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Turmoil in Sri Lanka; Journalists Under Fire in India; Interview With U.S. Special Envoy to Iran Robert Malley; Interview with The Washington Post Global Opinions Contributing Writer and Journalist Rana Ayyub; Interview with "The Suppliants Project: Ukraine" Artistic Director Bryan Doerries; Interview with "The Suppliants Project: Ukraine" Actor David Strathairn; Interview with "The Suppliants Project: Ukraine" Chorus Lyudmyla Yankina. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 19, 2022 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello to you, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
SIDNER (voice-over): All eyes on Tehran amid a high-stakes visit by President Putin in search of allies.
I speak with U.S. Special Representative for Iran Robert Malley.
RANIL WICKREMESINGHE, ACTING PRESIDENT OF SRI LANKA: I will not allow any building to be occupied by protesters.
SIDNER: What's next for Sri Lanka? We get the latest on the political crisis shaking that country.
RANA AYYUB, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We are living in a time where journalists are the new enemies of the state.
SIDNER: The perils of reporting in India.
Our Hari Sreenivasan speaks to investigative journalist Rana Ayyub.
DAVID STRATHAIRN, ACTOR: And in your hands, hold these branches woven with white wool to show that you are suppliant protected by Zeus.
SIDNER: What can the ancient Greeks teach us about the war in Ukraine? I speak to the artists behind The Suppliants Project.
SIDNER: Welcome to the program. I'm Sara Sidner in London, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
It's just the second trip abroad for Russian President Vladimir Putin since Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, and the stakes couldn't be higher. In Tehran,
Putin met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a NATO leader, one of the big issues, unblocking millions
of tons of grain stuck in Ukraine's ports due to a Russian blockade.
Iran is one of Moscow's few remaining allies and a fellow target of Western economic sanctions. And the trip comes only days after U.S. President Joe
Biden visited the region. Iran remains at loggerheads with the United States over its nuclear program and efforts to revive the JCPOA, better
known as the nuclear deal. They have yet to bear fruit.
Rob Malley is at the very center of it all. He is the U.S. special envoy for Iran and at the helm of those negotiations, and he joined me from a
very busy State Department in Washington, D.C.
SIDNER: Robert, I want to ask you about this trip. Everyone is looking at what's going to happen as Putin, only his second time abroad since the
invasion of Ukraine.
Can you give me some sense of what this alliance between Iran and the Kremlin looks like and what the United States may feel it needs to do to
ROBERT MALLEY, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO IRAN: So, first I think you should ask the Russians and the Iranians what they see coming out of this visit.
I think, from our perspective, it speaks volumes that Iran has a choice now. It can opt for a position of relative dependency on Russia, Russia,
which itself is isolated internationally, and have a very narrow economic opportunity with Russia, which really can't go very far, or it can choose
to come back into the deal that's been negotiated now for a year-and-a- half, and have normal economic or more normal economic relations, with its neighborhood and with Europe and the rest of the world.
And that's a choice that Iran has to make. If it chooses a path of not getting back into the deal, of greater isolation and then having to turn to
Russia, having to sell armed drones to Russia, that's a choice that is not a particularly attractive one, but it's one that Iran is going to have to
SIDNER: The issue of Ukraine and the fact that Russia has invaded Ukraine and continues to wreak havoc in that country, how worried is the United
States about the potential of a drone shipment, a large shipment of drones from Iran to Russia to be used to ostensibly kill more people in Ukraine?
MALLEY: So, of course, it's of concern. It's of concern.
Anything that can bolster Russia's ability to wreak havoc, as you say, and inflict more destruction on Ukraine is of great concern to us and should be
of great concern to everyone. But, again, I think it speaks volumes that Iran would be in the position where it wants to sell drones to Russia,
against its professed position of neutrality in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, putting them in this embarrassing position, because of
the choices they have made, where they may feel themselves that they have to -- that that's a choice that they want to make.
It's the wrong choice. It's a wrong choice certainly for Ukraine. It's a wrong choice for trying to end this -- Russia's unprovoked invasion of
Ukraine. And, again, we're watching it very closely. And we have tools that -- we will use the tools at our disposal to sanction any such provision of
weapons to Russia.
SIDNER: Would it surprise you that Iran may feel sort of pushed towards Russia, because they're watching what is happening with our leadership,
with President Biden going to Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia looking to mend ties with Israel?
And we know that there has been some reporting from Reuters saying that Iran's Foreign Ministry has accused the U.S. of using Iranophobia and
basically saying, look, it's creating this tension and crisis in the region by appealing to the failed policy of Iranophobia. That's how the Foreign
Ministry put it.
Do you have a response to the Iranian Foreign Ministry with that sort of language?
MALLEY: Listen, the only ones who are creating tensions are the Iranians because of their activities in the region.
But, again, the points that President Biden made, that we have made consistently now for a year-and-a-half is that we're prepared to get back
into the nuclear deal, which would reduce tensions in the region, which would pave the way for greater de-escalation, if Iran chooses that path.
And so, rather than look to us and accuse us of things that we haven't done, I think Iran has to finally make a decision. Do they want to get back
into the deal, which would allow them to expand their diplomatic and economic relations in the region itself, because the region is as concerned
as the United States is about Iran's nuclear program and about its activities, destabilizing activities in the region?
