; in fact he would tell me I was making compromises. He’d probably have called himself an anarchist back then.

When he was 14 he started writing on his own, though at that time I didn’t know it. In fact he was like an ordinary Muslim, going to the mosque and praying; it was only when he started arguing about religion and the existence of God with his mother and grandmother that I realised he was a different kind of man.

Faraz was very fond of reading Einstein and Stephen Hawking, and at the time of his death he had just started studying philosophy at university. He would spend days reading books in second- hand book shops, using his pocket money at night to eat dinner with the garbage collection boys – he’d sit with seven or eight. Once I saw him and asked what he was doing and he said: “I have to learn about how other people live”.

I was the community organiser of a big campaign at the time. The Lyari Expressway project would displace 300,000 people from a slum, and the government didn’t have any right to do it. We fought and we got a historical resettlement deal – each family got an 80-square-yard plot and 50,000 rupees (£364) – something like this had never happened in Pakistan. And the size of the plots was good. Here in Hong Kong only the very wealthy have that much space.

This all took three years, but corruption had also started in the use of public funds and we were fighting that too. I was seen as a real troublemaker. I was told that President Musharraf once said to the governor: “You cannot handle that man with white hair (I was not colouring my hair in the way Musharraf did)."

During this time I was being threatened regularly. They would call and say that I was against the army and its chief, Musharraf; that “we will kill you”, or “you won’t be able to walk on your legs.” I told them to go ahead. But my son used to take my mobile phone some evenings and he too would pick up these calls and get threats, though he didn’t tell me.

I presented an Urdu radio program on FM103 called Current Affairs. It was November, I was at the station and people had mentioned mysterious movements around our office. Then my son came to get his fees for university so I told him that he could read out some of the poems we were broadcasting that day by Urdu poet Joan Ellia, who he loved. Then he went to the washroom, but he didn’t return. It was only the next evening when we started to really worry.

The day after that, moments before the news program somebody came and said, “there is a body of a man outside”. I said: “Look, I’m going to start the program, why are you telling me?” But after, I went down. In those days there were two gangs who were always fighting and killing each other, but I thought that the young man looked educated, not like a militant, so I asked the police to check his pockets. He was so mutilated. His whole jaw was out and there was blood oozing from bullet wounds in his back and his neck was broken, I think because of being thrown from an upper window. It was not possible for me to think that it was my son. Then the card came out and, yes, it was him.

You cannot imagine. At the official hospital we sat there for two or three hours with the body of my son out in the open, waiting for an autopsy. They kept delaying and making excuses. A philanthropist organisation eventually encouraged me to bury him, but the police refused to get the body themselves. The mullah and other Muslim people said that it was too late and that the prayer had been completed, so I felt I had to bury him.

A few days after the burial, when our house was full of people, one of my female relatives smelled burning. We rushed upstairs to find all Faraz's photos and some of his writing on fire in the bath; now we have just one or two photos left. Really, these people wanted to punish me.

At first the people were protesting on my behalf but I discouraged street protests and I pursued the case with a human rights organisation. But although the [government] made a committee to probe it, they appointed a higher official who was notorious for putting sensitive cases into cold storage. We had four or five head investigating officers in less than one year, all transferred from the case or suspended. They have given us nothing. And now no evidence is left, my friends in the courts and the police have told me that.

After two days we went up to the top floor of my office building and we found blood stains. So we told police to take a sample of them and they said they would do it. But because I was suffering from depression so bad I could barely talk, barely stand in those days, it was some time before I asked again. Then they said the stains had been washed away because there was rain. So what can you think? After twenty days my other son was dragged out of his school bus and beaten – he was 14 – and told to tell his father not to pursue this case.

I’ve even given them permission in writing to exhume the body. I talked to the superintendent of the civil hospital who assured me that he would get permission from the judge and do the autopsy himself. That was in 2005. Before leaving the country I had gone to see the officers to help some friends of my son who were being interrogated, and the officers said: “We have this report that it was a suicide”. I asked them what finding they had to prove this and they said: “It's just our own conclusion”.

I think there is no hope that the government will solve this case because the military is still so powerful.

Here in Hong Kong my family feels safer and I have more freedom and more space. After my son was taken there was no real hope in life, we were just living for our remaining two children. Working with a direction to help expose other human rights violations gives me energy, and patience and strength.

