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Breathless build-up to Malaysia elections

Billed as the closest contest in Malaysia’s history, the country’s general election is due to take place on May the 5th.

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(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

For decades, the United Malays National Organisation – known as UMNO – has controlled Malaysia through coalition governments.

But in recent years the country’s opposition has been making up ground with promises to end corruption, cronyism and authoritarian rule.

In 2008, the opposition had its best ever electoral result which saw the UMNO-controlled National Front coalition lose its two-thirds majority for the first time.

Five years later, next month’s election is rated as the biggest test of the governing party since Malaysia gained independence from Britain more than five decades ago.

The winds of change have been blowing in Malaysia, a country that’s been ruled by the same governing party for more than 50 years.

Known as the United Malays National Organisation, or UNMO, it’s the main party in the National Front ruling coalition and its leader is Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak.

He’s had that job since March 2009, taking over as Prime Minister just months after his party lost its two-thirds majority for the first time in the 2008 election.

That was when the opposition, led by Anwar Ibrahim, secured 82 of the 222 seats in parliament and won five of Malaysia’s 13 states.

The opposition has since lost control of one of those states but now has 86 seats in the parliament.

In the lead up to this year’s general election, Mr Najib is trying to reverse the opposition’s gains by spending his way out of trouble.

As Malaysia analyst Clive Kessler from the University of New South Wales puts it, the Prime Minister has been playing Santa Claus politics.

“Giving out goodies left, right and centre for the last six months at least but he’s been playing Santa Claus, the reason being that, in a sense, the writing has been on the wall for a long time and at least since the previous elections, the last election in 2008 that the UMNO have lost all confidence and trust among non-Malay voters, largely, and at the same time their ability to command and control a large part of the Malay vote is also declining.”

Liam Hanlon is a political analyst at Cascade Asia Advisors, a United States-based research firm focused on southeast Asia.

Mr Hanlon says this year the Malaysian government’s budget provided bonuses to 1.3 million civil servants, cash for low-income families, rebates for smartphones and a cut in the income tax rate.

“They’re really feeling the heat from the opposition’s resurgence so, you know, it’s almost worse off this time with these kind of subsidies and cash handouts because both coalitions are so keen on maintaining these kind of populist policies that lure voters in, but really skate around necessary fiscal reform and long-term fiscal management.”

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society with ethnic Malays making about 60 per cent of its population, the Chinese about 26 per cent and the remainder are Indians and indigenous peoples.

While they’re a minority, the Chinese are generally the most wealthy while the majority Malays are the dominant grouping in politics.

Since the early 1970s, the Malays have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination in a range of areas, something the opposition wants to change.

Political analyst Liam Hanlon says Malaysia has a long history of fiscal imprudence and putting an end to this quota system which favours Malays would be good for Malaysia’s economy.

“This would have clear benefits. Public contracts would now be awarded on the basis of their usefulness and potential to yield larger returns rather than any kind of racial preferences or ties to the government. I think it would open up the domestic economy, reinvigorate its competitiveness, and more importantly it would send in an important signal to international investors and businesses that Malaysia will, in theory, now longer run on cronyism and these kind of race-based preferences.”

In the 2008 election, the opposition managed to win over a large number of Malaysia’s ethnic minorities.

Clive Kessler says that put UMNO on notice and saw the party realise it had to become a centrist party of ethnic cooperation and conciliation if it was to recover the electoral gains made by its opponents.

But rather than work towards being moderate and centrist, Clive Kessler says UMNO has spent the past few years trying to shore up its position in its primary support base among what he says is the old-style, largely rural Malay electorate.

“That has meant that Najib wanted to go to an election to get his own personal mandate for three or four years now and has not been able to because the underlying momentum has not been there, the support for UMNO in general and for Najib in particular has been contracting and becoming far more lukewarm, rather than growing.”

Post 2008, Prime Minister Najib promised a series of reforms and a more open and transparent government with free and fair elections.

He set up a parliamentary select committee to do this but Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, says one of the major recommendations regarding the electoral rolls has not been observed.

He told the ABC that failure, along with the challenges of trying to campaign in a country where the mainstream media is controlled by the state, makes the job of opposition difficult.

“That is the key point in the recommendations. How do you proceed with an election without ascertaining a credible list of voters, not bring in foreigners, not bringing in phantom voters. Number two: there is no – absolutely no – access to the media, it is atrocious, how can you defend Malaysia as a democracy when you don’t allow one minute of air time for any opposition leader?”