So Iran will have to make that choice. It has a clear path in front of it, where it could get back into the deal, which would help it, as I say,
deepen its economic and diplomatic ties with its regional neighbors, or it could choose the current path of not getting back into the deal, growing
its nuclear program, continuing with its activities in the region, which are going to isolate it and which are going to define Iran as a
nonproliferation crisis, rather than as a partner in economic dealings that many in the region would prefer.
But it's up to Iran whether it chooses that option.
SIDNER: When you look at it on its face, is there still a chance to revive the nuclear deal that the United States, to be fair, got out of with the
past administration, leading to this, the words of the Iranian leadership saying, you can't trust the United States?
You can see why they would say that, when the president changes, and, all of a sudden, you're in a different position.
MALLEY: Well, we have made no bones about our views regarding the prior administration's decision to withdraw from the deal. We have called it a
catastrophic decision that has done a real disservice to our security and to the stability of the region.
But we have also made no bones about our willingness to come back into the deal. And we have said that from the moment President Biden came into
office. We're prepared to come back into the deal.
So, if Iran wants to come back into the deal, which they say they want to do, there's a very easy way to do it, which is to agree to the terms that,
not the U.S., but the European Union, in its capacity as coordinator, having listened to us, having listened to the Iranians, having listened to
the other partners in the deal, came up with what they consider to be a fair proposal.
We're prepared to deal -- to agree on that basis. We're waiting for Iran to say the same. The chance is there. But it's a chance that, by definition,
diminishes by the day, and President Biden said very clearly during his trip, our -- still, our objective is to get back into the deal and to hope
that Iran will do the same, will come back into compliance with the deal.
That is still our strong preference, but that's not an option that's going to be available forever.
SIDNER: You use threat words, it's not an option that's going to be available forever and the position could change by the day.
Is there a deadline that has been placed on trying to make this Iran nuclear deal and put it together and put it to bed?
MALLEY: There's no date on the calendar after which it's not going to be possible.
But, as I said, every day makes it less likely. And so we're already in a very diminishing -- the window is already closing quite rapidly. It's still
possible. We're not going to put a date on the calendar. But, at some point, I think it will become obvious to everyone that this deal is no
Now, again, we're not going to put a date on the calendar. But I think the Iranians know, as the Europeans do, as our partners do, because they all
agree that this can't go on much longer.
SIDNER: In the estimation of experts and your estimation, how close is Iran to building a nuclear weapon?
MALLEY: So, without revealing any classified information, I think what is -- what we know and we have said -- and, again, this is one of the main
reasons why we think the decision by the prior administration to leave a deal that was working -- by all accounts, it was working -- Iran was
respecting it, and it was keeping its nuclear program in a safe box.
What we have seen since then is, since we have withdrawn from the deal, Iran has accumulated more enriched uranium, has put more sophisticated
centrifuges online, has restricted the access by the inspectors, by the international inspectors, which means that, today, Iran is about only a few
weeks away from having enough fissile material for a bomb.
But that's different from having a bomb. There's all the weaponization, which will take longer. But it is of grave concern already that Iran is
only a few weeks away from enough fissile material, enough weapons-grade uranium, if it chooses to enrich at that level, for one bomb. That's
something that we want to stop. That's why we think getting back into the deal is profoundly in the U.S. national interests.
And that's why we're going to continue to pursue that path for as long as it's realistic. But, again, at the end of the day, Iran has to make its
decision. What choice does it want for itself and for its people, in terms of -- in terms of the ability to have a more normal economy and to be able
to engage with the rest of the world?
That's a choice that rests squarely on the shoulders of Iran's leadership.
SIDNER: I'm going to move off talk of nuclear weapons and the Iran nuclear deal to something that is very personal for families and the person
Siamak Namazi, the longest held detainee -- he has been there about seven years -- wrote an opinion piece in "The New York Times." And he titled it
this: "I'm an American. Why have I been left to rot as a hostage of Iran?"
Can you answer that question?
MALLEY: So, first, I have to say I have had nothing but the greatest sympathy, and for all of -- not just for Siamak, but for all of the four
unjustly detained Americans who've been held for far too long in Iran.
And Siamak is right. He needs to come home. He needs to come home. And every day that he's not home is a day that we have failed to bring him
home. And I recognize that. And it's something that I -- we work on as hard as we work on any other issue related to Iran, if not harder.
Now, the reason he's still there and he's not home is because Iran is holding him as a pawn, because Iran wants to extract concessions, and it's
unconscionable. Now, we have engaged with Iran through intermediate -- through a third party to try to get them home.
And we're still making every effort to get him home, him and his three colleagues, and we will continue to do that. And until we have done that,
we will -- we know that we have that very, very heavy responsibility, that heavy burden to bring them home.
I speak to the families all the time, as does the secretary of state, and we know what they're going through. And we know that they want us to do
more. And we're going to try to do everything in our power to bring them home.
I think you know that, just today, the president signed an executive order that is giving us more tools to sanction countries that -- and individuals
who wrongfully detained Americans or hold them as hostages. That gives us one more tool in our arsenal. But, again, that's not the answer.
The answer is to bring all of them home, and we won't rest until they're back with their loved ones.
SIDNER: Thank you so much, Robert Malley, U.S. special representative for Iran.
