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Week of January 27, 2004

Program 0404


Iraq Mosque vs. State | Transcript | MP3

Global Citizen: Betool Khedairi | Transcript | MP3

Missile Defense | Transcript | MP3

Cuba Visa Difficulties | Transcript | MP3

Chechen Journalist | Transcript | MP3

Nepal Abortion | Transcript | MP3

Indian Ship | Transcript | MP3

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

NABIL ADEL: [via a translator] What’s needed from us is to worship God, the merciful and the compassionate, and politics is completely separate from that. We don’t like tying politics and religion together.

KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, Iraq struggles with the separation of mosque and state.

KEITH PORTER: Plus, an author explores her unusual roots in Iraq and Scotland.

BETOOL KHEDAIRI: I really feel in Arabic and I think in Arabic and I write in Arabic. But if I had a problem, I would switch to my western side. I solve my problems in English for some reason.

PORTER: And, the silencing of musical diplomacy between Cuba and the United States.

KEVIN WHITAKER: As a US government official I think my—what I have to abide by the law and ensure that the borders are safe.

MCHUGH: These stories—coming up next.

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Iraq Mosque vs. State

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PORTER: Common Ground is radio’s weekly program on world affairs. I’m Keith Porter.

MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh. In Baghdad, as the countdown continues towards a US handover of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government, some big questions still remain to be resolved. One of the most contentious is what role religion will play in the post-Saddam era.

PORTER: Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslims have spent the past 30 years being ruled by a Sunni-dominated government. It suppressed freedom of worship and tens of thousands of Shi’ites were brutally executed for threatening to rise up against Saddam Hussein. Today, as Common Ground‘s Simon Marks reports from Iraq, there’s a vigorous debate within the Shi’ite community about whether there should be separation between Mosque and State.

[The sound of a lathe at a small carpentry shop]

SIMON MARKS: If you’d walked into Nabil Adel’s carpentry store in downtown Baghdad a year ago, you would have seen a smiling portrait of Saddam Hussein gazing down on the spinning lathes and wood-shavings below. Today, the picture is long gone. The carpenter says he pulled it down the very day the former Iraqi dictator fled Baghdad.

NABIL ADEL: [via a translator] For us, it’s a new era. It’s a period of change. We lost one regime, and we’re waiting for another.

[The sound of a lathe at a small carpentry shop]

MARKS: But as he and the family members who run the small store wait for that new government, they’ve put a new picture up where Saddam once used to hang. It portrays the Imam Ali, a prophet who was one of the founders of the Shi’ite branch of Islam. Pictures of the Imam—once banned by Saddam—have sprouted like mushrooms since the old regime’s fall. Nabil Adel insists he’s simply exercising a recently won freedom, not advocating the installation of a fundamentalist Islamic government.

NABIL ADEL: [via a translator] In my personal opinion religion has nothing to do with politics. Because religion is on one side of the spectrum and politics is on the other. What’s needed from us is to worship God, the merciful and the compassionate, and politics is completely separate from that. We don’t like tying politics and religion together.

MARKS: But not all Iraqis agree with him and with the country poised to enjoy democracy, the country’s future path will effectively be sealed by its Shi’ite majority. During the Ba’athist era, Iraq enjoyed a separation between mosque and state, though in his final years in power, Saddam –a Sunni Muslim—allocated funds for a massive mosque construction program in a bid to improve his relationship with Sunnis and Shi’ites alike. Now, with Saddam gone, some Muslim voices are advocating an Iranian-style Shi’ite theocracy to rule in his place.

[Sounds from a Karbala mosque]

MARKS: The Holy City of Karbala is two hours drive south of Baghdad. It’s been a seat of Shi’ite learning for over a thousand years, and the skyline is dominated by two glittering mosques in which the Imam Ali’s sons are said to be buried. Tensions between radical Shi’ites seeking the establishment of a fundamentalist state in Iraq and more moderate clerics have exploded here in Karbala, where Bulgarian soldiers nervously try to keep the peace.

[The sound of loud music and speeches]

MARKS: Since Saddam’s ouster, the city has bustled with new energy. Sallah Abdullah sells CDs and tapes of sermons by prominent imams and mullahs. Under Saddam, their possession would have placed his life in immediate danger. Today he’s doing a roaring trade.

SALLAH ABDULLAH: [via a translator] Under Saddam, no one could come and visit. People couldn’t come here from Basra, from Mosul, or Kirkuk. They were scared to come because the secret police wouldn’t permit it. Now people are even coming here from other countries, like Iran and Pakistan. None of this existed before. Now, thank God, we have been saved from the former regime.