Anwar Ibrahim once served as Malaysia’s deputy prime minister in a National Front government and was close to the then-Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

But in 1998 relations soured and Anwar Ibrahim became a vocal critic of Doctor Mahathir’s administration.

In the years since, he’s spent six years in prison for corruption and has been convicted and then acquitted of sodomy on two occasions.

Mr Anwar says the charges were politically motivated.

Anwar Ibrahim’s opposition is a broad coalition consisting of an Islamic party, a party with a Chinese and Indian support base and Mr Anwar’s Justice Party.

Clive Kessler says Anwar Ibrahim’s political masterstroke has been to convince these groups to agree to a ‘no competing on election day’ pact.

He says it’s a clever tactic in a country with a ‘first past the post’ electoral system, which in the past has enabled UMNO to win seats, sometimes by narrow margins when the opposition parties competed against each other.

“So in some areas the pork sellers will vote for Islamic political party candidates, as a way of opposing the government, and in other areas the good Muslims will vote for Chinese pork sellers as a way of expressing their opposition to the government. But the opposition that Anwar has brought together is primarily – it began as that and it’s not got much beyond that – it’s primarily an agreement among all the opposition parties to present a united front and a single slate of candidates against the government on election day.”

Political analyst Liam Hanlon says the fact that the election race is so tight has left some Malaysians feeling nervous as to what will happen before and after the poll.

“It’s never been this close so I think there is a real potential for interfering with what’s going on and, you know, I don’t want to talk about problems that are not there but people are talking about what happened in 1969, these *race riots, and we’ve never seen a political transition in Malaysia. This has been the same government who’s ruled for almost 60 years. It’s new territory and I think everybody is waiting to see how this transpires, your guess is as good as mine in that regard, I don’t think people really know.”

* at least 196 deaths during Sino Malay race riots in Kuala Lumpur between May 13, 1969 and July 31, 1969

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Youths ponder world development priorities

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up 40 per cent of the world’s population and around 25 per cent of global GDP, and in decades to come are predicted to dominate international trade.

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The growing wealth of China and other BRICS countries has helped fuel the advancement of the United Nations’ eight Millennium Development Goals.

And as the 2015 deadline for meeting the MDGs approaches, young people — some of them aspiring leaders — are looking ahead to what the next phase of development will bring.

When Hugo Chavez died recently after 14 years in power in Venezuela, the United Nations praised his commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Mr Chavez as having a fierce attachment to the Millennium Development Goals.

Under Mr Chavez’s ledership, Venezuela saw dramatic reductions in poverty rates, as well as advancements in health and education, with UNESCO declaring the country technically illiteracy-free.

Rafael Caricote grew up in the so-called January-23 neighbourhood of Caracas, named in honour of the date in 1958 on which the last military dictator of Venezuela, Marco Perez Jimenez was overthrown.

It became known as a hotbed of activism and support for Mr Chavez.

20-year-old Rafael Caricote says he’s seen the changes brought about by development programs in Venezuela.

“In my country there [are] so many social programs that include people, [for example] medical programs, social programs. In my country there are many public and private universities. I think the government developed a very good strategy [to] educate people and eradicate illteracy, but in my country I think poverty is the most important issue that the [Chavez] government tackled with all these plans, social inclusion plans. It’s important to recognise that the previous government [did] a good job in social inclusion and some economic things in our country such as the selling of oil and minerals. But it’s important to recognise, too, that people in our country are very willing to develop [themselves] with all these kinds of improvements.”

Rafael Caricote says one program of the Chavez government involved providing access to free healthcare, with specialists from countries such as Cuba and China training local doctors.

“Chavez implemented a plan of medical improvement for people. There are so many urban slums in my country and they put a medical [clinic], and all these people from urban slums come to these places, where they are attended to by doctors that Chavez put there. At the beginning [they were] from other countries, from Cuba for example and from China, but when he improved their educational programs, he improved their medical career, … So there are so many doctors.”

As recently as four years ago, the UN observed that Colombia was falling behind in achieving all eight of the Millenium Development Goals, to which member states committed in 2000.

It said one of the most worrying targets was poverty.

A student from Bogota, Juan Jaramillo, says at the time of the signing of the Millennium Declaration, Colombia was only starting to emerge from a devastating banking crisis.

He says, today the country is experiencing an unprecedented resources boom, and it’s looking to catch up.