MALLEY: Thank you.
SIDNER: We appreciate your time.
MALLEY: Thank you for having me.
SIDNER: Meanwhile, the crisis in Sri Lanka continues following large protests that drove former President Rajapaksa out of the country last
week, leading to his resignation by e-mail.
Now the country scrambles to find a political way out amid a deep economic crisis and the threat of further mass protests. A vote on Wednesday will
determine the next Sri Lankan president.
Correspondent Will Ripley has the latest from Colombo.
WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What is your message to those who feel that your presidency is simply more of the same from the
WICKREMESINGHE: I'm not the same. People know that. I'm not this administration. I came in to handle the economy, like I did in 2001 when it
RIPLEY: Do you think that the previous administration was telling the truth to the people of Sri Lanka?
RIPLEY: They were not?
WICKREMESINGHE: They were not.
RIPLEY: They were lying to the people?
WICKREMESINGHE: They were covering up facts.
RIPLEY: What were they covering up?
WICKREMESINGHE: That we are bankrupt, that we need to go to the IMF.
RIPLEY: So what would you like to say to the people now truthfully, as somebody who could very likely be their next president?
WICKREMESINGHE: I would tell the people I know what they are suffering. We have gone back. We have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. But we can
You don't need five years, 10 years. By next year, let's start stabilizing. And by the end of -- by -- certainly, by 2024, let's have a functioning
economy, which will start growing, export-oriented economy, a dynamic economy.
RIPLEY: What went wrong that got Sri Lanka to this point of crisis?
WICKREMESINGHE: Everything is playing politics, not talking on the truth.
RIPLEY: We interviewed a man who pushes his son in a wheelchair to dialysis six kilometers each way five days a week. Public transportation
costs went up by six times.
What do you say to that father?
WICKREMESINGHE: I can understand what you're going through. And this is going to be the worst period. The protests that is taking place, occupation
of houses, burning of houses, that's only adding to it.
RIPLEY: Do you believe that other buildings could be occupied again by protesters?
WICKREMESINGHE: I will not allow any building to be occupied by protesters.
RIPLEY: How will you stop that from happening?
WICKREMESINGHE: I have asked the police and the army to guard it.
RIPLEY: And they have been authorized to take any -- by any means necessary to prevent people from occupying?
WICKREMESINGHE: Just like the Congress, I have said protect it.
RIPLEY: You had your own home burned down.
The furniture was mainly from my grandparents, my parents, great- grandparents. I had piano 125 years old from my great-grandmother all destroyed
RIPLEY: A lot of people would have that experience and say, that's it. I'm out. I don't want to do this anymore.
Why do you want to be president and put -- make yourself potentially a target for this kind of thing?
WICKREMESINGHE: I don't want this happening in this country again. What happened to me, I don't want others to suffer.
There has to be law and order in the country.
SIDNER: Certainly, there have been protests against having him as the president as well.
I'm curious, now that we have you, Will Ripley, there in Colombo live for us, can you give us a sense of what else was discussed?
RIPLEY: So, off camera, we got a little more detail.
We were told, for example, that the IMF, the International Monetary Fund, there are discussions that have been happening. And those discussions are
nearing their conclusion, the acting president said, although we're still waiting to know if -- what the result is going to be. He didn't elaborate
Also, it was really interesting. This is a guy who essentially had his house burnt down two weeks ago. And there was certainly a determination on
If we can fix the earpiece -- I'm hearing myself very loudly in the return.
As I was saying, Sara, he was very determined that this is not going to happen to somebody else. This is not going to happen. Government buildings
aren't going to be occupied. Fires are not going to be set. And you have a real sense that he is determined and has told the military and police to do
whatever it takes to prevent a repeat of the scenes that we saw, like the presidential palace being occupied for days, with people swimming in the
pool and working out in the gym and whatnot.
That's better in the ear. Thank you, guys.
SIDNER: So, in the end, though, when he makes a promise like that, it doesn't seem like a promise he can keep, considering the hundreds of
thousands of people who have, for really good reason, stood up and said, you can't do this to us. Our country is in shambles.
What do you think is going to happen, as -- it's always hard to predict who is going to get into office, but there is a vote. What can we expect and
what do protesters want?
RIPLEY: Well, what protesters want is a completely clean slate.
And so Ranil Wickremesinghe, the acting president and a six-time prime minister, is definitely seen as someone who is associated with the old
government, with the Rajapaksa government that has held on to power more or less for the better part of 20 years here in Sri Lanka.
That said, you heard in the interview how he really tried to distance himself from his former boss. He only was the prime minister under the
former President Rajapaksa for two months. He said he wants to focus on the economy. He says he has the experience, and he's bringing the
reintroduction of the 19th Amendment, a constitutional amendment in Sri Lanka that gives more power to Parliament and less power to the president.
There was a 20th Amendment that gave more power to the president, this executive presidency. And that is what some have said led to the decision-
making that kind of drove Sri Lanka's economy into the ground, more than $50 billion in debt.
But you have a wild card here. There's three candidates total, but it's really two that are seen as front-runners. The others name is Dullas
Alahapperuma. He is 10 years younger than the acting prime minister. He's 63. He has a colorful background. He was a tabloid reporter. And he's a
member of Rajapaksa's party, but he has basically been shunned by the party because, when this financial crisis began, he completely turned on the
family and he started -- became a very vocal critic.