[The sound of loud music and speeches]

MARKS: Saved from the former regime, but given the liberty to voice opinions that in many cases run counter to the aspirations of the liberators here. A bookstore owner who didn’t want to be named can today sell religious texts that were banned for decades and express desires run counter to the goal of Iraq’s interim American administrators.

UNIDENTIFIED QURAN SALESMAN: [via a translator] The Americans? They are all Jews. They are enemies of Islam and we are Muslims. And since they are Jews and the enemy of Islam, they are not really trying to improve our lives. They are not fulfilling any of their promises to us. We want an Islamic government. Nothing more, nothing less.

MARKS: The push for an Islamic government in Iraq is being fuelled in part by the rulers of neighboring Iran. The United States has warned the hard-line Shi’ite clerics who serve as Iran’s supreme leaders not to interfere in Iraq, though the temptation to try and influence opinions among Iraq’s Shi’ites is enormous. Some Shi’ite leaders say the US shouldn’t worry about the possibility of an Iranian-style government coming to power on Iraqi soil. Muwaffak Al Rabbaie is a Shi’ite member of the Governing Council—the 25-member body that is running Iraq on an interim basis alongside the US-led coalition.

MUWAFFAK AL RABBAIE: If you look at the aspiration of the Shia, the Sunnis, and the Kurds, you will find all of them asking for democracy, all of them asking for unified country, a lot of them asking for federalism and decentralization of Iraq, a lot of them asking for good relationship with neighbors and with the West, and looking forward for the economic reconstruction of Iraq. So where is the split in our aspiration? There isn’t.

[Sounds from a mosque]

MARKS: But there’s no guarantee that a moderate Iraqi government might not one day be replaced should fundamentalist ideas prove increasingly popular. As a new political order takes shape in Baghdad, the quest to blend Islam with democracy is underway. For Common Ground, I’m Simon Marks in Karbala, Iraq.

[Musical interlude]

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Global Citizen: Betool Khedairi

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PORTER: Betool Khedairi grew up in Iraq, with an Iraqi father and a Scottish mother. In her adult life, she is a writer and her debut novel tells the story of a girl who must confront a very similar culture clash. For this week’s global citizen profile, Betool Khedairi spoke with Common Ground‘s Judith Smelser about living between two very different cultures.

JUDITH SMELSER: I would like you to read an excerpt from your novel, A Sky So Close. This book, for our listeners’ information, is a coming of age story about a girl growing up in Iraq, with an Iraqi father and an English mother—much like your own family situation. This passage that you’re about to read comes close to the beginning of the book, when the girl’s parents are fighting over whether to send her to a local school of music and ballet. And it’s written in the girl’s own voice, addressed to her father.

BETOOL KHEDAIRI: [reading from her novel] How you’d argue with her when she insisted that I be taught there. I have no say in these arguments. I don’t even know which language I should use. I’m only a small child, the top of my head barely reaching the level of your belt. All I have is my braid, which swings between my shoulder blades. You warned her so many times not to cut it, not to restyle my hair the way she wanted it. She likes it short and practical, but you want to watch it grow.

SMELSER: There are a lot of issues that are brought up it that passage, and the girl in the book—you don’t ever give her name—is constantly being pulled between her parents’ cultures throughout the whole book. And what I’m curious about, given the similarity between her family and yours, is, how much of her struggle is autobiographical?

KHEDAIRI: I did use my parents’ cultural differences as a springboard for the novel. It is, I took my parents’ characters from real life and twisted them around and really played with them, because my real mother is Scottish, and she was really very family oriented. Not like the very English—no offense to the English—mother. But she, the lady in the novel portrays a lot of English mothers I have met when I was young.

SMELSER: But surely you did feel torn between their two cultures to some extent when you were growing up. How did you deal with that?

KHEDAIRI: Yes, I do relate to all the problems that I did portray in the book, because I did grow up in two cultures, and it wasn’t easy for a child who always spoke English to her mother at home, and then when the father came back it was, “If you’re going to speak English you’re out of the house,” just as a punishment, because he wanted us to remain in contact with our Iraqi culture and the society, not to have this cultural clash. But it was happening at home anyway.

SMELSER: What culture or country do you feel the most part of?

KHEDAIRI: Everybody asks me this question. I really feel in Arabic and I think in Arabic and I write in Arabic. I even dream in Arabic. But if I had a problem, I would switch to my western side. I solve my problems in English for some reason.

