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Iran Protests: Tales from the front line

Why did people take to the streets, risking arrest and a barrage of bullets?
After protests turned violent and hundreds of people were killed, four Iranians tell the story of why they risked their lives. What has been happening in Iran to drive them out onto the streets to face bullets?
‘Agrin’ tells Phoebe Keane she’s tired of being objectified as a woman, and having no faith that the authorities will take sexual assault seriously when the police themselves are accused of raping prisoners.
Mahsoud tells how he was shot during a protest but feared going to the hospital in case the authorities put him in jail. When plain clothed police loitered outside his family home, he decided to leave Iran. Still bleeding and with a metal pellet lodged in his ear impairing his hearing, he finally made it across the border to Iraq.
‘Nazy’ tells of being arrested by the morality police while walking to work and being shoved in a van as the heels on her shoes were too high. She started to protest every day and now walks through the streets with her hair blowing in the wind, an act of defiance.
‘Farah’ remembers a time in Iran when women could dance and sing in public and protests because she wants her daughter to live a life without fear.

Presenter: Phoebe Keane
Producers: Ed Butler, Ali Hamedani, Khosro Isfahani and Taraneh Stone
Series editor: Penny Murphy

A Return to Paradise

In 2018 the town of Paradise in the hills of northern California was wiped out by one of the worst wildfires in California's history. The disaster made headlines around the world - regarded as a symbol of the dangers posed by climate change. So what does the future hold for communities like Paradise in a region increasingly threatened by wildfire? Four years on, Alex Last travelled to Paradise to meet the survivors who are rebuilding their town.

Photo: A home burns as the Camp fire tears through Paradise, California on November 8, 2018. (Josh Edelson /AFP via Getty Images)

Reporter and producer: Alex Last
Sound mix: Rod Farquar
Series Editor: Penny Murphy
Production coordinator: Iona Hammond

Saving Children from the Mafia

Southern Italy is home to some of Europe's most powerful criminal organisations; the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra in Naples and the Ndrangheta based in Calabria. For many, crime is a family business. So a judge in Sicily has come up with a radical plan to prevent young people becoming the next generation of mobsters. He’s been taking children away from Mafia families. This controversial policy is now being considered by other countries around the world. Daniel Gordon travels to Sicily to meet those involved in the programme and find out whether it actually works.

Photo: A 17 year-old girl, Letizia, supported by her uncle, addresses an anti-mafia meeting in the Sicilian town of Messina. Her mother is missing and is believed to have been killed by local gangsters.
(Photo: Rocco Papandrea, Gazzetta de Sud.)

Reporter: Daniel Gordon
Producer: Alex Last
Series Editor: Penny Murphy
Sound engineer: Graham Puddifoot
Production coordinator: Iona Hammond

South Korea - a room with a view

“It’s like living in a cemetery.” Jung Seongno lives in a banjiha, or semi-basement apartment in the South Korean capital Seoul. Last August parts of Seoul experienced major flooding. As a result several people, including a family of three, drowned in their banjiha. Seongno dreams of having a place where the sunlight and the wind can come in.

These subterranean dwellings are just one example of a growing wealth divide in Asia’s fourth largest economy. With almost half of the country’s population living in Greater Seoul, the struggle to find affordable housing has become a major political issue. It also contributes to Korea’s worryingly low birth rate. The inability of young people to afford a home of their own means they are not starting families. Many have given up on relationships altogether.

John Murphy reports from Seoul, where owning a home of your own is so important and yet increasingly unattainable.

Produced and presented by John Murphy
Producer in Seoul: Keith Keunhyung Park
Studio mix: Rod Farquhar
Production coordinator: Iona Hammond
Series editor: Penny Murphy

Fighting 'fat-phobia' in Brazil

As in many countries, obesity in Brazil is a major issue with one in four Brazilians now classified as obese and more than half the population overweight. But rather than focusing just on trying to lower this rate by promoting exercise and healthier ways of eating, campaigners and some city councils are successfully implementing changes which accept that high rates of obesity are probably here to stay and society should adapt to this.