So now he has the support of the opposition and even some other members of the ruling party. So there's this real split. And adding to the intrigue,
Sara, it's a secret vote in Parliament tomorrow. So, really, we have no idea what's going to happen, but, depending on the outcome, there are some
protest groups, including a student group, that said, if the old government is perceived to still be in command, there could be anarchy here.
We haven't seen huge numbers since those massive protests kind of ended with the resignation of the former president.
RIPLEY: Could we see those numbers swell up again? That's the really big question, Sara.
SIDNER: That is the question. And I suspect that it will be because of whatever the outcome is in the end. Sri Lanka has a lot to lose. But they
have a lot of work to do.
Thank you so much, Will Ripley, there in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for us.
Now, press freedom in decline in the world's largest democracy, India slipping to 150th of 180 countries on this year's World Press Freedom
Journalist Rana Ayyub has often come under fire for her reporting with the U.N. calling on Indian authorities to end the judicial harassment against
She joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the threats she receives and the issue plaguing journalism in her country.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rana Ayyub, thanks so much for joining us.
Rana, just at the end of June, you were awarded the highest honor from the National Press Club, the Aubuchon Award. But when you look at the list of
people who've received this award, Maria Ressa right now in the Philippines, who is fighting for her ability to continue to do journalism,
Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned by Iran for 544 days, Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered, when you look at this list, and people from the outside
looking at your work, what are the challenges that you are facing in committing your acts of journalism on a daily basis?
AYYUB: Well, thank you so much for having me in this interview, Hari.
Within half-an-hour of the National Press Club informing me that I'm receiving this award, I got news that a journalist friend, Mohammed Zubair,
has been arrested by Delhi police for fact-checking fake news in India.
And right as we talk, he has been sent into judicial custody for busting fake news of a news channel that routinely does dog whistle against Muslim
communities. So, he has been sent behind bars for impacting communal harmony in a country, for stopping fake news, for busting fake news.
So this award is a -- while it is a shot in the arm, it is scary because we are living in a time when journalists are the new enemies of the state,
more so in India, where the world's largest democracy is descending in some kind of a police state.
What we're witnessing every day, it feels like -- it feels Orwellian. It feels like I'm living in a dystopia where journalists are being arrested,
intimidated for speaking truth to power to save the constitutional values.
In the last one week, I have got the most disturbing death and rape threats. I'm speaking to you on this interview. I don't even know if this
interview will be held against me, and I could be booked for laws like sedition. I don't know what my future in India looks like, because a lot of
well-meaning friends are telling me to leave the country.
But that's not a choice that I have got right now, because this is the country of my birth. This is the country of my forefathers. And this is a
country I choose to speak the truth about to celebrate its democracy ethos.
SREENIVASAN: You have been the target of so many different accusations and investigations by the government, which you say are unjustified.
I mean, your bank account has been frozen twice as part of a -- what the government says is a money laundering and tax evasion investigation into
whether you mishandled funds that you raised for COVID relief. You have been charged with defamation in several states across India. And at points,
you have been stopped by immigration and prevented from leaving.
But how do you respond to this kind of scrutiny? I mean, what is it that -- do they -- have they provided any evidence to you to say this is our
evidence of why you have mishandled funds?
AYYUB: I have responded to the Indian government's summons by appearing before the agencies.
And this is the question that I have been asking them. You have accused me of money laundering over relief work done that by -- for COVID-19 victims,
for slum dwellers who did not have access to basic health care. During all this, the government of India has taken 35 percent of the money raised on
the funds as income tax.
And on the same hand, they have accused me of misappropriating funds, when every single penny of the fund has been accounted for. I even gave a chunk
of the money to a hospital for a pediatric COVID board. But the hospital had to return the money, because the government officials called them and
said, you cannot take her money.
So you do not want me to spend the money. And, when I do, you're accusing me of misappropriating the funds. So, the government is basically desperate
to try to build a case against me. Three weeks ago, I have got another notice that says you have to submit all your foreign remittances.
So what started with money laundering has now gone on to submitting my foreign remittances. They have asked me for my contract with "Washington
Post" and Substack. They have asked me for my contractual obligations with international publications, including "TIME" magazine, for whom I wrote a
devastating cover last year.
They have asked me a copy of the contract that I shared with "TIME" magazine to build this narrative that I am taking foreign money to
discredit India, to destabilize India.
My bank accounts are being discussed on live television. My earnings of the last 15 years have been termed as proceeds of crime. Me and my family, we
have been made a free-for-all. I don't have a personal life. Everything that I do in my life is being dissected for a lynch -- virtual lynch mob
out there, which is waiting for this government signal to come after me.
So, this is what my daily life is. And this is what each one of us is facing right now.
SREENIVASAN: From the outside, if I look at India, I will say, look, that this is a country with more than 140,000 registered news publications.
There's 400 TV channels. How does she feel that she's being picked on? Isn't there a vibrant press in this country?
AYYUB: India has a vibrant press on paper, but look at the Reporters Sans Frontieres' own reports on world press freedom.
