Friday, 25 February 2011

Libya and Mansour Osanloo

For a few days now, we've been hearing news about continued developments in Libya, not to mention our own government's predictably ham-fisted attempts to remove British citizens from the increasingly desperate situation.

I wrote my last entry about Libya a full five days ago, and subsequently wished I had waited twenty-four hours before doing so. While I have long relied upon the BBC as a reliable source of unbiased information, the first twenty-four hours of the Libya situation were marked by unreliable reports of possible protests and unconfirmed suggestions of conflict, while BBC reporters were posting blogs about the difficulty of accurate reporting in the country.

After posting the previous entry, I read a few forums on the subject of Libya and while I cannot verify that all the entries I read were genuine, there was an overwhelming number of entries from those purporting to be recopying emails or conversations had with residents of Tripoli and Benghazi.

What struck me was the uniformity of those stories - in a matter of hours, protests had been savagely put down and political oppression had become starkly and brutally violent, with rule of law imposed from the end of a gun. Some writers had friends or relatives who had been beaten or killed by the Gadaffi administration, and a number suggested that the troops carrying out the violence were not in fact Libyans at all, but paid mercenaries from Bangladesh and Chad. Some entries stated that they simply wished the truth to become apparent to influential parties outside the region, while others registered plaintive cries for assistance.

Each entry I read sickened me more and at the same time made me more curious about what was going on. I am naturally sceptical and aware of astroturfing on forums, but I didn't believe that this was occuring in this case. How could so many stories be emerging from the country and yet so little be known? I looked for the first time ever for news from Al Jazeera, and was astounded.

Al Jazeera had everything the BBC did not - stories, pictures and video clear enough to dispel any doubt that the country was descending into civil war. There were graphic pictures of shooting victims, stories of government buildings being seized by protestors, a close-up of a deceased mercenary on a ravaged street whose skin was clearly a different colour from those Arabs taking cover nearby. It was a full twenty-four hours before the western media caught up with events.

Muammar Gadaffi's personal guard and those still loyal to him are waging a battle against the protestors, and the outcome of the battle is still not certain. However, events appear to be leaning towards an endgame and we can only hope that the bloodshed there will end soon. Even so, the consequences will undoutedly echo round the world for a while to come. David Cameron is still in the area, promoting stability and democracy by selling arms to bidders in the region.

Milestones - I celebrated my 32nd birthday yesterday. I also celebrated 1000 pageviews on this blog, which is one of those mild coincidences that shows that there are at least some people who have good enough taste to choose this page as an alternative to tabloid editorial. Thanks to you all, and whether you agree with me or not, I hope it has been as enjoyable to read as it has been to write.

I am not the only person who has been celebrating a birthday this week. Iranian trade unionist Mansour Osanloo celebrated his 51st birthday on 23 February. He has been in prison now for four years for the supposed crime of creating an independent workers' union in Iran.

As part of a protest arranged by his union, Tehrani bus drivers refused to collect fares from passengers. In response, Osanloo was beaten badly when he was abducted by the security forces from a bus on his way home in Tehran on 10 July 2007. He suffered from cataracts as a result, but it took a major international campaign simply to let him have surgery just in time to save him from losing the sight in his left eye.

From time to time, he is sent to solitary confinement. Some inmates have attacked him. More recently, opportunities for him to contact his family or to go out of his cell have been reduced deliberately and increasingly he is in a "prison within a prison" acccording to his family.

Under these conditions, he developed a heart problem and was taken out of prison for brief medical treatment after complaining of chest pain. Still, he was sent back to prison within three days and there is no guarantee that his health has recovered fully.

If you are a trade union supporter, you can send Mansour Osanloo a message of support. The campaign to promote genuine workers' rights in Iran is firmly rooted in the international trade union movement and we continue to put pressure on the Iranian government to release all trade unionists who are jailed in the country.

You can post your message to Osanloo on the Facebook Group here, or send it by email to

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