The Gesellschaft fuer bedrohte Voelker (Society for Threatened Peoples -STP) recently took part in the Deutsche Welle – Global Media Forum. The Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum is a congress with international reach. It draws media representatives from around the world and people from the fields of politics, culture, business, development cooperation and science. Society for threatened peoples was invited to give a seminar at the Forum. With the topic of the international conference being culture, education and the role of the Media, STP utilised this opportunity to present on the lack of voice minorities have within the media and the things that go unreported or are distorted by those who have more control over the media.
STP organised two prominent speakers to take part in the seminar. The first speaker was Prof. Fouad Ibrahim who would give voice to the plight of the Copts in Egypt and the distortion of facts by the media. As a religious minority, the Copts are often subject to discrimination in modern Egypt, and are the target of attacks by militant Islamic extremist groups. In a recent event, a peaceful protest from Coptic Egyptians was met with brute force from Egyptian authorities resulting in multiple deaths and injuries. Witnesses saw two armoured personnel carriers crushing protesters to death, and soldiers firing wildly at the congregation, followed by riot police throwing tear gas. Reports count between 24 and 27 deaths, mostly Coptic civilians, and over 300 injured.
In a statement released by the Army this force was used in resistance to the violence started by the protesters. Claiming 3 soldiers were killed in the incident. This was later clarified when the Department of Health released a statement indicating that there were no military deaths. To the wider audience it was portrayed as the authorities wanted it to be; untrue facts and falsification of events stating that the authorities were not to blame, and it was the Copts who created such terror. Presented as true news reports on major media channels covering the issue, the Copts were left further discriminated and victimised.
Prof. Ibrahim explained of the role the media played in distorting facts and telling a one-sided (biased) story. He explained that due to such a distortion in the story, a major media personality who initially read the prescribed news story quit in protest of the misinformation propagated. The presentation was very explicit in how the media continues to play a role in the persecution of the Copts and minorities without a voice. Prof. Fouad Ibrahim who spoke eloquently and succinctly on the persecuted Copts in Egypt. A very evocative and confronting piece which had those in the work shop alert and informed of the discrimination that takes place in Egypt.
A more detailed summary of the events can be read here.
The second speaker was Brahim Dah Ebeid who was invited from Mauritania to speak on the atrocity of slavery that still exists within the country. Brahim is the Vice President of the Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement in Mauritania (IRA), a human rights group fighting against slavery and discrimination in Mauritania. As part of their actions, IRA regularly conduct peaceful protests against the continuation of slavery and the inaction of the government, they regular assist in the freeing of slaves and finding ways to provide a life to those they rescue. In a protest in April against slavery, the leader of IRA, Biram Dah Abeid, along with many other members, was arrested and imprisoned. The government is wrongfully holding them in an aim to quell the growing voice against slavery. They are still in prison to date.
The issue of slavery in Mauritania goes virtually unnoticed in the developed world, thus the conference was a great opportunity to educate journalists and delegates of the serious abuse of human rights that exist in Mauritania. After a brief introduction of Mauritania, Brahim told of the situation that exists for many (an estimated 500,000) people in the country. Explaining that 10 to 20% of the population are enslaved to ‚masters‘ and are required to work inexhaustibly without remuneration. Brahim told of his childhood, growing up as a slave and of his mother’s entire life spent as a slave, a major reason for his endless efforts to raise awareness and abolish the practice.
Brahim told of the fortune that became him which allowed him to exit the life of a slave. As a boy living in a small village, Brahim was lucky enough to be allowed to attend school. Government requirements stated there must be a minimum of 15 children registered in order to warrant opening a school. As the local community of ‚white moors‘, masters, wanted a school, they allowed 3 non-white moor children to be registered and attend the first year of school. Lucky to be chosen as one of the 3, Brahim began his schooling. After the school was established and registered, Brahim’s master was not in favour of him continuing school at the expense of the work he would have Brahim do. Though through the determination of his mother, who took up the extra work and pleaded with the ‚master‘ Brahim was able to continue. Excelling as a student, Brahim was able to continue through school until university, finally becoming a philosophy teacher. Through luck and hard work, Brahim’s education freed him from the plight suffered by his mother and family.
The political and social structure of Mauretania upholds and supports the continuation of slavery. A slave that has been ‚freed‘ will come across multiple obstacles that will either push them back to their masters for mere shelter and food or see them suffer in the aim for survival.
There a few who are lucky to fall into an NGO program or with IRA assistance which can see them better take control of their lives and future, but they are minimal. As vice president of IRA, Brahim fights against the practice of slavery. There is headway being made, according to the very positive and optimistic teacher, but still concedes that without more knowledge on the issue and action from the international community the government will not truly abolish slavery and work towards restoring life for many of its citizens.
Brahim’s talk was heard with wide eyes. The information that slavery, in its most ancient form, still exists was news to many of those who attended the seminar. The seminar demonstrated the power of information, and of what the media can do to highlight the plight of those underprivileged and persecuted and without a voice. Journalists and delegates who attended the seminar gained insight and knowledge on the role of the media when it comes to presenting the voice of minorities and the oppressed. For many learning that such atrocities are committed and that slavery still exists was powerful.
The seminar provided a great platform to inform a broad audience, who will hopefully further broadcast such information and become a domino of change. STP has a long standing relationship with IRA and thanks to Deutsche Welle and the conference was able to assist IRA in being heard.
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Key Word: Haratin
Foerderverein Fuer bedrohte Voelker