India is much worse than countries which do not even have a democracy. Let me give you a few examples. Sidhique Kappan, a journalist, a Muslim
journalist, has been behind bars for the last three years. He was on his way to Hathras to report the gang rape of a lower-class girl. He was
apprehended on the way while he was on going to report a story. He had not even reported the story.
For the last three years, he has been behind bars. When his mother died, and she was troubled by her son's incarceration, he was not even allowed to
go for her last rites.
Another journalist Zubair Ahmed, is from the Andamans. He put out a tweet about misgovernance due to COVID. He was arrested for the tweet. Three days
ago, the journalist died by suicide. His psychiatrist said that he was taking antidepressants since the case.
In Kashmir (INAUDIBLE) a Kashmiri journalist was stopped a week ago. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. She was stopped a week ago at the airport
when she was on her way to France to display her work. Kashmiri journalists are being picked up randomly from their homes for their alleged seditious
I have -- I have Kashmiri journalist friends who are literally in hiding in Delhi right now as we talk. So this vibrant press that you're talking about
is only on paper. And I can say this as a Muslim journalist also. I mean, I would have never thought that I would call myself a Muslim journalist when
such are the times that most of the journalists who are being arrested of late are also being arrested because the government wants to set an
These are Muslim journalists who the government is trying to create a narrative that these are anti-nationals who are reporting against Hindu
sentiments. Hindu sentiments -- the latest is hurting Hindu sentiments, hurting the sentiment of the largest majority right now.
So that is what we are being accused of.
SREENIVASAN: Is there anything specific that you have heard back, perhaps in writing, from the government that -- as to why you are under such
scrutiny? I mean, you have certainly written unflattering pieces.
There was a piece in "TIME" last year that -- I think it was titled "This is how Prime Minister Modi's failure to lead is deepening India's COVID-19
crisis." There were a lot of people critical of India's COVID response. But you have been covering Prime Minister Modi for 20-plus years now.
So is it because of what you reported out of the Gujarat riots? Is it because of what you said during the COVID pandemic? Why you? Why now?
AYYUB: I think I have been a consistent target of Mr. Modi's government, whether he was the chief -- when he was the chief minister of Gujarat, when
I went to Gujarat to talk about his role in the Gujarat genocide of Muslims, or the extrajudicial murder of Muslims, because I have
consistently been calling out the bigotry and dog whistle.
I have consistently maintained that Narendra Modi was complicit during the 2022 Gujarat riots, when 1,000 Muslims were killed, because he was silent
throughout it all. I have been to relief camps and I have met families and women who are being gang raped and children who have lost their families
and who have witnessed the worst possible horrors.
I was 19 then. I have documented that, because I'm a child of the Bombay riots in '92-'93, when a mob came to my house to pick me and my sister for
a gang rape. So I know what this feels like, the trauma feels like.
And I have been consistently reporting. My truth has not changed. In 2014, a lot of well-meaning journalists in India said, Modi is now the prime
minister. We should probably look at him with a different lens. And I said, one cannot develop amnesia over a leader's past just because he's become
the prime minister of the country.
And it was not my observation. The Supreme Court of India in an open court in 2004 called the Modi government modern-day Neros who looked the other
way as innocent women and children were burning.
My job, as a journalist, is to be a witness. Irrespective of the clout that Mr. Modi builds in the country, that truth is not going to change. My truth
will not change.
What I witnessed on the ground is -- will not change.
I maintain, even today, what Mr. Moody didn't put out (ph) at that point of time, he's repeating the same formula today as the worst crimes happened in
the name of religion, Mr. Moody remains silent. He's a Twitter savvy prime, who likes to tweet and Facebook about everything. Why not a single tweet
saying that India should maintain its democratize character, its plural character, its sick look (ph) character? I think Mr. Moody is enabling what
we are witnessing in India through science (ph), and that's the truth I cannot look away from.
SREENIVASAN: You know, just recently, India joined several G7 nations in trying to, at least on paper, value of free press, right? And the prime
minister himself set up a committee to try to improve India's ranking in the World Press Freedom Index, which has India near the bottom.
When you see the government trying to improve itself, what's your reaction to this? I mean, is it for our consumption, the rest of the world, so to
AYYUB: On the day that he signed -- he was at the G7 Summit on the day he signed the agreement for -- the press freedom and of free speech, that's
the already day that Mohammed Zubair was arrested.
A couple of days ago, I got a note from Twitter that they had decided to withhold my account in India. And then, later, they showed a clarification
that they had decided to withhold some of my tweets critical of the Indian government in 2021 that was related to COVID-19 carnage in India.
The Indian government has also withheld tweets of freedom house that's -- that downgraded India's democratic, you know, status. So, what is Mr. Moody
trying to suggest when he's trying to create this internal bodies to monitor press freedom? I mean, if Mr. Moody is really so concerned about
the press freedom ratings, how about taking a press conference The man has not taking a press conference in the last eight years.
You were speaking about my "Times" magazine coverage in which I spoke about the COVID-19 devastation. It was absolutely important for me to do that
"Times" magazine cover story because at the time when COVID was ravaging then, dead bodies were flowing on the Ganga. The prime minister and his
whole minister were taking political rallies with tens of thousands of people leading to the call with 19 carnage.