SMELSER: Let’s talk a little bit about the idea of global citizenship. That phrase gets bandied around a lot. That the world has become so intertwined that it is possible, and even admirable, to be a citizen of the world, as it were. Do you agree with this philosophy, and how would you define global citizenship?

KHEDAIRI: I grew up in more than one culture. My mother is Christian; my father is Muslim. I went to Christian schools; I went to Muslim schools. My friends were Jews. My best friends are Kurds. We never had this problem in Iraq growing up. It was a very nice, magical place even. Everybody integrated with everybody. So I have this feeling of being global, all along. But what I don’t understand is, now, when I meet people, is forcing your own culture on other countries. And I hope that’s not what’s going to take place in Iraq with the American occupation and the allied forces behind it because in the end this is a country of more than 7,000 years old. Like they say, it is the cradle of civilization. So I wonder with all these multinationals going in, is it going to look like a McDonald’s on every corner and Starbucks? And, of course the aim is to turn it into a free market area, but I’d like to see my country keeping its culture all along because this is your identity in the end.

SMELSER: Do you consider yourself a global citizen?

KHEDAIRI: Of course I am because I’m in touch with other human beings and that’s what counts. Sometimes I get depressed thinking, why am I writing? What is this going to change? All the millions of voices out there who opposed the war, who opposed the killings, who opposed the sanctions couldn’t change anything. No resolution could change anything. What am I going to change? Then something pops up—an email, a letter, a phone call from somebody telling me, “We connect, we relate to your book. You’re just another human being like we are, just with different habits and languages.” So if we can break the fear and stereotyping, and I really think if politicians left us alone, we’d do a better job in connecting amongst us.

SMELSER: Author Betool Khedairi. Her latest novel is A Sky So Close. With this week’s global citizen segment, I’m Judith Smelser in Washington.

MCHUGH: The ongoing controversy over National Missile Defense, next on Common Ground.

[Musical interlude]

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Missile Defense

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MCHUGH: The first phase of a rudimentary National Missile Defense system is scheduled for deployment later this year. The system, which is still under development, is intended to protect the United States from attack by long range, ballistic missiles. NMD, as it’s called for short, is controversial. Supporters say it’s needed to stop rogue states, like North Korea, from launching missiles at the US. Opponents say the system won’t work. On top of that, they say the Chinese believe NMD is aimed at them and opponents fear that perception might launch a new arms race in Asia. Common Ground‘s Cliff Brockman talked to a former Brookings Institution analyst, Dinshaw Mistry, about a new book he’s written on National Missile Defense.

DINSHAW MISTRY: The proposed 2004 deployment is really a deployment of prototype test interceptors. It won’t do anything. It’s a symbol of essentially deploying a more robust system down the road. And that system has not yet been tested. It will take many more tests over several years to prove that the technology works in the first place.

CLIFF BROCKMAN: The issue, Mistry says, needs further discussion. He says there’s been no real exploration of whether missile defense would work without a strong arms control regime.

MISTRY: The thinking is that arms control regimes are failing. Number of countries in the past few years have gone ahead with their nuclear programs and they may have built missile programs. And so arms control seems to be dead and one needs something else to counter those nuclear missile programs and that something else is missile defense. Now that’s, that’s a simple logic but we need to take that one step further.

BROCKMAN: Mistry says that logic uses missile defense as replacement for arms control. He claims missile defense won’t be effective without arms control for several reasons.

MISTRY: Missile defense interceptors are likely to be more successful if the threat is small in the first place. Which means we need a strong arms control regime to keep the missile threat small to begin with. If we have no arms control regime and the missile threat is large—we make no attempt to control it—that large threat is going to overwhelm missile defense, whatever missile defense we deploy. So it’s not wise to say, “We are junking the arms control regime and going ahead with missile defense,” when in fact we need the arms control regime for missile defense to have any hope of success to begin with.

The second point is the impact on strategic stability. Missile defenses to defend against say North Korean or Iranian missiles are also going to have an impact on Russian and Chinese force postures. It’s unlikely that especially the Chinese are going to consider capping and freezing their nuclear program five to ten years down the road if they have to overcome a missile defense system. We need to be thinking very carefully about that. We need to limit missile defense so that we can get the Chinese to limit their own nuclear expansion. This comes back to my first point. How can we limit the missile defense by making sure the missile threat is limited in the first place so we only need a small system to counter any small threat from North Korea or Iran. If we have a small system it’s unlikely to impact the Chinese force buildup that significantly. So the Chinese in turn will be more willing to restrain themselves.