“Now that we are in a mining and oil boom in our country and we are experiencing rapid economic growth, some of the revenue is being reinvested in trying to achieve those Millenium Development goals, like eradicating poverty.Specifically, the last two governments have done a lot for the empowerment of women and gender equality. This government has a program for the eradication of poverty, and I think we are on our way. Maybe we are diminishing a little bit in areas like environmental sustainability because even though Colombia is an agricultural country, somehow, we are recovering and our rapid economic growth is due to the mining and oil sectors.”

Romania was another one of 191 UN member states to commit to the MDGs.

When it joined the European Union in 2007, its efforts to reach national targets were boosted, but the impact of the eurozone financial crisis soon slowed down their implementation.

Bianca Marin is a 19-year-old student from the capital, Bucharest, and a delegate at a recent international World Model UN conference in Melbourne.

She says some targets were neglected as a result of the financial downturn.

“The sanitary system had to suffer and the prevention of HIV/AIDS, which actually we’ve seen some cases where young females ended up affecting other people. So, that was an alarm signal. We’ve recently seen more campaigns in schools for education and prevention. Another thing was education at some point and especially the efforts done for those people in rural communities were kind of stopped once the financial crisis came due to lack of funds.”

Bianca Marin says rural areas of Romania present particular development challenges.

“Romania unfortunately still has great discrepancies between the rural and urban areas, especially due to geographical reasons access to rural areas isn’t always possible, so we have actual communities that are isloated and children that have to go even two kilometres in the winter by foot and then people can’t really go to the big cities to work and there aren’t many opportunities there. So, there is definitely poverty and other problems in these rural communities, mainly due to the isolation.”

Distribution of development benefits and the resulting outcomes were among the issues featured in debate at the UN youth conference in Melbourne.

Bonnie Chiu is a student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a delegate on a UN-endorsed committee that’s now presenting its own resolution to the world body about global development post-2015.

She says fellow delegates expressed a desire to see future development planning tailored more towards the circumstances of individual nations.

But she believes a balance must be achieved between the needs of individual countries, and those of the global community.

“They stress again and again how important it is for their own countries to decide what they do, because that would ensure accountability of the governments. And that’s really important. So, the really important point is to let the countries decide. We’ve seen the global disparity, especially in the island economies in the Pacific. We had an NGO representative from Fiji and she told us how the amount of aid per capita is the highest in the Pacific economies, but the progress in those places is minimal. Since these inequalities exist we cannot just apply a one-size-fits-all approach. So, definitely there should be consideration of the progress of different countries, their starting points, but if we take into consideration too much of the different progresses then that will kind of dilute the effectiveness of the MDGs in the post-2015 framework. It’s a difficult balance and that’s going to be a challenge for policy makers, I think.”

A fellow delegate in Melbourne, Hana Hanifa Bastaman from Indonesia, holds that some existing development targets should remain on the agenda after 2015.

She believes wiping out poverty should continue to be the main priority.

“If people have enough purchasing power and don’t live in poverty, they can have good access to education, they can have good access to clean water, they can buy sufficient food and they can get their own employment, maybe by entrepreneurship. Poverty needs to be the main priority again, and also connectivity of government and how each government in the world can actually assist each other and show what we can really do for good governance in the world.”

Specifically for Indonesia, Hana Hanifa Bastaman says she would like to see a new approach to education about HIV/AIDS — as rates increase in her country, despite efforts to curb its spread.

“In Indonesia things about sex and all that stuff are still kind of taboo because we have this majority of people who are Muslims in society. So, talking about that kind of thing is still taboo. Not many people are talking about HIV/AIDS while it’s a big problem. So, I think the problem is more about awareness, how people don’t really get proper information about how they can prevent HIV/AIDS.”

Ahmed Awadallah, a former teacher from Egypt who is now studying in the United States, was also in Melbourne for the UN conference.

The 30-year-old wants education to be a high priority in Egypt’s future development programs.

“Teachers and professors need to have more training sessions, improvement, healthcare, benefits. Look at the teachers in any other developed country and how the government percieves or treats them. Look at the teachers in developing countries, so if you don’t have the basic needs you have to do something else. The other concern is that you have very old schools. I attended a public school all my life — primary schoo, middle school, high school. I have never seen a computer in my school. I graduated from the school knowing nothing about computers. I didn’t even know how to use the Internet because I’d never seen a computer.”

Rafael Caricote from Venezuela says he’d like to see violence addressed in the international development agenda after 2015.

