Thursday, July 14, 2005

Exploiting organic meat's potential in Rajasthan

Diversifying and expanding growth in animal husbandry, one of Rajasthan’s core competencies, the state is soon expected to begin production of certified organic meat. This is targeted at the health-conscious meat eater in India and the world, given the eco-friendly production methods used, and is also expected to please animal rights activists because of the relatively better treatment of livestock.

“Rajasthan has an advantage in producing certified organic meat because animal husbandry skills are already decentralised here and we have feed sources that are free from non-organic contamination,” said Mukesh Gupta, the Executive Director of the MR Morarka-GDC Rural Research Foundation. The foundation, which has taken up this project expects to touch an annual output of Rs 10 crore in the first year. Gupta added that Rajasthan, if fully tapped, could see that figure go up to as much as Rs 1,000 crore annually.

At the moment, the foundation is in the process of getting the animal farms certified and production of meat is expected to begin by the end of July. Organic milk production, on the other hand, has already begun and is being sent to institutional buyers in New Delhi. Deals have also been struck with firms in Thailand and in Hawaii to produce organic beef for the international market. While the foundation would be only involved in the production of the aforementioned, Kamyab Agri-Infotechnology Private Limited has been roped in for transportation and marketing of the produce. Besides meat and eggs, there are plans to begin organic pisciculture next year in the Kotara block in Udaipur where there are numerous lakes and ponds. “We missed certifying the water bodies as organic this season. That shall be done next year,” Gupta said.

The demand for organic meat and processed foods has leapfrogged in the west, buoyed by concerns over frequent reports of diseases such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), commonly known as ‘mad’ cow disease, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which are caused due to contamination in the food chain. The former, for instance, is widely thought to have been caused through the feeding of cattle with animal parts such as bones. Worse, in January this year a goat in France was confirmed to be the first animal in the world, other than a cow, to suffer from BSE. And with regular use of hormones and antibiotics to fatten animals, the scare just keeps growing.

Organic meat, on the contrary, requires the animal not to be exposed to any genetically modified food, abattoir waste, hormones, urea and even artificial colouring agents. Moreover, it needs the animal to be housed in conditions that allow “natural behaviour”, such as access to an “open-air exercise area” for mammals and “open-air run” for poultry. Slaughter rules prescribe a “minimum” slaughter age and transportation requires minimising the adverse effects of loading and unloading, among other protections.

One of my reports for Hindustan Times

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Jailed Iranian journalist's letter is in print

"I have become a symbol of justice in the face of tyranny, my emaciated body exposing the contradictions of a government where justice and tyranny have been reversed..."

The London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a letter by Iranian political prisoner Akbar Ganji, which was smuggled out of his solitary confinement cell. (From MEMRI)

Ganji, an Iranian journalist who has published articles and a book that hint at senior Iranian officials' involvement in the 1998 assassinations of Iranian intellectual dissidents, has been in prison since 2001. From his prison cell, Ganji called for boycotting the recent Iranian presidential elections on the grounds that they perpetuate the totalitarian nature of the Islamic Republic, particularly of Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei.

Last month, following reports that his health was deteriorating and that he was on a hunger strike, he was granted furlough from prison to receive medical treatment. However, while staying with friends, he was abruptly taken back to prison by order of Tehran's General Prosecutor Saeed Mortazavi.

The following are excerpts from the letter:(1)

The Islamic Prosecutor Wants to Punish Me Until I Recant, Like Other Prisoners in Islamic Jails

"Lying has become a virtue among the totalitarian regimes, while for ordinary people it is a sin. The liars falsely claim that there are no political prisoners [in Iran] and that there is no solitary confinement.(2) Moreover, they insist that there are no hunger strikes in Iran's prisons, and that our prisons have turned into hotels. They think they can alter reality by changing words and their meaning. That is why they call the solitary confinement cells 'the special ward,' claiming that the problem has been completely resolved. They are known as 'liars' and as 'Islamic clerics'... and they deny imprisoning people for their opinions [and claim] that the detainees are suffering because of their own character flaw.