BROCKMAN: Mistry says a missile defense system would have a trickle down effect. He says if the Chinese begin building a missile system to defend themselves that might in turn cause an arms buildup in India and Pakistan.

MISTRY: Now it won’t happen in the next five years because these countries don’t have the capacity for massive buildups. But five to ten years down the road if they see the missile defense shield is coming up, over the next 20 years they would need to counter it in a sustained manner. That’s when they’ll start putting resources into it. So we need to prevent that trend to begin with.

BROCKMAN: Mistry says the United States needs to begin a strong political engagement with Russia and China. He says the best solution is for the US to limit its missile defense to testing with no deployment. Then, he says, China and Russia need to be brought into new arms control treaties to reduce the risk of an intentional or unintentional war. Mistry formerly worked with the Brookings Institution and is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati. His new book is entitled Containing Missile Proliferation. For Common Ground, I’m Cliff Brockman.

[Musical interlude]

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Cuba Visa Difficulties

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MCHUGH: In recent years Cuban musicians have enjoyed increased popularity in the US. The Buena Vista Social Club CD and film were surprise hits. Cuban groups were regularly traveling to the US in a cultural exchange that many hoped would lead to more harmony between the United States and Cuba. But as Reese Erlich reports from Havana, this musical diplomacy is being silenced.

[The sound of Manteca, Dizzy Gillespie, and his big band]

REESE ERLICH: In the late 1940s Cuban Chano Pozo became famous as the percussionist with Dizzy Gillespie’s big band. And Dizzy visited Cuba many times. The resulting musical collaboration was stunning.

[The sound of a Chano Pozo conga drum solo]

ERLICH: But such musical interchanges largely stopped in 1960 when the US imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. Musicians were allowed to tour during the last two years of Clinton’s presidency. But the Bush administration is closing the door once again. Cuban musicians who have toured the US numerous times in the past say there are now long delays in getting visas—if they can get them at all.

[The sound of a song being played by the Cuban band Descendan]

ERLICH: The Cuban group Descendan composes beautiful a cappella music.

[The sound of a song being played by the Cuban band Descendan]

ERLICH: Osmani Pita, Descendan’s manager, explains what happened when the band applied for US visas.

OSMANI PITA: [via a translator] The troupe had arranged for a tour of the US for the 10th of October. And consular officials told them that by the end of September they would notify the troupe about the visas.

[The sound of a song being played by the Cuban band Descendan]

OSMANI PITA: [via a translator] September passed, October passed. Even the 10th of October, the day they were expected to enter the US, passed. November passed. And it was only in December, and only because Descandan was interested in getting back the passports because we had to apply for another visa to Canada, that we went back to the US interest section and we got back the passports. We did not receive the visas or any letter explaining why we did not receive the visas, or if we had received the visas.

ERLICH: Since the middle of 2002, all citizens of countries on the US list of so-called states sponsoring terrorism have undergone stringent security checks, including personal interviews, before getting visas. That includes 30,000 to 40,000 Cubans every year. The visa process can take up to seven months and involve reviews by numerous government security agencies. Kevin Whitaker heads the State Department’s Cuba desk.

KEVIN WHITAKER: Congress passed this law because they’re concerned about homeland security and wanted to make that sure our borders are safe. If this occasions some discomfort or disconnects or other problems for Cuban musicians, or any other group of people, then I think it’s unfortunate. But as a US government official I think my—what I have to do is abide by the law and ensure that the borders are safe.

PABLO MENENDEZ: I don’t believe anything they say from the beginning because of the experience that I’ve had with them, where they’ve been shown to be lying just outright.

ERLICH: Pablo Menendez is an American musician who has lived in Cuba for 36 years. He plays guitar and heads the band Mezcla. For many years, the US officials would allow only folkloric groups to perform in the US. During those years more commercial Cuban groups such as Orchestra Aragon, Chucho Valdez, and Los Van Van achieved worldwide fame during their travels to Europe and Latin America.

MENENDEZ: For me it’s actually been really great because now we’re traveling to all these other countries. They’re actually limiting the rights of people in the United States to hear Cuban musicians live is the only thing they’re doing in practice.

[A song from a Mezcla CD]

ERLICH: Menendez says Cuban musicians certainly don’t pose a national security threat to the US. The new, more stringent procedures, he believes, are just an excuse to implement President Bush’s anti-Cuban political agenda.

MENENDEZ: Whatever the reasons they give, you know, from one day to the next, they’ll change whatever the situation demands of them to reach their objective, which is to have, to limit the information, the freedom of information of the people in the US. So I think that’s what is involved there.

