News beyond the election countdown

It could have been an overcrowded zoo but was actually a large jail in eastern Baghdad which was being visited by two Iraqi vice presidents. The video, which was aired on Sunday’s evening news on state channel Net, was given to international news organizations by the Iraqi authorities. It was not filmed secretly on anyone’s mobile telephone. And, apparently, it was released to show that torture chambers in Iraq are a thing of the past, having been replaced by jails. But why would one need torture chambers when the detention of prisoners in Iraq is a constant torture anyway? The video showed hundreds of people squeezed into iron cages, as the cells built to accommodate detainees were not enough to house all inmates. Desperate-faced prisoners stretched their arms through the bars of their cages as the official visitors, and TV cameras, approached them. Some complained about the conditions; others did not even have the will to do that. «I was convicted for five years,» says one. «I saw my two sons executed before my own eyes,» says another. «Those on the outside are no better off than you,» one of the officials tells the inmates. «You don’t have your freedom but at least you are safe,» the other official says. Can there be any greater shame for a country than to officially acknowledge that there is no essential difference between being free and being jailed? Apart from the cells inside the prisons, the video showed more cages in the prison yard. These were made of chicken wire and partially covered by canvas hoods, presumably to keep the sun off detainees. To see a prisoner in a cage, the inmate in the opposite cage must get down on all fours. Most of the prisoners in this jail are being held as «state subversives,» viewers are told. But these «state-approved» images show that such jails undermine human dignity. Animal rights groups would protest if they saw animals cooped up in such a way. And the fact that worse things happened during the rule of Saddam Hussein, and that prisoners here are not submitted to sexual torture, does not excuse the situation. Thankfully, some of our news bulletins remind us that the world does not revolve around the Maximos Mansion and opposition PASOK’s headquarters on Harilaou Trikoupi Street. It is only natural that the subject of the elections monopolizes the most time on the news now, just a few weeks before polls. But this should not totally dominate the news. If the same logic were to apply to print journalism, then all the non-election items on the agenda could be squeezed into a quarter of a page. Of course, Greek citizens are interested in the forthcoming elections and it would be arrogant to pretend otherwise. But there are many other issues that should also interest us and should also feature on the news agenda.