Stiletto by Max Kolbe – September, 2006

Amid the Blackmail, Mayhem and Death, Spare a Thought for Wa Wa

In Vietnam police arrested a journalist after he apparently blackmailed a company for 10,000 dollars in return for not to exposing alleged corruption.

Nguyen Hung Son, 37, a reporter at Dien Dan Doanh Nghiep was detained after being caught receiving 10,000 dollars in cash from the company’s director in a Hanoi cafe.

The journalist had previously visited the headquarters of the private-owned Hai Van transport company, based in northern Hai Duong province, and claimed he had evidence that proved corruption involving the sales of vehicles.

He then asked for money to keep silent.

State-controlled daily An Ninh Thu Do said Son, who was denounced by the company, admitted the crime.

Across the Pacific and the Pentagon says a photographer was detained in Iraq for five months without charge because of “indications” he had strong ties with known insurgents.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman refused to disclose the evidence against Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen.

“All indications that I have received about Hussein’s detainment indicates that he has strong ties with known insurgents and that he was doing things, involved in activities that were well outside the scope of what you would expect a journalist to be doing in that country,” Whitman said.

The US-led military command in Iraq believes there is “sufficient evidence in place that justifies his continued detention,” he said.

The Associated Press said its review of Hussein’s work found nothing to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and demanded that he either be charged or released.

Over to Rome and the death of controversial journalist Oriana Fallaci, renowned for angst-ridden post-September 11 diatribes against Islam, has apparently been assured of a place in heaven by Italy’s top bishop.

“The Lord will welcome her into his arms with abundant love,” Cardinal Camillo Ruini said while praising the late Fallaci’s courage and moral strength.

Her controversial 2002 book “The Rage and the Pride” was regarded as an all-out assault on Islam, which she claimed was responsible for the ideas of extremist groups such as al-Qaeda.

“I want to finish with a personal memory of a woman, Oriana Fallaci, who was at the centre of heated controversies but who bore great witness to courage, moral strength, commitment and literary quality, and finally a love of Italy.

“The lord will welcome her into his arms with his abundant love.”

In central Asia an independent journalist from Jizzakh province of Uzbekistan has also been arrested and charged with bribery.

Ulugbek Haydarov, 43, was arrested after he published a series of critical articles on the Internet about the unpaid salaries of workers at a local marble factory, his older sister said.

Ulugbek, who has previously been attacked and harassed, is one of a handful of independent journalists covering problems in the Uzbek provinces.

Uzbekistan has increased pressure on the media in the aftermath of the bloody suppression of unrest last year when officials blamed the media for siding with alleged Islamic insurgents.

Nearby and Turkmenistan’s exiled opposition has condemned  the death of imprisoned journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, while the Central Asian state’s official media said nothing.

“Just imagining what Ogulsapar Muradova has gone through in the past few months is terrifying,” it said in a report.

The report likened Muradova’s fate to “what happens every day, every hour to other Turkmen detainees” and said this included “arrests, interrogations, tortures.”

Muradova, 58, a correspondent for the US Congress-funded radio station Radio Free Europe (RFE), was sentenced to six years in prison in August for “illegal possession of a firearm.”

Further south and Masked gunmen riding a motorcycle shot dead a journalist in northwestern Pakistan.

Maqbool Hussain Siyal, a reporter for Online news agency, was shot dead by two attackers in the town of Dera Ismail Khan.

The gunmen pumped four bullets into Siyal’s body when he was walking home. He was taken to hospital but died of bullet wounds.

Friends fear as a minority Shiite Muslim he might have been targetted by militants of from Pakistan’s majority Sunni sect.

Much further south and two Australian television channels are redifining the boundaries of bad taste in the media amid a bitter public battle over their coverage of attempts to save a Papuan orphan called Wa-Wa from being eaten by his cannibal tribe.

The story behind the story hit the headlines after five journalists from Channel Seven were ordered out of Indonesia after apparently entering illegally on tourist visas to make contact with the six-year-old boy.

The channel then lashed out at Channel Nine, accusing it of sabotaging attempts to rescue Wa-Wa by tipping off Indonesian authorities about the arrival of the Seven staffers.

Channel Nine is threatening legal action over what the station but Seven believes it was always doing the right thing.

“Our crew flew into a set-up — a dangerous, tense and extremely delicate situation,” Seven Network said on its “Today Tonight” programme.

“We can’t be certain, but we do know the Nine Network somehow found out we were going and tried to sabotage the trip, threatening, cajoling and intimidating,” the programme said.

Wa-Wa, whose parents have died, upset other tribe members who became suspicious that he was possessed by evil spirits, and so they planned to kill and eat him sometime in the next 10 years.

The Korowai tribe are believed to be one of the last to practice cannibalism.

Even Australian Prime Minister John Howard had an opinion: “It’s certainly, on the face of it, a tragic, bizarre story.”

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Luke Hunt is a foreign correspondent, author and occasional photographer who has covered much of Asia fr the last 30 years.

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