[A song from a Mezcla CD]

ERLICH: US visa policy for Cubans stands in stark contrast to that of European countries.

[The sound of a key unlocking a door, followed by the sound of Mr. Erlich introducing himself in Spanish. The secretary then responds in Spanish.]

ERLICH: Here at the German Embassy in Havana, consular officials regularly issue visas to Cuban musicians, academics, and others. The diplomat in charge of granting visas, Consul Claudia Tietze, says Cuban musicians don’t pose a terrorist threat. She notes that musicians aren’t even likely to overstay their visas.

CLAUDIA TIETZE: Well certainly we have a couple of cases every year of men and women claiming for asylum in Germany, or just illegally overstay or change their motive of staying in Europe, which is against the German law. But since I have been here a year, I have not seen many musicians misusing their stay. There were one or two. But in the whole group of like a good 200 people—musicians and artists—traveling in the past year, it is a minute number.

ERLICH: Nevertheless, the US insists that Cuban musicians must be thoroughly scrutinized before gaining entry to the US shores. State Department official Whitaker denies that the Bush Administration is intentionally delaying visas. In fact, he charges that the Cuban Foreign Ministry, or Minrex, intentionally delays submitting necessary paperwork and then blames the US for the problem.

WHITAKER: There’s no question in my mind but that Minrex is manipulating the whole process. One of the criteria that they clearly have is to put these visa applications in late to the US Interest Section so that just this sort of controversy can be raised.

ERLICH: European diplomats agree that Minrex can be bureaucratically slow in submitting paperwork. But German Consul Tietze says the Cuban government also makes sure people applying as musicians are not terrorists.

TIETZE: We know that the Cuban organizations have a very tight control whom—on who’s obtaining the passports, what personalities they have, if their personal datas are correct. Are they what they are supposed to be—musicians? And so we can be very sure that who comes to us is a legitimate musician.

ERLICH: Europe has suffered from numerous acts of terrorism since September 11, 2001. But diplomats there don’t hold Cuba responsible. Cuban musicians are granted visas like any other entertainers around the world. In the case of Germany, consul Tietze says once all paperwork is in order, visas for her country are granted in one week or less. For Common Ground, I’m Reese Erlich in Havana.

[The sound of a song being played by the Cuban band Descendan]

PORTER: This is Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

KRISTIN MCHUGH: I’m Kristin McHugh.

KEITH PORTER: And I’m Keith Porter. Coming up this half hour on Common Ground, keeping the media away from Chechnya.

MUSA MURADOV: The journalists are not allowed to independently come to the Chechen territory or move independently around Chechen territory, and I mean both foreign and domestic.

PORTER: Plus, abortion becomes legal in Nepal and a tall ship from India takes a voyage around the world.

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Chechen Journalist

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MCHUGH: Annually, The Committee to Protect Journalists honors writers, editors, and broadcasters around the world who endure hardships while risking their lives to bring us the news. The most recent recipients of the International Press Freedom award include an independent writer in Afghanistan, a Moroccan publisher, a jailed Cuban journalist, and a survivor of the Chechen wars. Musa Muradov fled Chechnya in 1999 after a bomb killed a colleague and destroyed his paper’s office. Nathan King caught up with him recently in New York.

[Sounds of combat from the war in Chechnya]

NATHAN KING: A Russian military incursion into Chechnya. A predominately Muslim republic in southern Russia, it’s located between the Black and Caspian seas. Chechnya first declared its independence from Russia back in 1991.Russia responded in 1994 by waging a brutal war. A peace agreement granting Chechnya de facto independence ended Russia’s military campaign in 1996.Then the current conflict started back in 1999. Throughout it all Musa Muradov has been editor of the Grozny Worker, a former communist paper that gained its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union. He has struggled to maintain a balanced line while facing pressures from both sides. In New York recently to collect his award. Musa Muradov came to the United Nations Correspondents Association to share his experiences of the Chechen conflict. He spoke though an interpreter.

MUSA MURADOV: [via a translator] The conditions are hard because of each of the opposing sides tries to sort of tug you along with them. And the attitude is that if you are not with us you are against us. And it’s very difficult for an independent newspaper.