Once I was in a mood to take revenge, but to whom will I do this? It’s not possible. But last year we did a lot of good work supporting the lawyers in Pakistan as they campaigned against Musharraf, to protect the rule of law and have the Chief Justice reinstated, which eventually happened.

I still work very closely with journalists, NGOs and lawyers in these kinds of cases. Still, really I feel like I’m only living now for my other two children’s dreams – I hope that some of them have survived.

Baseer Naweed was interviewed by journalist Jo Baker

Baseer Naveed has lived in Hong Kong with his wife, daughter and son, since March 2006 and holds the position of senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission. In 2007 Baseer travelled to Geneva where he was awarded an International award as a housing rights defender for his work in providing housing for 300,000 evictees of the Layri expressway project, Karachi, Sindh, a project of General Musharraf’s government.

In 2003 he also became an Ashoka Fellow for his innovative work on peace and civic issues in Karachi city, the largest commercial and industrial city the Pakistan. In 2005 he was given the Human Rights Defender award by the Forum of Professional Organisations.

In 2008 Baseer spearheaded the AHRC campaign for the restoration of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Iftehkar Choudhdry and the fight for the independence of the judiciary. His book, ‘PAKISTAN: Peoples' power calling for reforms - a pictorial booklet on the courageous movement of the Pakistani lawyers and the people for the restoration of the chief justice and the supremacy of the Constitution’, was published by the AHRC.

Baseer will remain in Hong Kong and continue his work as a human rights defender in order to help people who are victimized by the state and its agents.

(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was the son of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Martin Jr. was originally named ¡¥Michael¡¦, In the early 30s his family travelled to Europe where, amongst other countries, they visited Germany. His father changed both of their names to Martin in honor of the German Protestant leader Martin Luther.

Martin Luther King Jr. became a clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African-American civil rights movement. His main legacy was to secure progress on civil rights in the United States and he is frequently referenced as a human rights icon today. King is recognized as a martyr by two Christian churches.

A Baptist minister, King became a civil rights activist early in his career. He led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott intended to oppose the city's policy of racial segregation on its public transit system. In 1957 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and served as its first president.

His most famous speech, "I Have a Dream" was given during the 1963 March on Washington, where King raised public consciousness of the civil rights movement and established himself as one of the greatest orators in U.S. history.

In 1964, King became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. He also focused his efforts on ending poverty and opposing the Vietnam War, both from a religious perspective.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and Congressional Gold Medal in 2004; Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was established as a U.S. national holiday in 1986.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders - Taslima Nasrin

Taslima Nasrin was born on 25 August, 1962, in Mymensingh, Bangladesh. A Bengali Bangladeshi ex-doctor turned author Taslima has been living in exile since 1994. She started writing in the late the mid 70s and became famous world-wide in 1991 due to her radical feminist views and her criticism of Islam in particular.

Forced to flee Bangladesh in 1994 Taslima has lived in many countries and after her expulsion from India in 2008 currently lives in New York. Whilst living in Kolkota she was denounced by the Muslim clergy and received death threats from Islamic fundamentalists.

Taslima works to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality for women, and human rights by publishing, lecturing, and campaigning.

(Note: We had hoped to be able to include some of Taslima¡¦s poems but permission to do so was not received in time. In future issues of Human Rights & Culture we certainly hope to publish some of her work).
Rushdie 'n' Taslima: The yearning to be an Indian

IANS 20 February 2005, 11:12am IST

It should be a matter of pride for Indians that two celebrated writers - Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen - virtually look upon India as their home, underlining how the success of its democracy and multicultural polity has made it a favourite of intellectuals and artistes.

Evidence of this yearning to be an "Indian" is again evident in Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's expressed desire to secure at least the status of a permanent resident in India if she cannot become a citizen.

Rushdie, too, had once written that his first thought following the monetary success of his literary career after the publication of Midnight's Children was to buy a flat in Mumbai.

In The Ground Beneath Her Feet, it is undoubtedly Rushdie, who says the following lines rather than the fictional character Umeed Merchant, aka Rai the photographer - "India, my terra infirma, my maelstrom, my cornucopia, my crowd. India, my too-muchness, my everything at once, my hug-me, my fable, my mother, my father and my first great truth."

