Saturday, July 10, 2010

Forbidden City: A place to hide from a government

The City shall remain nameless.

A woman missing since 1993 was just found in Italy exactly where was she suppose to be. She was mummified there.

She was last seen here. She was inside here all the time, as people prayed to God. Her body was found by the rafters after 17 years.

Her case echoes many others: How far, how long, friends and family will search away from a default crime scene (her last known whereabouts).

Effort-wise, odds decrease significantly to find a clue further away.

A cursory search at point of origin can be exhaustive. But it’s still not a relentless, extensive search – exploring every nook and cranny. Looking for cracks or unnatural patterns on surfaces. Banging on walls, floors and ceilings.

One must think the forbidden to find the hidden.

The forbidden has happened: Someone disappeared.

* * *
True story:: A friend once lost a big beige cat. We tried everything: cat calls, posters, grid searches and other options our angst-ridden minds could imagine. I then had to leave town for business, abandoning a thrice-daily search. That week, randomly, a feint meow was heard by my friend. The cat was bricked in, deep inside a neighbour’s porch. The neighbour didn’t notice.

* * *
A reporter who had just written for Bloomberg about a country where Nicole Vienneau had disappeared questioned why I omitted one glaring fact in a blog about her case.

This purposeful omission haunts me all the time.

There’s a reason for it. But it’s also relevant to report it.

The reporter knew locals were forbidden to speak of it.

Nicole’s brother once wrote of it, but was immediately warned, few people would cooperate if he cited what was forbidden.

A Catch-22: If you cite it, people won’t cooperate; if you don’t, you bury a key lead.

Three years have passed. The stakes have changed. Nicole still has not been found. The effectiveness of political sensitivity is less clear.

Nicole vanished without a trace, her belongings left behind in her hotel. She'd never leave diaries or photos behind, but there they were, giving us the only reliable clues of where she'd been. A detailed map she drew showed her planned routes, but strangely was left behind.

Indirect evidence narrowed the perimeter: She was not seen anywhere outside the hotel. She was seen daily beforehand in a City where local women dress dramatically differently. Nicole, wearing a bright red shirt (or sky blue windbreaker), could be seen a football field away.

What’s forbidden to cite about this City is not the Weapons of Mass destruction a reporter once alleged were buried in bunkers nearby.

The locations were mapped, but evidence has yet to surface.

What’s forbidden to say is actually cited blatantly (in a highlight box) on the first page of Lonely Planet’s description for this City.

* * *
The country’s current President has done a lot to modernize this police state, but his father, the previous President, had a dark past.

In 1982, there was a massacre in this City. Up to 25,000 people were killed out of 350,000 living there. This country is secular but there was once a political religious movement in this City buttressed by a dedicated group of followers.

Brazenly, the group endeavored a failed assassination. The President's father responded by making membership in their group punishable by death.

The group then responded by occupying this City, removing government officials, resulting in dozens of deaths. The President's father responded with a massacre.

During the siege, no one was allowed to leave the City. Anyone leaving would be declared a rebel. People were essentially trapped inside. Many died.

Although the President's father achieved his goal of breaking up the group, he earned a lot of new enemies.

Since then, City residents have gotten smarter for their safety.

* * *

A City within the City, there are secret safe rooms and tunnels to harbour people from hostile activity. One might call these tunnels and rooms – a Forbidden City.

Google Earth even shows pictures of exits

Conversely, they can be used for human trafficking.

Nicole Vienneau was last seen in her hotel – a hotel recommended by Lonely Planet. Today’s she’s a Lonely Planet cautionary tale on pages 171 and 239.

One suspect, the last known person to see her, keeps on asking Nicole's family and officials how he could have possibly gotten her out of the hotel. Like the case in Italy, for the longest time, there’s been no corpse. No smoking gun. Only very narrowed down possibilities.

No one’s reporting secret passages linked to the hotel. But secret corridors are also designed to be hidden.

This makes what is forbidden relevant.

The original case:

1 comment:

X said...

When something goes wrong, Nicole's case is proof not much can happen to help.

Now there are other cases where no one got help.