"The entire world knows of hundreds who have been incarcerated in Iran's prisons in recent years merely because they had different thoughts. Nevertheless, the liars deny that there are prisoners of conscience in the Islamic Republic. Tehran's Islamic Prosecutor [Saeed Mortazavi] fabricated a few stories about the circumstances of my arrest. Once he made up [the story] that I was in solitary because I began a hunger strike, and the next day he denied I was on a hunger strike, and falsely claimed that I was in solitary to teach me a lesson. Recently he has been telling various stories that I am in solitary because I suffer from mental problems, and require medical supervision.

"What does this medical supervision consist of? The person is imprisoned in a dark unventilated dungeon, and is denied visits even if he is in need of medical supervision. In addition, he is prevented from reading newspapers or using the phone, and is denied the 20-minute period in the sun and fresh air given to every [other] convict.

"The Islamic prosecutor said he wanted to punish me until I have 'sobered up and understood the error of my ways and recanted, just like others in the Islamic prisons."

"Denying [Opinions] and Signing Recantations are Tactics Invented by Stalin, and the Islamic Republic [in Iran] has Now Adopted Them."

"But if sobering up means denying my deeply-rooted beliefs, [they] have discovered with certainty that Ganji will never sober up. Denying [opinions] and signing recantations are tactics invented by Stalin, and the Islamic Republic [in Iran] has now adopted them.

"If necessary, I will continue a hunger strike until death. My fallen face today exposes the true character of the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It has become a symbol of the just [struggle] against tyranny. My shattered face and frail body demonstrate the inherent contradictions of a regime in which the concepts of justice and tyranny have been transposed. Whoever sees me today asks me in astonishment: Is that you? Are you Ganji?

"I want the world to know: I am not sick, and I have not been on a hunger strike. My weight loss, from 77 to 58 kilos, is the result of the torture to which I have been subjected this past month. Why are the authorities refusing to allow the press to photograph me and to publish [the photos]?"

"If I Die, the 'Supreme Leader' [Ali Khamenei] Will Be Responsible for My Death"

"As I have repeatedly said: If I die, the 'Supreme Leader' [Ali Khamenei] will be responsible for my death. [This is] because Islamic Prosecutor [Saeed Mortazavi] is accountable directly to him. I opposed the absolute rule bestowed upon the 'Supreme Leader' because it runs counter to democratic values. I know that the 'Supreme Leader' will never accept even the slightest criticism. See how today, in the midst of the presidential elections, we witnessed how [presidential candidates] Rafsanjani, Karroubi, and Mo'in were punished.

"Islamic Prosecutor [Mortazavi] Speaks Openly of My Death in Prison"

"Islamic Prosecutor [Mortazavi] speaks openly of my death in prison. He told my wife: 'What if Ganji dies [in prison]? Dozens die in our jails every day; perhaps Ganji will be one of them.'

"What the Islamic prosecutor doesn't know is that Ganji may die, but the love of freedom, and the thirst for political justice will never die. Ganji may die, but humanism and the love of one's fellow man, and the hope and expectations for a better future, will never die.

"I will spend my time in solitary, but my heart will continue to beat for freedom. And some of the time I will hear prisoners cry for the windows of their solitary cells to be opened, to let the sun in."

(1) Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 11, 2005.
(2) Apparently a reference to President-Elect Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad's statement that there are no political prisoners in Iran.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Defending a journalist's right to protect his or her source...

Judith Miller Goes to Jail

July 7, 2005, The New York Times

This is a proud but awful moment for The New York Times and its employees. One of our reporters, Judith Miller, has decided to accept a jail sentence rather than testify before a grand jury about one of her confidential sources. Ms. Miller has taken a path that will be lonely and painful for her and her family and friends. We wish she did not have to choose it, but we are certain she did the right thing.

She is surrendering her liberty in defense of a greater liberty, granted to a free press by the founding fathers so journalists can work on behalf of the public without fear of regulation or retaliation from any branch of government.

The Press and the Law

Some people - including, sadly, some of our colleagues in the news media - have mistakenly assumed that a reporter and a news organization place themselves above the law by rejecting a court order to testify. Nothing could be further from the truth. When another Times reporter, M. A. Farber, went to jail in 1978 rather than release his confidential notes, he declared, "I have no such right and I seek none."