Taslima Nasreen, too, speaks in a similar vein when she says, in the rough translation of a Bengali poem - "India was not a piece of waste paper that it should have been torn apart. I want to rub out the word forty-seven. I want to wash out the blackness of forty-seven with soap and water. I don't want to swallow the bone of forty-seven stuck in my throat. I want to vomit it out. I want to recover the undivided land of my forefathers."

As their intensely personal expressions show, neither writer has any time for the partition of 1947. Taslima Nasreen's yearning for an undivided India is all the more strange considering that she is not old enough to remember a pre-partition India. She was born in 1962.

Rushdie was born in 1947, making him a true midnight's child. Yet, if they are conjuring up an idyllic scene, it is possibly because of their distress at the communal prejudices and fundamentalism that have subsequently gained ground in the subcontinent.

What is more, if India is now seen by them as some kind of ideal - "my fable... my first great truth", as Rushdie said, and "land of my forefathers", as Taslima Nasreen has said - the reason presumably is that a democratic and secular India has been more successful in keeping the sectarian sentiments and religious bigotry at bay than either Pakistan or Bangladesh, both with their background of military dictatorships and covert and overt official patronage of fundamentalism.

Although the Iranian fatwa against Rushdie is still valid, as Tehran clarified recently, and it is virtually impossible for Taslima Nasreen to return to the land of her birth because of the threat from the Islamic clerics, the two writers obviously feel at ease in India in spite of the fact that Rushdie's The Satanic Verses remains under a ban, as does the second part of Taslima Nasreen's autobiography, Dwikhandita.

However, as their writings show, they still derive their artistic inspiration from India. Despite his long years in the West, the primary settings of Rushdie's novels are in India - whether it is "The Moor's Last Sigh" or "The Ground Beneath Her Feet", not to mention "Midnight's Children".

Taslima Nasreen's poems, too, are redolent of the Bengal countryside and if she wants to settle down in West Bengal it is evidently because she feels that she can only recharge her literary batteries by being in touch with a part of the subcontinent with which she is familiar.

"I love Bengal", she has said. "My identity as an author will remain intact if I am allowed to stay here".

As politicians and diplomats wrestle with latent suspicions about their motives, the views of writers of this genre have a special value, for their preferences emphasise their search for an atmosphere where the freewheeling human spirit can thrive.

In praising and choosing India, therefore, these kindred souls have given a certificate whose value is immeasurable.

Nor are they the first of their kind. Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel laureate, was no less impressed by India's "incredible diversity, the coming together of extreme contrasts: the modern and the archaic, abundance and poverty, sensuality and asceticism, weakness and violence, the plurality of castes and languages, gods and rites, customs and behaviour". Clearly, it is a writer's paradise, a cornucopia of events and images to satisfy nearly all of an artist's needs.

In the 19th century, when repressive regimes were the norm in Europe, England used to be the home of exiles like Marx and Lenin, who could only have faced incarceration in their lands of birth, Germany and Russia. Unfortunately, even in the 21st century, South Asia presents a dismal picture of autocratic rulers, civil strife and fledgling, uncertain democracies stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar. The scene has been made worse by the presence of religious fanatics, intent on stifling freedom of all kinds, whether political or artistic.

Since India provides a ray of hope in this all-encircling gloom, it can seem like an attractive destination for writers on the run from bigots.

From the Times of India
(Additional text by Stewart Sloan)

Human Rights Defenders

As the editor of the E-publication, Human Rights & Culture I have started a section on human rights defenders. I will be publishing these articles in this blog over the next few days. Past issues of Human Rights & Culture may be found at: http://newsletters.ahrchk.net/hrc/


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Childhood memories, centipedes and a snake bite

It is funny how some things stick in your mind. I recall many moments with my father when I was five or six, both happy and sad. I remember him carrying me about the house when my legs froze up after I received a polio injection. No one really knew how children would react to these truly horrendous shots and I was virtually crippled for days. My father would carry me from my bed to the recliner in the living room every morning before he left for work. I remember him getting really annoyed with me when I wouldn’t leave him in peace to do his gardening; and I remember kissing him on the forehead as he lay in a coma in his room in the Matilda hospital the night before he died.