KING: Muradov is very modest about his achievements. However he has lived through hell, suffering detentions, interrogation, and even death threats. Alex Lupis from the Committee to Protect Journalists says Muradov is an inspiration to the cause of independent journalism around the world

ALEX LUPIS: He has basically single handedly kept alive the idea of independent journalism in Chechnya. Over the past decade he has survived two wars, he’s led his newspaper through multiple sieges on Chechnya and faced also rebels who were, you know, critical of his news coverage. Two of his journalists died covering what was going on in the republic over the past decade. And he himself has faced numerous death threats and has been interrogated by prosecutors. And just considering the amount of devastation there and the number of journalists who’ve died and gone missing, he’s really carrying on this tradition despite the pressure—significant pressure, both from the government and from the rebels.

KING: Muradov managed to get his paper published through good times and bad, focusing on impact the war is having on civilians, the psychological damage, and the breakdown of civil society. But recently things have taken a turn for the worse. Vladimir Putin was Russia’s prime minister when he ordered troops back into Chechnya in 1999 and he was elected president months later in part on a promise to end the Chechen conflict once and for all. The ensuing bombing campaigns and forced many to flee. Muradov, too, fled to neighboring Ingushetia from where he continued to publish. He now lives in Moscow and continues to publish his weekly paper from the Russian capital. The paper is delivered by train to Chechnya. Again speaking through a translator Musa Muradov says the restrictions are getting tighter all the time.

MURADOV: [via a translator] The journalists are not allowed to independently come to the Chechen territory or move independently around Chechen territory, and I mean both foreign and domestic, Moscow journalists. They are, 24 hours a day they are under watch of federal authorities.

KING: Muradov says the situation in Chechnya deteriorated further after 9/11 and the Moscow theater siege of 2002 that left 130 hostages dead. He believes the war on terrorism is being used to justify the Chechen conflict and crush the resistance.

MURADOV: [via a translator] The official government, the official propaganda of the Russian government, capitalizing on the horrific terrorist attacks in Moscow and in New York on 9/11 and Washington, tried to use this situation to demonize all the Chechens—everybody who resists federalist authorities with arms in their hands. And unfortunately to a large degree they succeeded.

KING: The International Press Freedom award will help he says. It helps shine a light on how bad the situation has become. Musa Muradov says the award gives him a forum to discuss Chechnya’s plight. But he is far from optimistic and believes there is as yet no end in sight for his homeland’s troubles. For Common Ground, I’m Nathan King in New York

[Musical interlude]

MCHUGH: Coming up next, miscarriages lead to prison in Nepal. You’re listening to Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs.

[Musical interlude]

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Nepal Abortion

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MCHUGH: It’s been over a year since Nepal legalized abortion, an act that was long treated as murder. The change of the law is the result of Nepal’s new, active women’s movement and it could now help about 50 women currently imprisoned. They have been sentenced for aborting or killing their babies. But they say there has been a mistake because they actually suffered from miscarriages and stillbirths. Isabell Witt went to Nepal to investigate. For identity protection, some names have been changed in this report.

[Sounds from a prison]

ISABELL WITT: This is the central jail of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, where six women have been convicted for infanticide. Renu, who has been here longest, is serving her eighth year now. She was accused of murdering her baby while it was still in her womb. But she says she is innocent. Renu says she didn’t kill her baby, but instead suffered a stillbirth when she was eight month pregnant.

RENU: [via a translator] My baby was born dead. There were two other witnesses. And besides the witnesses’ statement the court still sent me to jail.

WITT: Renu comes from a small village outside of Kathmandu. Like many Nepalese women, she worked in corn fields, even during her pregnancy. She thinks she had a stillbirth from carrying heavy pots of water. It would have been her third child. The two others now live with her husband in eastern Nepal.

RENU: [via a translator] I live in a, I live in a village called Dholokov (?), in the far east. And we brought our child, the dead child, to check if the baby was born dead or if it was killed. The police found that the baby was born dead.

WITT: [now interviewing Renu directly] Did you have any legal advice, any legal support by someone? By a lawyer or someone?

RENU: [via a translator] I hired a lawyer in the beginning but he kept taking money from me and then he disappeared. And now I’m in a lot of debt.0

[Sounds from the jail]

WITT: Kali Maya is another women jailed for infanticide. She claims she was raped by her father-in-law and she says her baby died seconds after it was born because there was no medical help available.

KALI MAYA: [via a translator] I observed my child was alive when it was born but she was, she could barely breathe. And after awhile the baby turned blue and she died. My husband’s been gone, disappeared for quite awhile. My mother-in-law has been dead for six years. So it was my father-in-law’s child. In the middle of the night when there was nobody home he raped me.

WITT: But the judiciary says these two women have committed a serious crime. Mr. Rub Yab Pandey is the prison Department Manager.