In a country famed for pressure to have the perfect beach body, these changes include schools buying bigger chairs and desks, hospitals buying bigger beds and MRI machines and theatres offering wider seats. Brazilian lawyers are starting to make legal challenges, particularly against discrimination in the workplace. Women are holding plus sized beauty contests to celebrate their larger bodies. Schools are hosting discussion clubs where they talk about how body shapes are perceived by their peers and wider society.

Even so, campaigners say there’s a long way to go for bigger bodies to be culturally accepted in Brazil and overcoming what is known as “gordofobia” – belittling or discriminating against people who are larger than average. Camilla Mota travels to the south eastern coastal city of Vitoria to meet a plus size influencer and a lawyer campaigning to stop discrimination and trying to make the city more tolerant. She then flies 1500 kilometres north to another port city, Recife, where some changes have now taken place. Is this transformation away from the stereo-typical “body beautiful” only skin deep or the shape of things to come across the western world?

Presenter: Camilla Mota
Produced by Bob Howard
Studio mix by James Beard
Production coordinator Iona Hammond
Series editor Penny Murphy

Spain's Flamenco on the Edge

To many of us, the passionate music and dance known as flamenco is an important marker of Spanish identity, and perhaps even synonymous with it. So much so, that UNESCO has recognised the art form as part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage. Yet its place within the country of its birth is both more complicated – and more precarious - than this might suggest.

During the Covid lockdowns, a third of all flamenco venues closed down, and with many yet to reopen, training opportunities for new artists remain in short supply. The pandemic has also exacerbated the struggle of many singers and dancers to make ends meet. Meanwhile, to the outrage of purists, other practitioners see a future in fusing traditional flamenco with new, more commercially viable genres, such as pop and hip-hop. Still others see flamenco as a stereotype, and unhelpful to their country’s modern image.

For Crossing Continents, the BBC’s Madrid correspondent Guy Hedgecoe takes us on a colourful journey, reflecting on flamenco’s intriguing origins among the downtrodden folk culture of southern Spain, its difficult present, and its possibly uncertain future.

Presenter: Guy Hedgecoe
Producer: Mike Gallagher
Studio mix by: Rod Farquhar
Production coordinator: Iona Hammond
Series editor: Penny Murphy

Hungary’s power dilemma

Paks, a small Hungarian town on the shore of the River Danube an hour or two south of Budapest has prospered from its nuclear power station, built by the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. Hungary has prospered too. Paks provides some 40 per cent of the country’s power requirements. But the four reactors are now approaching the end of their lives and are scheduled for closure in 2032; so in 2014 agreement was reached with Russia to build two more, with the help of a Russian loan, Russian engineers, and a small army of Ukrainian welders.

But the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army in February 2022 has thrown these plans into disarray. Construction has begun, in the sense that bulldozers have been clearing the ground. But the project is already delayed, and there are those who believe that the new reactors will never be built. As Nick Thorpe discovers, people who thought they had a job for life in Paks are worried about their future and the future of a town whose lively shops and restaurants owe everything to the nuclear industry. Now the centre-piece of prime minister Viktor Orban’s energy empire, Paks may soon become the country’s rustbelt.

Presenter: Nick Thorpe
Produced by Tim Mansel
Studio mix by Neil Churchill
Production coordinator Iona Hammond
Series editor: Penny Murphy

California's cannabis reparations

In California, cannabis is legal for recreational use and it’s created a multi-billion dollar industry. But who’s been reaping the rewards? For decades people from Black and Latino communities have been disproportionately arrested and imprisoned on cannabis drugs charges – and yet few appeared to benefit from the legal cannabis boom. So to make amends, California has been pioneering a policy to give those targeted in the war on drugs, a chance to share in the new cannabis industry. But is it working? Sharon Hemans has been to the city of Oakland to find out.

Presenter: Sharon Hemans
Producer: Alex Last
Studio engineer: Neil Churchill
Series editor: Penny Murphy
Production Co-ordinator: Iona Hammond

Cold-calling Siberia

Sasha Koltun volunteered to fight in Putin's war against Ukraine, though his mother Yelena begged him not to go. Four days later, he was dead, one of several dozen new recruits from across Russia who never even reached the battlefield. What happened to him - and will his mother, battling official indifference and obstruction, ever discover the truth?