By accepting her sentence, Ms. Miller bowed to the authority of the court. But she acted in the great tradition of civil disobedience that began with this nation's founding, which holds that the common good is best served in some instances by private citizens who are willing to defy a legal, but unjust or unwise, order.

This tradition stretches from the Boston Tea Party to the Underground Railroad, to the Americans who defied the McCarthy inquisitions and to the civil rights movement. It has called forth ordinary citizens, like Rosa Parks; government officials, like Daniel Ellsberg and Mark Felt; and statesmen, like Martin Luther King. Frequently, it falls to news organizations to uphold this tradition. As Justice William O. Douglas wrote in 1972, "The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment the public's right to know."

Critics point out that even presidents must bow to the Supreme Court. But presidents are agents of the government, sworn to enforce the law. Journalists are private citizens, and Ms. Miller's actions are faithful to the Constitution. She is defending the right of Americans to get vital information from news organizations that need not fear government retaliation - an imperative defended by the 49 states that recognize a reporter's right to protect sources.

A second reporter facing a possible jail term, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, agreed yesterday to testify before the grand jury. Last week, Time decided, over Mr. Cooper's protests, to release documents demanded by the judge that revealed his confidential sources. We were deeply disappointed by that decision.

We do not see how a newspaper, magazine or television station can support a reporter's decision to protect confidential sources even if the potential price is lost liberty, and then hand over the notes or documents that make the reporter's sacrifice meaningless. The point of this struggle is to make sure that people with critical information can feel confident that if they speak to a reporter on the condition of anonymity, their identities will be protected. No journalist's promise will be worth much if the employer that stands behind him or her is prepared to undercut such a vow of secrecy.

Protecting a Reporter's Sources

Most readers understand a reporter's need to guarantee confidentiality to a source. Before he went to jail, Mr. Farber told the court that if he gave up documents that revealed the names of the people he had promised anonymity, "I will have given notice that the nation's premier newspaper is no longer available to those men and women who would seek it out - or who would respond to it - to talk freely and without fear."

While The Times has gone to great lengths lately to make sure that the use of anonymous sources is limited, there is no way to eliminate them. The most important articles tend to be the ones that upset people in high places, and many could not be reported if those who risked their jobs or even their liberty to talk to reporters knew that they might be identified the next day. In the larger sense, revealing government wrongdoing advances the rule of law, especially at a time of increased government secrecy.

It is for these reasons that most states have shield laws that protect reporters' rights to conceal their sources. Those laws need to be reviewed and strengthened, even as members of Congress continue to work to pass a federal shield law. But at this moment, there is no statute that protects Judith Miller when she defies a federal trial judge's order to reveal who told her what about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as an undercover C.I.A. operative.

Ms. Miller understands this perfectly, and she accepts the consequences with full respect for the court. We hope that her sacrifice will alert the nation to the need to protect the basic tools reporters use in doing their most critical work.

To be frank, this is far from an ideal case. We would not have wanted our reporter to give up her liberty over a situation whose details are so complicated and muddy. But history is very seldom kind enough to provide the ideal venue for a principled stand. Ms. Miller is going to jail over an article that she never wrote, yet she has been unwavering in her determination to protect the people with whom she had spoken on the promise of confidentiality.

The Plame Story

The case involves an article by the syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who revealed that Joseph Wilson, a retired career diplomat, was married to an undercover C.I.A. officer Mr. Novak identified by using her maiden name, Valerie Plame. Mr. Wilson had been asked by the C.I.A. to investigate whether Saddam Hussein in Iraq was trying to buy uranium from Niger that could be used for making nuclear weapons. Mr. Wilson found no evidence of that, and he later wrote an Op-Ed article for The Times saying he believed that the Bush administration had misrepresented the facts.

It seemed very possible that someone at the White House had told Mr. Novak about Ms. Plame to undermine Mr. Wilson's credibility and send a chilling signal to other officials who might be inclined to speak out against the administration's Iraq policy. At the time, this page said that if those were indeed the circumstances, the leak had been "an egregious abuse of power." We urged the Justice Department to investigate. But we warned then that the inquiry should not degenerate into an attempt to compel journalists to reveal their sources.