And as soon as I did the "Times" magazine cover, within seven days, I got a notice from the Income Tax Department asking for nonpayment of advanced
tax. So, this is very hard. Mr. Moody, if he really means that he wants to be committed to press freedom, he needs to speak to each one of us. He
needs to answer critical questions instead of doing scripted interviews with just one news agency, which he has been doing for the last seven to
The first interview that he did with the news agency in 2014, keep calling critical news journalists as newsreaders. That's how we came to power as
well as the prime minister of the country. So, I'm not expecting any better standards from the prime minister.
SREENIVASAN: Let's talk a little bit about Twitter. On the one hand, it is a platform where you have a million and a half followers. You're able to
share, in this case, most of your thoughts on lots of topics, right? And on the other hand, what you're saying is, if I'm understanding correctly, that
the Indian government is able to ask Twitter to selectively delete some of your free expressions, right?
AYYUB: Yes. Well, that's -- Indian government has reached out to Twitter asking to delete my account, remove my tweets that are critical of the
government under the ID Act. Now, Twitter has approached the (INAUDIBLE) with a lawsuit that says that any such action is detrimental to the ideals
of a democracy and the fundamentals of free press.
Now, fortunately or unfortunately, Twitter has become a space for so many of us independent journalists where we can express ourselves in -- without
gatekeepers monitoring or censoring us. Many of us are independent journalists. I might be a global opinions writer with "The Washington
Post," but the truth is that part of domestic audience where Indian audience, I do not have any platform to express myself.
In absence of any -- because most domestic obligations do not want to publish me because there are so many cases against me. I do have a platform
internationally. But Twitters has -- is the space, Facebook, Instagram, these are spaces that allow me to speak my mind and that allows me to have
an audience in India.
But of the last couple of weeks, there's not a single day that I do not get a mail from Twitter that, we have got an e-mail from agencies asking to
move your tweet. In the interest of prosperous, we are telling this to you, every day. But at the same time, almost every day there is a Twitter trends
that says, arrest Rana Ayyub.
The day before yesterday, there were 30,000 tweets, some of them asking for a gang rape -- to enter my house and gang me and my five-year-old niece.
The Deli place which is very proactive in arresting journalists. the day place just very. I keep that in them in these tweets, they don't listen to
The kind of explicit death and rape tweets I have received, I would not wish on my worst enemy. But I don't know, this is what this is the free
space that we -- free space that we have been accorded, Hari.
SREENIVASAN: So, how, how do you keep going? How do you not let kind of pessimism get the best of you here?
AYYUB: Trust me, there are days that just -- it does get to me. There are days when I have called my psychiatrist and said, I cannot deal with it. It
does get to you when you're monitored. Even in a foreign country, when your actions are being monitored, when your movements are being monitored.
I know what a fact that I -- when I step out of the house, there is somebody monitoring me. I know that I'm being monitored. I know that my
phone calls are being monitored. But this is exactly where I'm campaigning against, a civilian state and undemocratic state.
And none of us -- a lot of being a (ph) journalist say, oh, you're being very brave. No, I don't think I'm brave. I'm -- I don't even have the
luxury of being brave. I'm just speaking a truth which might be unbelievable but has to be spoken.
SREENIVASAN: You know, you wrote once that, we should stop calling journalist brave. That there is something more structural that's a problem
when we do that.
AYYUB: I think by calling us brave, we are normalizing the hate and the intimidation that is directed at us. None of us need to go through this for
doing our fundamental job of speaking true to public (ph), for doing something as basic as building witness (ph).
So, I don't think why anyone of us should be brave. I don't think why Sadiq Kopan (ph) should be brave. I don't think why Mohammed Zubair should be
brave. I don't think why Asif Sultan (ph) should be brace. This is a (INAUDIBLE) when they have not celebrated, eat with their families.
When you say brave, you're literally shooting (ph) from my shoulders, saying, oh, let he speak because she's brave. No, I don't want to be brave.
I don't want to be monitored because, oh, she was brave and she chose this. No.
My friends have been messaging me saying, listen, just lie low for a while. Don't read. Don't write. Is that what is being normalized? Why should lying
no read normalized in a country which calls itself the world's largest democracy? I thought criticism was the most saliant creatures (ph) of the
Indian democracy? What we do not realize is, I love my country more than all these people who label me an anti-national (ph).
And I'm not able to prove my love for this country. And it is my love for India, it is my love for this country that I have chosen to stay here. It
is my love of the country that I continue to speak, to defend essentially both into the country. Of course, to me, (INAUDIBLE) this country.
SREENIVASAN: Journalist Rana Ayyub, thanks so much for joining us.
AYYUB: Thank you so much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: We reached out to the Indian government for reaction to what Rana had to say, but have not heard back.
Now, in times of crisis, why not ask the ancients for advice? That's exactly what a group of professional actors and the chorus of Ukrainian
citizens do in "The Supplements Project," coming together online to read a Greek tragedy by playwright Aeschylus. It's an ancient play for our
troubled modern times. Here's a taste from actor David Strathairn.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID STRATHAIRN, ACTOR, "THE SUPPLIANTS PROJECT: UKRAINE": And in your hands, hold these branches woven with white wool to show that you,
Aeschylus, protected by Zeus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Earlier, I spoke with Strathairn and artistic director, Bryan Doerries, alongside Ukrainian activists Lyudmyla Yankina, who was one of
the performers. And I started by asking Bryan why he's returning to this particular play that's captivated his attention before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRYAN DOERRIES, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, "THE SUPPLIANTS PROJECT: UKRAINE," THEATER OF WAR PRODUCTIONS: "The Suppliants" tells the ancient story of 50
refugees seeking asylum at a border in Ancient Argos. And the play humanizes their struggle to be seen, to be protected by foreign power, to
be given shelter. But it also dramatizes the struggle within that foreign power about whether to protect these refugees who are being pursued by
their cousins who want to bring them back and force them into marriage.