In the late 50s Dad was fortunate enough to be able to obtain a plot of land on the Ngong Peng plateau on Lantao Island. In those days, as now, the only way you could purchase what was then Crown Land was through a public auction. And then sometimes, but very infrequently, you might be fortunate enough to find a family that wanted to sell a plot of ancestral land. And this is how my father was able to obtain his land.

Dad was an engineer who was a frustrated farmer. He would plant field after field of vegetables and potatoes and at the right time of year we would enjoy the produce of his labours.

At that time we lived in Wanchai and would travel up to Ngong Peng only once or twice a month as there were no buses in those days. We would travel to Tai O or Tung Chung, both fishing villages, and then walk up to the house, which would take us several hours. I must have been a real chore for my father as I hated walking and spent most of the journey complaining and begging to be carried.

As we would stay away from the farm for weeks on end my father hired a recovering leper to work as a caretaker and gardener. One of the childhood memories I mentioned earlier was when this man, whose name I sadly don’t recall, came to my father with one of the biggest centipedes I had ever seen. He explained to Dad that this was a very special creature and rich in healing powers. (Centipedes are also rich in venom which causes excruciating pain in adults and even death in the very young or elderly). He then went on to explain that what he had to do was drown the centipede in brandy in order to promote this healing ability. Dad, being Scottish had more faith in the healing powers of good brandy rather than six inch centipedes but to keep this chap happy gave him a cheap bottle of brandy. Absolutely delighted the man uncorked the bottle and dropped the still wriggling insect into alcohol. I’m sure it died a peaceful, blissful death. Dad returned to his gardening and I completely forgot about the entire matter.

It was some months later when the crops were ready to harvest that Dad invited his sales team for what they thought was going to be a pleasant relaxing weekend on the farm. Upon arrival they were each handed a shovel and pointed in the direction of a field. Things progressed happily and rattan baskets of vegetables and potatoes soon lined the verandah. Then one of the salesmen was bitten by a snake.

He was carried into the house in a swoon and Dad was seriously concerned. The man had not seen the snake that bit him and therefore could not identify it. There were no medical facilities on the plateau in those days and if the snake was venomous, as many of them are, there was precious little time to treat him. In those days, snake serum was specific to the snake, giving the wrong serum, even if it had been available, could have killed the victim as quickly as doing nothing at all.

In the confusion of the scene the gardener arrived with his bottle of brandy containing the centipede which by this time had turned a lovely shade of green. I watched, fascinated, as he brushed passed the worried salesmen and administered a shot glass of the ‘medicinal’ brandy to the victim and then rubbed a liberal amount on the bite itself. To this day I do not know whether it was the shock of being bitten or the sight of the centipede floating in the brandy he had just swallowed but the fellow promptly passed out.

He was tucked up in a blanket and two of his companions were tasked with watching over him. Solemnly the rest of the team filed out onto the veranda where my father promptly got them drunk. And then we waited. Periodic reports came from the window of the living room where the patient was sleeping. He was still breathing and appeared to be asleep as opposed to unconscious. I did not know the difference then (I’m not sure I know it now). And then after almost two hours he awoke.

There were cries of surprise and joy as he hobbled out onto the veranda shaking his head. There was a little pain from the bite but he showed no sign of fever. He sat down for a few moments and then accepted a glass of beer from one of his friends.

To this day I don’t know whether it was a venomous or non-venomous snake that bit him. One of the most common snakes in the area is the brown rat snake which gives a strong, painful bite but is non-venomous. The rat snake of course, is accompanied by the bamboo snake, the banded krait (both vipers and extremely dangerous, not only because of their venom but because they are extremely lethargic and most attacks come from being trodden on), and of course the Chinese cobra which will kill you as soon as look at you.

Of course there is the possibility that the medicinal brandy was responsible for curing the chap of a potentially lethal bite. Remember that the next time you come across a centipede and happen to have a cheap bottle of brandy in the kitchen.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Wife, Myself and the Prince of Wales Hospital

(Our continuing adventures at the Prince of Wales Hospital)

I am no stranger to hospitals having inhabited several of them myself, on one occasion it was for a period of two months. At one time or another I have broken both legs, crushed my right foot in a motorcycle accident, broken fingers, most of my toes and my nose, three times. Therefore, I am no stranger to pain, distress and blood, both my own and that of others.