“One of the most important issues that we have to tack in my country is the issue of violence. There are so many cases of violence, not only in Venezuela, but around the world. We are very concerned about the situation of violence in Venezuela. For example, there are 30 or 20 deaths every week. It’s a very alarming rate because you want to be safe, as a Venezueland or a citizen of the world, you deserve to enjoy a peaceful place. The government has the right to give to people the responsibility to protect.”

Another delegate, Sophia Vetancourt from Colombia, says solutions for the next stage of development will need to take into account environmental challenges that are becoming increasingly common across the planet.

“The Millenium Development Goals, when they were created, they were not thinking about all the things that have happened throughout these 13 years so far. So crises such as the one that Haiti lived through, or the tsunamis or many things that have to do with environmental issues must be taken into account for a post-2015 agenda.”

A delegate from Pakistan, Kamil Jamshed, says there’s one social issue the UN cannot ignore as it plans for the next phase of global development.

“As we are moving forward when the world is becoming even more interconnected with the advent of the media and technology as we know it, racism and discriminatory practices have become prevalent. Solving these issues has become a priority, especially within the Asiatic region and the Asiatic states where minorities are sometimes subjected to the will of the majority. So, to come up with strategies and schemes in which minorities can be integrated into mainstream society so that the term itself — majority and minority — takes a back end. And we can then say to the world: look, it’s just one global society that we’re working in, and there’s no reason to think that any human besides us is any different just because of caste, creed, colour, skin or race.”

Next month, a high-level panel evaluating the MDGs since 2000 will report its findings to UN member states.

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‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ to be shot in Australia

The remake of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” will be filmed in Australia after the government pledged a one-off grant worth more than US$22 million, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.

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In a joint statement with Arts Minister Tony Burke, Gillard said casting decisions were still to be made and locations yet to be finalised for the movie, which is set to be the biggest production ever filmed in Australia.

“The securing of this film is a huge coup for the Australian film industry and for the near 1,000 local businesses that will be providing goods and services for the film,” Gillard and Burke said in the statement.

To secure the shooting of the film in Australia, where it is expected to create up to 2,000 jobs, the government will grant the producers a one-off payment of Aus$21.6 million (US$22.6 million).

In 2012, the government gave the makers of the Hugh Jackman movie “The Wolverine” a Aus$12.8 million incentive payment to ensure that it was made in Australia to boost the film industry.

The local film sector has struggled under the high Australian dollar which has made production of big-budget movies here more expensive than in other locations in recent years.

Reports in February suggested Brad Pitt was being sought for the lead role in the remake of the 1954 film starring Kirk Douglas and based on the novel by Jules Verne, and would bring Angelina Jolie and family with him Down Under.

Pitt was reportedly offered the lead role by director David Fincher, who he worked with on “Fight Club”, but the Hollywood Reporter has dismissed these reports as incorrect.

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Time for Australia to abandon blasphemy laws?

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Murder, theft and blasphemy.

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All three are breaches of the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments as well being against the law.

And while there are no moves to decriminalise killing or stealing, Western nations are removing blasphemy laws from the statutes or re-writing them under racial vilification laws.

At the same time, some Muslim countries are reviving or creating blasphemy laws.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

“(Protester 1) “Enough is enough, you know, they just keep putting us down. (Protester 2) You cannot mock, the greatest, most influential, human being that ever walked the face of this earth (jeers).”

Two of the voices of protest on the streets of Sydney during riots over the Innocence of Muslims, an anti-Islamic film that mocks the Prophet Mohammad.

Mocking, holding in contempt, cursing or reviling God or, in that case, the Muslim Prophet, are acts of blasphemy.

Australia’s blasphemy laws are mostly rooted in the nation’s Christian heritage and British legal origins.

“For the most part that’s true, although certainly none of the blasphemy laws in either of the United Kingdom, which has now abolished blasphemy in England and Wales but not in Scotland has abolished the offence of blasphemy, but certainly they did have ecclesiastical roots or foundations in that way and so what remains of blasphemy in Australia it really differs by states.”

That’s Helen Pringle, a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences at the University of New South Wales.

She says the last execution for blasphemy in Britain was in 1697 and that it’s widely believed the last blasphemy prosecution in Australia was in 1871 in New South Wales.

But Dr Pringle says she’s found people were prosecuted in Australia for the use of blasphemous words up until the 1930s.

Dr Pringle says one Australian jurisdiction to totally abolish the offence of blasphemy is the Australian Capital Territory back in 1996.

But she says elsewhere around the country, Tasmania’s Criminal Code and Police Offences Act still contain provisions and in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia there are legislative sections that imply common law references to blasphemy have not been abolished in those states.