We mainly had Mr. Novak in mind then, but Mr. Novak remains both free and mum about what he has or has not told the grand jury looking into the leak. Like almost everyone, we are baffled by his public posture. All we know now is that Mr. Novak - who early on expressed the opinion that no journalists who bowed to court pressure to betray sources could hold up their heads in Washington - has offered no public support to the colleague who is going to jail while he remains at liberty.

Ms. Miller did not write an article about Ms. Plame, but the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, wants to know whether anyone in government told her about Mr. Wilson's wife and her secret job. The inquiry has been conducted with such secrecy that it is hard to know exactly what Mr. Fitzgerald thinks Ms. Miller can tell him, or what argument he offered to convince the court that his need to hear her testimony outweighs the First Amendment.

What we do know is that if Ms. Miller testifies, it may be immeasurably harder in the future to persuade a frightened government employee to talk about malfeasance in high places, or a worried worker to reveal corporate crimes. The shroud of secrecy thrown over this case by the prosecutor and the judge, an egregious denial of due process, only makes it more urgent to take a stand.

Mr. Fitzgerald drove that point home chillingly when he said the authorities "can't have 50,000 journalists" making decisions about whether to reveal sources' names and that the government had a right to impose its judgment. But that's not what the founders had in mind in writing the First Amendment. In 1971, our colleague James Reston cited James Madison's admonition about a free press in explaining why The Times had first defied the Nixon administration's demand to stop publishing the Pentagon Papers and then fought a court's order to cease publication. "Among those principles deemed sacred in America," Madison wrote, "among those sacred rights considered as forming the bulwark of their liberty, which the government contemplates with awful reverence and would approach only with the most cautious circumspection, there is no one of which the importance is more deeply impressed on the public mind than the liberty of the press."

Mr. Fitzgerald's attempts to interfere with the rights of a free press while refusing to disclose his reasons for doing so, when he can't even say whether a crime has been committed, have exhibited neither reverence nor cautious circumspection. It would compound the tragedy if his actions emboldened more prosecutors to trample on a free press.

Our Bottom Line

Responsible journalists recognize that press freedoms are not absolute and must be exercised responsibly. This newspaper will not, for example, print the details of American troop movements in advance of a battle, because publication would endanger lives and national security. But these limits cannot be dictated by the whim of a branch of government, especially behind a screen of secrecy.

Indeed, the founders warned against any attempt to have the government set limits on a free press, under any conditions. "However desirable those measures might be which might correct without enslaving the press, they have never yet been devised in America," Madison wrote.

Journalists talk about these issues a great deal, and they can seem abstract. The test comes when a colleague is being marched off to jail for doing nothing more than the job our readers expected of her, and of the rest of us. The Times has been in these fights before, beginning in 1857, when a journalist named J. W. Simonton wrote an editorial about bribery in Congress and was held in contempt by the House of Representatives for 19 days when he refused to reveal his sources. In the end, Mr. Simonton kept faith, and the corrupt congressmen resigned. All of our battles have not had equally happy endings. But each time, whether we win or we lose, we remain convinced that the public wins in the long run and that what is at stake is nothing less than our society's perpetual bottom line: the citizens control the government in a democracy.

We stand with Ms. Miller and thank her for taking on that fight for the rest of us.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The sights, sounds and tastes of Iran

"That night I fall asleep trying to get a sense of my feelings. Three days earlier I had written the word Iran in my journal and let my mind wander. I imagined brilliant red pomegranates, ripe and juicy, the smell of dill and cardamom and advieh (spices), picking out peste (pistachios) in a crowded supermarket and swirling the salty shells around in my mouth, the delicious smells of kabob mingling with gasoline in the streets, the visions of clogged traffic and little white Paykan cars from the 1960s, the drivers honking at each other and driving like maniacs, women in black chadors, little girls without them, men with dark skin and moustaches, pollution, the mosques with their turquoise domes, mullahs, tasting khoresht and pungent oranges, and strolling through beautifully manicured Persian gardens."

From First Time by Homa Rastegar,