In the late 90s I worked part time as a Dive Master and as such had to undergo Medic First Aid training; at one time I was even a MFA instructor. It was while I was working as a Dive Master that one of the novices under my care managed to hit himself over the head with a scuba tank. It was quite fascinating and it all happened so fast I am unsure, to this day, how he actually did it. At the time I was tempted to ask him to do it again so that I could see how it had happened, but I didn’t think he would appreciate the request. Fortunately it was a minor scalp wound but like all scalp wounds it bled profusely. Since then I have assisted accident victims on numerous occasions without any squeamishness or trouble on my part. It is therefore a problem for me when I become completely unglued when dealing with the staff at the Prince of Wales Hospital.

My readers will know from my previous work that my wife, Quirina, is a dialysis patient. A few weeks ago 'Rina phoned me from the hospital to say that she was unwell and asked if I would pick her up after her dialysis exchange. I duly did so and took her home where, she told me that she was going to have an early night. It was the following morning that 'Rina complained of chest pains and I immediately took her to the hospital. This is where things started to go wrong and I have come to realise that there is some mystical, perhaps esoteric juxtaposition in the relationship between 'Rina, myself and the Prince of Wales Hospital.

The journey from our home to the hospital is one that we have made countless times. We found a taxi outside the village and I gave the driver the location in Cantonese. “Wai yee see”, (The Prince of Wales Hospital) and “yat lao”. Yat lao technically translates as 1st floor but where hospitals are concerned is a euphemism for Accident & Emergency (which are always on the ground floor so that ambulances can offload patients quickly and efficiently). It never occurred to me that this driver didn’t know that and on arrival at the hospital he took us up the vehicular ramp to the 1st floor. I then had to virtually carry 'Rina through the lift lobby down to A & E where I sat her down on a chair at the triage station and then went to complete the admission procedure. There was only one reception window open and before me was an ambulance attendant who was registering on behalf of an accident victim he has just brought in. Apparently the poor victim was unconscious and therefore unable to assist with any of the usual questions. All the attendant had was the fellow’s identity card; there was no proof of address and no contact details for the next of kin, all vital information to the procedure. Meanwhile there was 'Rina sitting in the triage station clutching her chest.

Finally it was my turn. Having been through this so many times I knew exactly what was required. I presented 'Rina’s identity card and $100, the admission fee for local residents. Nothing more was required because they already had her records in their computer. Just to be on the safe side, however, the clerk asked me the usual questions about address and telephone.

Now you have to remember that here we were in the Accident & Emergency area of a hospital, my wife was at the triage station in full view of the admission desk, obviously in distress, and I was hopping from one foot to the other waiting for something to be done. It was at that point in time that the clerk asked me, “Do you want to see a doctor?”

I was silent for a moment, unable to be sure that I had actually heard the question. Several responses came to mind, for example: no, I’d like a pint of beer and a packet of crisps, or, no, I’d like a Big Mac and French Fries. Eventually however, my response came in the form of a question that was aphoristic in nature and I will leave the reader to imagine what it might have been. The clerk turned pale and handed me the paperwork.

'Rina went through triage in record time. As soon as they found that she was suffering chest pains they pulled out all the stops and she was seen within moments by the house doctor. She was X rayed, had an ECG, blood samples were taken and she was warded within less that 30 minutes. 'Rina was good hands. I, on the other hand, was a blithering wreck.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The cost of ill health in the Philippines

Guest Commentary Published: May 12, 2009 by UPI Asia

Hong Kong, China — I am not a frequent visitor to the Philippines; I visit once every two or three years, despite the fact that my wife and I own property and a house in Cebu City. On every visit I notice an improvement in the country’s infrastructure. The roads, the communications and the public services have all improved over the years since my first visit in 1983.

Unfortunately, this cannot be said for the country’s health services to the needy, or even for those in the provinces who could afford them.

On my first visit, I was taken to my father-in-law’s farm in the hill provinces of Cebu; Bulak Dumanjug in those days was a village that ran less than half a mile along a dirt road. There were a general store and several small shops that sold daily-need items. There were no communications, and transport to and from the village was by a jeepney that did two trips a day – when its wheels were not falling off, that is.