Dr Pringle says generally, in Western countries, the emphasis on freedom of speech and the creation of anti-discrimination, racial and religious vilification laws have seen a move away from blasphemy laws.

“So in all those countries, you know really, you’ve got a move against blasphemy. It’s no longer you know, a popularly supported charge and I think most people think of it as archaic and, if not dead, at least on its last legs and they think it should be on its last legs and dealt a final blow, but in countries like Pakistan, Pakistan and some of the Middle Eastern countries at least I think there’s people who believe that blasphemy prosecutions should continue and in fact I think there’s been some move towards the revival of what, even in those countries, was a fairly archaic offence.”

Gary Bouma is an Anglican priest and a professor of sociology at Monash University in Melbourne.

He says for the most part Christians have shown greater tolerance towards the mocking of God as opposed to how Muslims react to any contempt towards the Prophet Mohammad.

“Really the things that one, in a sense, chooses to be offended by vary widely from place to place and for the most part Christians have chosen not to be offended by humour involving God, for example. A lot of our cartoons, our humorous writers would have no material if they couldn’t send up God or belief, or Christian churches, I mean it’s almost to the point in Australia that if you’re not being sent up, you’re not being taken seriously.”

Gary Bouma says mounting arguments to do away with any remaining blasphemy laws in Australia are somewhat pointless.

“Certainly within Australia the idea of trying to get a trial on a blasphemy case would be so difficult as to make, you know, why bother abolishing the legislation, the people have said we aren’t going to attend to it if you try to make us, you’re going to have a hard time, good luck.”

Jeremy Patrick, of the University of Southern Queensland, has studied blasphemy laws in Australia and internationally with a particular focus on Pakistan.

Dr Patrick says there’s been several prosecutions in Pakistan for blasphemy as well as temporary suspensions of social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook for allegedly blasphemous posts.

But he says there’s also a trend towards private vigilante justice.

“If someone is accused of blasphemy, there’s almost mob justice instantly reacting and several individuals accused of blasphemy, even if they’ve been acquitted by the courts have then been hurt or killed by private vigilante justice and there’s definitely a major social movement to suppress criticism of religion in Pakistan.”

Dr Patrick says the risk of blasphemy laws being abused in Pakistan illustrates how dangerous they can be.

“We have the recent case of a Christian girl in Pakistan, who, from the information we have, may have had an intellectual disability of some type. She was accused of having burned a copy of the Koran and it turned out, what actually happened, from the information we have available to us is that she was in fact framed by a Muslim religous leader and fortunately she was acquitted and is now in safe hands, but again it was a very difficult situation for her I’m sure and a very fraught situation as the danger of being accused of blasphemy is so high in Pakistan.”

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom describes itself as an independent, bipartisan body that monitors religious freedom conditions around the world and recommends policies to the U-S Congress.

The Commission’s deputy director for policy and research, Elizabeth Cassidy, says blasphemy laws are often used to restrict individuals’ human rights.

“Looking at it from a human rights perspective blasphemy laws protect religions over individuals or beliefs over individuals so it empowers governments to impose their views of how one should express their religion, what one can say about religion as opposed to allowing people to practise their religion and in fact blasphemy laws, although they’re often justified by countries that have them say they need them to protect religious harmony, interfaith harmony, in fact in the countries there they have these laws they often result in violence and human rights abuses.”

Ms Cassidy says even when blasphemy laws are written to protect more than one religion, they will still leave others unprotected and so open to persecution.

She says in some of the countries that fought for freedom from the oppression of dictators in the Middle East and Africa during the period of mass protest known as the “Arab Spring”, a new kind of domination can be found in the form of such laws.

“In a number of countries in other parts of the world, in particular, as I mentioned, Muslim countries where the state is enforcing Islam where Islam is the official religion and the state is an Islamic state that enforces that through its laws, a number of them still protect only Islam, or if they protect multiple religions as I mentioned in the case of Egypt it’s limited to certain religions, officially recognised religions and doesn’t protect everybody’s beliefs and in some of the “Arab Spring” countries there’s actually been an uptick in the number of charges under these types of laws whether blasphemy, offending Islam, offending religion in the past couple of years.”

In Western countries, blasphemy laws have also been constructed with a dominant religion in mind.

Helen Pringle, from the University of New South Wales, says Muslims discovered this in the late 1980s when they tried to use Britain’s blasphemy laws to prosecute the author Salman Rushdie for the content of his book, The Satanic Verses.