And the play really speaks to the struggles of immigrants and refugees and those who've been impacted by war across time. But as we learned this last
week, it especially speaks to the experiences of Ukrainians who know what it is to be crossing borders, seeking shelter, and asking foreign powers
SIDNER: You know, it is a story that we have seen and heard so many times over the many decades that -- and the hundreds of years that human beings
have been on earth. We saw this happening to the Syrians. I mean, you name so many groups of people who have been through this and it was striking how
similar of some of the language was asking for help way back when this was first created as really a Greek tragedy.
I want to play a bit because you talked about the plea for refugees. I want to play a little bit of this performance that you all do on Zoom.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We call out to the city, into our ancestral land with its clear running waters.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We call out to the gods about waters and the wind for ones below, dwelling deep within the earth what you know (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We call out to Jews who has guarded the homes to righteous men, receive us with kindness and with mercy. Deliver us from
danger before a brutal order (ph) of men arrives at one of its shores, savage songs of (INAUDIBLE).
SIDNER: Those words could be put into the mouths of any population, almost, who has been through war. Lyudmyla, can you give me a sense of why
you decided to participate in this play?
LYUDMYLA YANKINA, CHORUS, "THE SUPPLIANTS PROJECT: UKRAINE" AND UKRAINIAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER: Thank you. Because, first of all, we are in 21st
century and already in the modern world, there should not be place for the war because we have very developed scientific based, for example. We can
develop our countries. There's no wars anymore.
And for me, for example, ever seeing this war that have been started since 2014, because I am from Luhansk. And right now, where is my home, there is
occupied territory. And I could not have access for my home and I cannot have access for my friends. And when I read this scenario of this Greek
tragedy. So, I saw myself and I saw my nation in this situation.
SIDNER: Can you tell me in modern times that we are all living in what it's like? I mean, do you feel like you are a refugee in your own country
and what that experience is like to have to go through?
YANKINA: It is very hard because from the beginning -- from 2014, I received threats not only to myself, but addressed to my mother, for
example. And I was afraid that something will happen to her. So, I have to ever create her from Luhansk too. So, she will be together with me in the
And like my mother, for example, it was millions of people, you know. And now, more than 5 millions of people became a refugees, not only inside of
the country, but abroad.
STRATHAIRN: David Strathairn, I remember you so brilliantly portraying Edward R. Murrow in "Good Night, and Good Luck." It's, you know, a
journalist's favorite movie, right? So, I wanted to talk to you about why you participated and what it felt like doing this on a very strange stage
known as Zoom.
STRATHAIRN: Yes. The Zoom technologies, it's kind of a double edge phenomenon. It has enabled theater of war to become an international
platform. It's almost been -- it's been a boon to it. We used to do it in theaters, in the homeless shelters and military bases to anywhere from 50
to 1,200 people. And now, it's an international platform.
So, because of that, it's extraordinary that it can bring in thousands of people into the same room at the same time. Over all time. travelling
minstrels and storytellers have told the stories of their people so that those -- whatever populations they were speaking to had a way to
conceptualize their experiences in a -- as it were in a different form. So, they can find -- perhaps, find words to express the feelings and confusions
and anxieties that they are unable to voice by themselves.
Playwrights and performers give these people away to acknowledge, encounter, interrogate their feelings and things that have been happening
to them. And it's a tool. It's something the man has developed and I think it will always continue to be there, that we can be a spokesman.
As Shakespeare says, to hold a mirror as it were up to our own natures.
SIDNER: Yes, it's a 21st century way of doing things, but there has always been artist and performers who have put that mirror up to us and made us
see ourselves even when what was looking back at us was quite horrifying, the things that we were doing.
David, I want to talk about the last time you were on the show, because there are some parallels here. You were here to discuss your one-man play,
"Celebrating the Life of Jan Karski," the Polish courier who witnessed the horrors of the holocaust. And it strikes me as I was on the Polish side of
the border, in the first week after the Russia invaded Ukraine, watching hundreds and hundreds of people coming over the border on foot with one or
two bags, with children in tow, and dogs and cats and anything they could carry.
And it really struck me as Russia is saying these things and sort of making up this idea that they're there only to do this "denazification" of
Ukraine, that in Poland, Jews were leaving Poland during World War II. And now, you're seeing Ukrainians flooding into Poland and Poland did something
that was quite extraordinary. It opened up its doors.
When you look at what you did in this play and playing this character, do you see the parallels there?
STRATHAIRN: Yes, absolutely. In many ways, although the chorus members in the performance of The Suppliants" are Jan Karskis themselves because they
are seeing firsthand eyewitness testimony to what is happening in their country. And indeed, that it was what he did.
I'm trying to bring the -- to the West what was happening to the Jews in Poland and the Jews, in general, and Eastern Europe during World War II.