RUB YAB PANDEY: In our legal, those prisoners are in prisons due to more serious offense. The court has decided to keep them in prison as they have killed their children.

WITT: Activists of Nepal’s new women’s movement disagree. They say the female inmates are victims, not offenders. The women’s movement was born in the ’90s out of democratic transitions. One priority was to address abortion rights and the misconception that women not giving birth to a healthy baby had aborted it. Until September last year, terminating a pregnancy was strictly prohibited and under the law classified as murder. Durga Pokhrel, head of Nepal’s National Women’s Commission, says the result is that some people didn’t understand the difference between abortion, infanticide, and stillbirth.

DURGA POKHREL: Every woman who had to go through this kind of thing—miscarriage, abortion, or a stillbirth, or anything—if it is not at a regular period, any heavy bleeding, people will think that was abortion and would be subject to punishment under the mother article.

WITT: According to the lawyer of the imprisoned women, this has lead to misinterpretations even within the justice system. Doctor Rajit Pradhananga says the judiciary failed to investigate stillbirth cases properly.

DOCTOR RAJIT PRADHANANGA: We don’t have the proper system of the collecting the evidence, you see. From the medical point of view, from the legal point of view. Those women were, now in the jail, they have not the proper legal representation.

WITT: [now interviewing Dr. Pradhananga directly] But can you confirm from the evidence you’ve seen that there are women jailed wrongly?

DR. PRADHANANGA: Yes, some cases are wrongly.

WITT: He says the judiciary didn’t distinguish between an infant and a fetus. But Baburam Regmi from the Justice Ministry doesn’t take all the blame. He says ignorance is a result of the lack of education.

BABURAM REGMI: It is very difficult and the problem, possibly what I think is many people do not know, is our educational status because of illiteracy and many other factors. Because of the geographical conditions also, those people who are living in very remote areas, they may not know even now that if the pregnant is conceived that can be aborted.

WITT: Abortion was a sensitive subject because some people compared it with infanticide. But this perception may slowly change. In 2002, the King of Nepal signed the bill for which the women’s movement has been fighting: Abortion was legalized under certain conditions. Binda Magar from the women’s organization, the Forum for Women, Law, and Development, says this will not only raise awareness, but also give every Nepalese woman a basic human right.

BINDA MAGAR: For the Nepalese women it is a great achievement. And I think in the Asian region Nepal is the one country where the abortion has been on certain grounds. Like for any women can abort up to 12 weeks. It’s a great achievement.

WITT: At the Family Planning Association, doctors and nurses say that abortion should not be used as a family planning method. But Doctor Bistal says they are preparing guidelines for safe abortion services.

DOCTOR NIRMA BISTAL: It has been defined there that what type of, up to what level of, you know, service provider—medical doctor or staff nurse, they can, you know, provide the services. And what type of training is required for them, you know, in order to be able to provide that services. To ensure that the safe and you know, safe services with some modest price, the services are provided.

[Sounds from the Family Planning Association clinic]

WITT: Every few weeks, the Family Planning Association hosts medical training for doctors, and seminars on how to communicate the issue in a sensitive way. Dr. Bistal says the campaign may help the women imprisoned by resolving the confusion of abortion, infanticide, and stillbirth. Their main task is to address people in rural areas.

DR. BISTAL: The women who are in jail, you know, who are in jail for having a, you know, abortion, almost 100 percent they came from the rural areas. So in my opinion, you know, it’s a tricky and technical questions. Most of the people, everybody I think, everybody are aware and especially the policymakers that once this law is already in place there is no reason why these people are still in jail.

WITT: But even a year since abortion was legalized some people still don’t know about the change. Like this police officer in Katmandu.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE POLICE OFFICER: There is no right, I don’t think there is any law that says that we can legally have an abortion.

WITT: [interviewing the police officer directly] But if I tell you there is, there is a law since almost one year? But you are a police officer. You are very educated.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE POLICE OFFICER: Yeah. It’s not necessary that every police officer should know it.

[Sounds of training from the police academy in Katmandu]

WITT: At the police headquarters, some people think that police officers must know about the change . Gita Upreti is the Deputy Secretary of the police woman’s unit. The male officers coming into her room have to salute to her. A rather unusual picture, but Gita Upreti wants to challenge the patriarchy in the police force and is establishing women’s units throughout the country.

GITA UPRETI: We need to have a woman’s side to understand the woman’s biological thing, you know. The pain that when women are giving, abort, that pain can’t understand by the male, male personnel. Even a miscarriage, the pain of miscarriage and the biological chances, we are trying to sensitize them, to deal with them, and to understand that problem, which is deeply rooted in our society.