There were no health services apart from the so-called witch doctors, who diagnosed every illness as having been caused by a spirit. For a few pesos they were willing to bless a candle, the burning of which would drive the evil out.

On the evening of my first day, relatives carried in a young man who had a cyst on his hip and asked me to help him. The cyst was by this time the size of a tennis ball. Although I was not medically trained at that time – I later went on to become a first aid instructor – I could see that hot compresses could reduce the swelling until the puss was extracted.

If there had been no doctors for miles around I might have been willing to at least try something. However, even today I would not be willing to risk a person’s life in the knowledge that there was, in fact, a doctor in the vicinity. Why did they not call him, I asked? The answer, even today, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The doctor would not come, as the patient had no money to pay him.

I will pay him, I said, still unable to come to terms with the fact that a medically trained physician, who had taken the Hippocratic oath, refused to treat a person because he could not afford to pay him. I will pay him, I said, but I had no intention of speaking with him or even acknowledging his existence.

In a short while the doctor arrived. He was a young man who carried his equipment and medicines in a black leather bag. When he arrived, the first thing he did was to take his fees and only after that he looked at the patient.

It was a quick operation; an incision to drain the puss, suturing, bandaging and a few pills to ease the pain. The patient healed quickly and within a week was back on his feet. What is terribly sad is the fact that even today, despite all the roads, electricity and televisions, there are still scant medical services available in the hill provinces of the Philippines, and the few available demand payment first.

On a later visit, my wife and I went to the only hospital in the seaside town of Barili, a beautiful little town that has retained a great deal of its Spanish influence. The hospital is on the outskirts of the town. The person we went to visit suffered from diabetes and the disease had caused gangrene in his leg, which had to be amputated.

By the time we visited he had recovered from the operation and was sitting up quite cheerfully in bed. He was grateful for our visit and we spoke for some time. During the discussion a nurse came in to give him his antibiotics and it was then that the patient’s wife unlocked the cabinet beside the bed and withdrew the medicine for the nurse. The nurse administered the injection and returned the unused portion to the wife, who locked it up and went away.

When I asked why the medicine was locked up in the cabinet, the wife explained that patients had to supply their own medication. Was it not supplied by the hospital, I asked? It could be, came the answer. But the quality and supply is unreliable and so it is better to personally get it if one can afford it.

This is the state of healthcare in a country where the rich and famous, who travel in chauffeur-driven cars, accompanied by minders and government officials of the health department travel overseas to conferences in which they seek international aid for their health schemes.

It is almost 26 years since my first visit to Bulak Dumanjug. The road is slightly better, with fewer potholes, and villages have electricity by which to watch television. But there are still no medical facilities, no doctors and no clinics. Yes, the jeepneys run more frequently and can transport a sick person to Dumanjug, the nearest town, or the hospital in Barili – but only if one has the money.


(Stewart Sloan works for the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is the author of three works of fiction based in Hong Kong, where he has lived all his life, and a collection of anecdotes about the Royal Hong Kong Police Force, whom he served as a civilian for 11 years. His connection with the Philippines spans 27 years, thanks to his wife, Quirina, who was born in Cebu. His recent interest in the country has focused on the extrajudicial killings that have been a feature of the Arroyo regime).

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A brief moment of levity in Accident and Emergency

The good people who read my work will recall that my wife is a dialysis patient and undergoes haemodialysis twice a week.

One of the drawbacks with taking haemo (as it is known) is that the patient is susceptible to fluid overload as the kidneys cannot handle excess fluids. This can be extremely dangerous as the fluids can build up in the patient’s lungs thereby effectively drowning them.

On Monday the 15th June as I was getting ready to leave for work my wife very wisely advised me that she felt the symptoms of fluid overload. I immediately offered to take her to Accident & Emergency at the Prince of Wales Hospital. She dressed and we were in a taxi within moments, arriving at A & E at 7:15. In an effort to be helpful (and save time) I explained to the doctor at the triage station that ‘'Rina was a dialysis patient, had a history of respiratory problems and was showing signed of fluid buildup in the lungs which was causing respiratory problems. This man had either just come on duty or was just going off and showed no interest in my effort to be helpful. Instead he read out a list of symptoms and asked if she had any of them. I suppose he was just doing his job.