With the Kremlin currently restricting access to Russia for Western reporters, Tim Whewell picks up the phone to talk to her and other people in and around the city of Bratsk, in central Siberia, about how the war has affected them. Many are afraid to talk. But others describe their anxiety as they wave goodbye to their menfolk, their confused feelings about the war - a mixture of patriotism and doubt - and the chaotic organisation of the call up. Some recruits have had to buy their own uniform and equipment. Others have suffered as discipline breaks down at some training camps.

Tim talks to a former policewoman determined to encourage support for the war, who makes stretchers for wounded Russian soldiers - and to a young woman who believes it was her boyfriend's duty to be a soldier. But Yelena Koltun - who lost her son Sasha - cannot understand what her country is fighting for.

Presented and produced by Tim Whewell, with additional production by Khristina Stolyarova.
Studio mix by Graham Puddifoot
Series editor Penny Murphy

Trouble in Taiwan?

China’s President Xi Jinping says that Taiwan‘s reunification with the mainland “must and will be fulfilled.” The view from democratic Taiwan is somewhat different.

It’s a threat the islanders have been hearing ever since the 1949 Chinese Civil War, when the Government of the Republic of China was forced to relocate to Taiwan allowing the Chinese Communist Party to establish a new Chinese state: the People’s Republic of China.

But some sense that the increased rhetoric from China in recent months poses a real and present danger. Taiwanese billionaire Robert Tsao has pledged millions of pounds to train three million ‘civilian warriors’ in three years to defend the island should it be required. But will it come to that?

John Murphy is in Taiwan to talk to people there about what they think about the threat from China and whether they’d be prepared to fight to protect what they have.

Presenter: John Murphy
Producer: Ben Carter
Local producer and translator: Joanne Kuo
Production Coordinator: Iona Hammond
Sound Engineer: James Beard
Series Editor: Penny Murphy

Bye-bye Baguette?

The bakers and farmers trying to wean Senegal off imported wheat. Trotting along on a horse and cart, over the bumpy red dirt roads, through the lush green fields of Senegal’s countryside, Oule carries sacks of cargo back to her village. She is the bread lady of Ndor Ndor and she’s selling French baguettes. As a former French colony, the baguette is such a staple of the Senegalese diet, that 8 million loaves are transported out to remote villages, roadside kiosks and high end city bakeries every morning. But wheat doesn’t grow in the West African country, so they are at the mercy of the global markets. Usually they import the majority of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, but since the war, there have been immense pressures on availability and prices have been soaring. So much so, the government has stepped in to subsidise wheat to keep the cost of a baguette down. But the war has forced bakers to question whether there could be another way of feeding Senegal’s huge appetite for bread.

Tim Whewell meets the bakers experimenting with local grains, like sorghum, millet and fonio, that can grow in Senegal’s climate. But can they convince their customers to change their tastes and say bye-bye baguette?

Produced by Phoebe Keane

A ‘Me Too’ Moment for Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox Jews?

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is struggling to come to terms with high-profile sex abuse scandals. In the past year, two of its leading lights were accused of taking advantage of their status to sexually assault vulnerable women, men, and children. What has added to the shock is how, after one of the alleged attackers committed suicide, religious leaders in this insular, devout community defended him and even blamed his victims for causing his death by speaking out. The response sparked anger and triggered an unprecedented wave of activism to raise awareness of hidden sex abuse within the ultra-Orthodox world. Some are describing it as a “me-too” moment. The BBC’s Middle East Correspondent, Yolande Knell hears from survivors of sexual assault and the campaigners within the ultra-Orthodox community working towards lasting change.

Presenter: Yolande Knell
Producers: Gabrielle Weiniger and Phoebe Keane
Editor: Penny Murphy

Photo: A child sex abuse survivor prays at the grave of his alleged abuser.

91 episodes

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