WITT: No matter how deeply rooted the problem is within both Nepali society and the justice system, women, lawyers, and politicians have stood up for the women accused of inducing abortions. They are demanding their release because they were victims of a huge misunderstanding.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE WOMAN: King must give general amnesty to them.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE MAN: We have to review their cases.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE WOMAN: They should be released.

UNIDENTIFIED NEPALESE WOMAN: Whether they were arrested 20 years ago or they are arrested yesterday, they must be released without any condition. That is our stand and we are working on that.

WITT: Last summer, Nepal’s king granted an amnesty for seven of the women. Two others were released in September. This leaves the total number of women imprisoned for abortion at 49. However, the Forum for Women, Law and Development claims only two of these women actually had illegal abortions. For Common Ground, I’m Isabell Witt in Katmandu, Nepal.

[Musical interlude]

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Indian Ship

Listen to This Segment: MP3

PORTER: It’s 54 meters long, it’s powered by 1,000 square meters of cloth and its a long, long way from home. It’s the Indian Naval Ship Tarangini, the Indian Navy’s very first tall ship, and it’s on an around-the-world cruise. Priscilla Huff visited the ship when it docked at the Washington Navy Yard.

COMMANDER P.K. GARG: Tarangini is a three-masted barque, square rigged on the first two masts.

PRISCILLA HUFF: Translation for landlubbers? The INS Tarangini is what’s known as a tall ship—an old-fashioned sailing ship with three-masts soaring 100 feet above the deck. Commander P.K. Garg says, there’s nothing quite like captaining a tall ship.

COMMANDER GARG: I myself was sailing the ship with all of the sails up and we were making a good about eight and a half knots coming roaring down the Chesapeake. It was a lovely sight. I met almost 20 vessels along the way and each one of them came up and said that we were looking great. That was the proudest moment for me.

HUFF: The INS Tarangini—who’s name in Sanskrit means “rider on the waves”—is circumnavigating the world.

VICE ADMIRAL JASWANT PRASAD: It is my proud privilege to welcome you all on board the Indian Naval sail training ship Tarangini.

HUFF: Vice Admiral Jaswant Prasad explains, the INS Tarangini is on an around-the-world voyage.

VICE ADMIRAL PRASAD: She left Kochin in India on 23rd January this year. She sailed to the Arabian sea, through the Red Sea, crossed the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. She crossed Gibraltar into the Atlantic, right across the Atlantic, she reached New York. And then, she entered the Great Lakes, through the St. Lawrence Seaway, and where she was for more than two months, taking part in the 2003 Tall Ship Event, organized by the American Sail Training Association.

HUFF: That series of races, the summer of 2003 on the Great Lakes, included ships from the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, along with the Tarangini of India. Commander P.K. Garg says the ship and her crew distinguished themselves.

COMMANDER P.K. GARG: Tarangini was participating in the Great, in the Tall Ship races, organized by the American Sail Training Association, in the Great Lakes. They were in all four races where from about 30 vessels were taking part. And you would be happy to know, the Tarangini won the overall first position in the youth training division where more than 50 percent of the trainees, of the crew is under the age of 21.

HUFF: The race is a highlight of the ship’s journey, but the INS Tarangini also have a mission—to unfurl a message of friendship across the globe. That’s the hope of the Indian Navy, says Vice Admiral Jaswant Prasad.

VICE ADMIRAL PRASAD: In this 16 months, she would have visited 37 ports in 17 countries. And not only that, she will have embarked under training officers from friendly foreign countries, 15 of them.

HUFF: The INS Tarangini carries six officers and a crew of 27, plus it has room for 30 cadets, making for snug quarters. When the ship stopped in Washington, a South Korean naval officer was on board.

LIEUTENANT S. VISHOI: Um, like until know we have been having , we had US Coast guard officers with us from Toronto to Chicago. Then we have had Italian officer, Spanish, UK, and South African.

HUFF: The Tarangini‘s navigator, Lieutenant S. Vishoi says, its been a positive experience, as they’ve sailed through storms and to prizes.

LIEUTENANT VISHOI: It’s a real good exchange, of the navy, ma’am. We learned to know about various other navies and I am sure they are learning about us.

HUFF: The INS Tarangini returns home, to Bombay, scheduled to arrive in port on May 1, 2004.

[The sound of the wind blowing through the ship’s sails]

HUFF: For Common Ground, I’m Priscilla Huff.

Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.

Copyright © Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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