Very quickly we were taken to an A & E cubicle and seen by another doctor who agreed that it was very likely to be fluid buildup. He arranged for an ECG and an X-ray which were carried out quickly. ‘'Rina was then wheeled into a waiting area. By this time it was around 7:40.

And we waited. And waited. At around 10 am I went to the nurse’s station to find out what was happening and was told that they were still waiting for the doctor to take a look at the X-rays. No problem, I told her (I do appreciate that they handle hundreds of patients daily), I just wanted to know what was happening. I returned to the waiting area and it was a few minutes later when a man was wheeled in on a gurney. It says a lot for the level of the boredom that we go through that we take an interest in the patients around us. This man was in his mid to late thirties and was still dressed in his street clothes. After a few minutes he sat up on the gurney and noticed the toilet just across the corridor. Gingerly, he eased himself off the gurney and hobbled into the toilet. It was at that time that the local constabulary in the form of three police officers arrived, two men and a WPC. They took one look at the vacant gurney and went into a panic. There was a lot of arm waving and jumping up and down on the spot. The WPC took out one of her mobile phones and tried to make a call. Mobile phone signals are notoriously bad in some areas of the hospital and eventually she went to the nurse’s station and used their land line. A few moments later hospital two men in crisp white shirts and badges identifying them as hospital security arrived. The five of them surrounded the vacant gurney and started shouting at each other oblivious of the sick patients around them. Apparently, whoever the patient was, someone should have been looking after him. As far as the police were concerned he had not been officially handed over to them and was therefore the responsibility of the hospital, while the hospital security men were claiming the exact opposite.

It was at this point in time that the object of their concern walked out of the toilet, eased his way through the assembled police officers and security men and climbed back onto the gurney. Suddenly there was silence until one of the security men made a time honoured Cantonese comment to the senior police officer about what he could do with his mother. The security officers stomped off back to wherever they lived and the policemen surrounded the gurney, no doubt to make sure that this fellow wasn’t going to get away from them again.

The entire episode only lasted about five minutes but it helped to pass the time.

(Stewart’s wife, Quirina, was diagnosed with renal failure in 2004 and is currently undergoing dialysis).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another exciting day in the life of.....

The time was 6:20 am, I climbed out of bed, and as I usually do headed for the shower to prepare myself for the day. I sluiced myself down, lathered myself up and shampooed the little hair I have left. It was at the point when I was completely covered in soap and shampoo and contemplating shaking hands with the vicar in the rain that that I heard a crash from the kitchen adjoining the bathroom.

I slid open the door to find that Charley the Cat had jumped onto the top of the kitchen shelf and knocked off a full bottle of white vinegar. I surveyed the damage; there were shards of glass and vinegar all over the kitchen floor. Just as I was considering Charley’s fate with the shower hose a four inch poisonous centipede slithered out from under the shelves and disappeared under the cooker unit.

I thought for a moment, then went back inside the shower and slid the door shut.

Another exciting day had begun in the life of........

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Holy Roller Days - Adventures at the YMCA

An article shortly to be published in the next edition of Human Rights & Culture. Following the article is a reader's comment.

My Holy Roller Days - Adventures at the YMCA
Stewart Sloan

The years from 1975 to 1980 are what I refer to as my holy roller days. I was ‘born again’. It was a period of my life that I look back at with a degree of embarrassment and also relief. Relief that, having gone through them, it’s something I don’t have to do again. It had its moments. I had all the answers; I was invincible. And I was also broke.

I found a job at the Young Men’s Christian Association in Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui (Hong Kong) as a driver for their mobile book shop. These were the days before the handover to Mainland China and there was a large contingent of British Forces scattered throughout the territory. Actually, in those days Hong Kong was still referred to as a ‘colony’. It wasn’t until the 80s that this term was considered a no-no.

I would drive a Toyota Lite-Ace van, laden with paperback books and magazines to all the buildings about the colony that were occupied by British Forces families. These ranged in area from Stanley to the north New Territories. On Mondays we would go to Hong Kong island, Tuesday was my day off and from Wednesday to Saturday morning we went to Sek Kong Military camp. My companion on the drive was a Mr. Wong. Mr. Wong was a very pleasant gentleman who had been employed by the ‘Y’ for years. His joys in life were swimming and sleeping. On the first I was happy to oblige him by driving past all the better beaches like Stanley and Deep Water Bay so that he could have a dip. As far as sleeping was concerned, Mr. Wong was an insomniac and would catch up on badly needed sleep whilst I was driving. It says a great deal for him that he could sleep while I was driving.