But this performance, this "The Suppliants" with the Ukrainians is cut from the same cloth. People like Ludmilla and others, they are young Jan Karskis
in their own right.
SIDNER: Bryan, I want to talk to you about when you started the company back in 2008. So many things have happened. So many wars have occurred. You
had the Arab Spring, you know, the U.S. in Afghanistan were still, you know, fighting. And now, you've got this war right on Europe's doorstep.
Do you think that attitudes towards refugees have changed at all from 2008?
DOERRIES: Thanks for that question. I mean, we've been doing work for the last 13, 14 years around the impact of war on communities, on individuals,
on families using plays as a catalyst for talking about war from the ancient world to the present moment. And, you know, when people see their
own experiences reflected in an ancient story, I think it can help them sustain them, help them to feel seen, acknowledged.
The one thing about trauma that I have noticed over the last decade or so of doing this work is that it makes everyone feel as if they are the only
people who have ever felt this alone, this much suffering, this much shame. And there's something about telling an ancient story to those who've
experienced war. And I mean, not just refugees, but also soldiers and their loved ones and their families that lifts them out of that isolation and
into a community of people who've also experienced those feelings. Not just in their community, but across the world and across time.
So, we have seen, yes, public opinion should -- you know, ebb and flow with regard to the sympathy and empathy they feel toward refugees. And I think
one of the challenges -- and this is being made clear in the present moment with the war and Ukraine is, how long can we keep our attention focused on
the suffering? How long are we willing to stay in the room and bear witness to the suffering? What are we willing to sacrifice on behalf of people whom
we don't know, but who is suffering is real to us?
And you know, that's what this exercise is about. How long are you willing to stay in the room even when it gets uncomfortable watching these
performances of suffering that resonates across time?
SIDNER: Bryan, David and Lyudmyla, it is an extraordinary piece of art. and it is an extraordinary mirror that is held up to us. I do want to do
one last thing. I want people to hear from Kira and the impact that the war has had on her.
KIRA MESHCHERSKA, UKRAINIAN ACTRESS: I am an ordinary child who lives in Ukraine. My aunt spent (INAUDIBLE) in captivity in European with Russian
soldiers. And she bears (INAUDIBLE) neighbors in the (INAUDIBLE). With your own hands, my beloved teacher was killed in (INAUDIBLE). I'm sorry.
My -- and in my grandmother's house, only brushing (ph) soldiers. And, you know, I never thought that I would talk about the war in the age of 12. I
never thought of that a war will happened to me.
SIDNER: It is beyond heartbreaking to hear that from such a young girl, a litany of horrors that she's seen at this age.
Lyudmyla, why do you stay? Why do you stay and fight in your own way?
YANKINA: I'm a nurse. And I simply sacrifice my -- to be honest, my safetyness (ph) for humanity because second of all, I am a human rights
defender. And I do know that people who need my skill and my skills was very useful during the hot time in Kiev or during the war time in Kiev.
So, I agree with my family that they will evacuate. This agreement was before the war was started. And because I have not to think about they are
safety, safetyness (ph). But it was my decision that I will participate in these events no matter what. And I will stay until the end.
SIDNER: David and Bryan, if I could just get your reaction to hearing the words from both Lyudmyla and Kira who have suffered so much and have so
much more suffering that they are likely to experience, because the war hasn't ended.
STRATHAIRN: It's deeply moving. It spurs us on to continue this work as peripheral as it is to the actual horrors and crises that they're involved
in. If there's anything that we can bring that will help them sustain their courage or resolve we will do it. But when you hear the words of Kira and
Lyudmyla and the others who speak from the ground up, from their souls up of what they're experiencing -- it's for me, it's a clarion call to the
world, that there is something everyone can do to support them and help them.
It's some -- it's very humbling. It's inspiring. It's her -- you know, my heart goes out to them. And whatever we can do to support them, we should
because this is a turning point in not only modern times, but history tells us that these turning points are critical and we've got to band together to
do the right thing for the common good.
DOERRIES: I would just say, you know, listening to Kira and listening to Lyudmyla touches me very deeply. One of the core values and beliefs of
Theater of War Productions is that it is our job as an audience member once put forth to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. And I
feel that when Lyudmyla and Kira speak, they comfort the afflicted because others who've experienced what they are describing know they're part of a
And what was evidenced in our performance this last weekend was an outpouring of support and solidarity from all over the world, spanning
almost every continent on the planet. But their words also afflict us because there's so much more work we can be doing to address their
suffering. Not just through storytelling, because this really isn't a play, it's not to be consumed. This is, this is truth. What they speak is truth.
And when they speak the words of this ancient play, they're imbuing the play with their truth. And there's nothing more powerful than to hear them
do that. It's life changing to take up their word.
SIDNER: Bryan Doerries, David Strathairn, Lyudmyla Yankina, you have all answered the clarion call and we are all better for it. Thank you so much
for joining me.
YANKINA: Thank you for having me.
STRATHAIRN: Thank you, Sara.
DOERRIES: Thank you.
YANKINA: Thank you.
STRATHAIRN: So long, Lyudmyla.
YANKINA: I'm happy to see you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: How sweet. And you can access the full recording of the play at theaterofwar.com. That is it for now for us. Thank you for watching and
goodbye from London.