“Which was the subject of an action by Muslims in England, who claimed that this was blasphemy and the case was dismissed on the basis, not that it wasn’t blasphemy, but that the blasphemy laws in England, and this is presumed to apply to Australia as well, that the blasphemy laws in England only extended to the Christian religion, and possibly only to the Church of England. So when that case was dismissed, it was widely thought that the blasphemy laws only applied more narrowly to Christianity.”

The outrage that resulted from the book’s publication led to Rushdie receiving death threats, including from the Supreme Leader of Iran.

The vice president of Muslims Australia, Ikbal Patel, admits there’s a fine line to be walked if blasphemy laws are not to threaten freedom of speech.

But he says they can also protect the rights of people and their religion to be respected.

“It is one that has to be treaded very, very carefully so that you don’t in any way impinge on the freedom of expression, freedom of speech of individuals, but at the same time I think any freedom also brings about the need for responsible behaviour so that you do no cause any form of communal strife or upset the balance of people living in harmony and I think that’s where it is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if you are going to engage in bringing about blaspemy laws then it has to be one that is very, very balanced and carefully thought out.”

Mr Patel says he doesn’t support the prison or even death sentences that some countries have handed down to people found guilty of blasphemy.

He maintains it would be better to take the opportunity to educate an offender on the hurt they have caused and help them understand the religion and culture they’ve targeted.

The problematic nature of writing blasphemy laws has contributed to them either being removed by countries or not being used.

In other cases, some aspects of them have been incorporated into racial or religious vilification laws.

Anglican priest Gary Bouma is a strong supporter of Australia’s racial and vilification laws which he says are working well.

“When you get to vilification, you’re talking about dehumanising language that leads to or incites violence and those who describe them in any other way are not presenting their case correctly. What they are saying is they would like to be able to say nasty things about religious group X in public that might lead to violence, that denigrates this group even if what they say is untrue now I’m sorry, that’s a violation of one of the ten commandments.”

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Double Lives: from undercover cops to secret marriages

Mary Turner Thomson met Will Jordan through online dating.

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As a single mother of one, Mary was open to having a relationship and found Will “totally charming”, humble and accomplished.

He was also terribly romantic. So when Will proposed three weeks after meeting Mary in person, she didn’t suspect a thing.

“From the very beginning of meeting him he was always that kind of intense person. So I wasn’t surprised,” says Mary, who lives in Edinburgh. “Didn’t ring any alarm bells.”

As it turns out, Will was a prolific liar who had two wives, five fiancées and at least a dozen children from several different women. Among other things, he told Mary he was an IT consultant and a secret agent.

“He did it in a very clever way,” says Mary. “He didn’t say, ‘hey baby I’m a spy’ or something like that. What he actually said was, ‘you know, just hear me out.’”

The pair married in 2002 after Mary fell pregnant, a miracle considering Will was supposedly infertile.

Shortly after their wedding, Will said he was being blackmailed by people who knew he was a secret agent. If they didn’t pay the money, their children’s lives would be in danger.

“So I sold everything I possessed, I sold my flat. I sold my life insurance policy, I pretty much literally sold the shirt off my back and gave him everything I had,” she tells Insight.

After years deception and manipulation, Mary sank more and more into severe debt. And she wasn’t the only one.

It wasn’t until “Michelle” – the other Mrs Jordan – phoned Mary that the truth came to light.

“I couldn’t have even imagined what was to follow was to follow. All I knew was is that there was another woman in the same position as me,” says “Michelle”, describing the moment she called Mary.

“My life had just fallen apart exactly the same time her life had fallen apart and I could hear on the phone that she was highly distressed.”

On tonight’s Insight, “Michelle” and Mary join a panel of guests who have led double lives and created an entire fictional existence.

One guest spent years posing as a drug dealer’s girlfriend as part of an undercover operation, until the lines between fact and fiction started to blur. And another pretended to his school friends and teachers that he had a normal life at home, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.

What happens when the deception is exposed? And how does this impact their families?

Catch Insight tonight at 8.30PM on SBS One and streamed live here.

You can join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter or by commenting on Insight’s Facebook page.

WATCH A PREVIEW

For almost three years, “Jessie” worked as an undercover police officer. A fellow officer, Joe, posed as a drug dealer and Jessie pretended to be his glamourous “party-girl” girlfriend as part of a covert operation to catch corrupt police officers. But living a lie soon took its toll as the lines between fiction and reality became blurred.

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