When we were not driving around the colony selling books to bored British housewives we worked in the book shop. It was not particularly onerous work and some of the staff kept us amused. One of these chaps was named Samuel. Samuel has a problem (the details of which were never explained to me) which required him to take tranquilisers. Unfortunately, Samuel was a young man and like most young men, myself included, he enjoyed the occasional beer. And this is where it all went wrong for Samuel, but more of that later.

My employment with the Y only lasted for six months and most of the time it was all quite mundane. There were however, two incidents that stuck out in my mind.

One of the locations we sold our books and magazines was at Sek Kong Military Camp at the bottom of Route Twisk. Route Twisk is a road that was built by the army to connect the Sek Kong Air Strip with Kowloon. It is a dangerous, winding road that runs over Tai Mo Shan and has seen its share of sadness. This was never more so than on one day in 1977 when a Kowloon Motor Bus single-decker lost its brakes coming down the last section of the hill. Almost completely out of control it ran the junction at the bottom of the Twisk, mounted the pavement on the other side of the road and plowed into a family owned supermarket where it burst into flames. I don’t recall the number of fatalities but apart from those that died in the accident many of the passengers suffered severe burns. I do recall that the daughter of the owner of the supermarket was due to be married in a few weeks time. Completely unaware of the catastrophe that was going on less than half a mile away Mr. Wong and I packed up the shop and headed down the hill to find ambulances and fire engines completely blocking the way. At the time we had no idea of the extent of the tragedy and saw it only as a nuisance. It was not until we saw the news that evening that we came to know how close we had been.

Another incident happened a few months later.

I lived at the time in the north wing of the YMCA. In those days the Y was made up of three separate buildings that had been built over the years. The north wing was the oldest and was being used as a dormitory. There were private rooms, mostly taken by the staff on the 3rd and 4th floors. My room was on the 4th floor.

One night I was settling down with a good book when I heard a commotion out in the corridor. Someone was shouting, “Where is he? Which is his room?” Whoever it was it was unlikely that they were looking for me as everyone knew my room number. Then I heard, “SLOAN, I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”

‘Oh great’, I thought. I’ve upset someone and I don’t even know who it is. Then the person was banging heavily on my door and I recognised Samuel’s voice. I couldn’t possibly have upset Samuel, I thought, I’ve hardly even spoken to him. I took a deep breath and opened the door.

Me: Hello Samuel.

Samuel: I’m going to kill you!

Me: Okay, do you want to talk about this?

Samuel thought for a minute. I got the impression he has just realised where he was and couldn’t remember why he was there or how he got there. He looked about the corridor and seemed at a loss for something to say. I said, “Samuel, why don’t we go back to your room”. Silently he turned and I put a friendly arm about his shoulder. I can’t remember what we talked about as we walked back to his room but I am sure that it was pretty innocuous. Finally, after what felt like ten hours we were at his door and I opened it for him. Samuel walked inside and I saw him sit heavily on his bed. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said, and closed the door quietly. I made my way as silently as possible to the stair case, intending to get to the admin office and seek help. I got as far as the top of the steps when I heard a door crash open and Samuel yell: “SLOAN, I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”

I sprinted down the stairs three at a time and rushed out into the car park, I was a lot fitter in those days. There, in the form of two of my colleagues lay salvation. One of them, Edward was one of the aquatics instructors, Portuguese by birth but more importantly six foot tall and twice as wide. I made a beeline for him and he saw me coming with Samuel in pursuit. I didn’t say anything, just hid behind him as Samuel screeched to a halt in front of him.

Edward was obviously accustomed to Samuel’s problems (I wish someone had told me about them). Edward barked an order and Samuel did an about face and meekly walked by to his room on the 3rd floor where he climbed into the shower fully dressed. He was still in the shower when the Assistant Secretary found him.

It was shortly after that incident that my hair started falling out.

A reader’s comment:

There is something smooth and flowing in your writing that makes reading a pleasure--even when it is sad. So thanks for that. But what really happened to Samuel, did he commit suicide?