Exiled journalists share their stories

Journalism in Exile panel

From left, ICOA residents Pedro X. Molina, Sonali Samarasinghe, Raza Rumi, and moderator Jonathan Miller.

In an emotional discussion before a rapt audience, ICOA’s three most recent writers-in-residence shared their stories of adjustment and perseverance while living in exile in Ithaca.

All three were forced to leave their home countries because of their work as journalists, and all three managed to continue that work while here.

Investigative reporter and editor Sonali Samarasinghe (resident from 2012-2014) told of her depression and despair after fleeing Sri Lanka after her husband’s assassination in 2009. It was only years later, after managing to collect her own writings from Sri Lanka, that she felt like she had regained control of her life. 

Pakistani writer, editor, and commentator Raza Rumi (2015-2017) discussed his own grief and confusion following an attempt on his life in which a friend was killed. Now director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, Rumi shared his determination to expose injustice not just in Pakistan, but in the United States. 

Political cartoonist Pedro X. Molina (2019-present) described his and his family’s flight from Nicaragua on Christmas Day 2018. They carried only cabin luggage so as not to raise suspicions at the airport and had little idea of what they were getting themselves into. A year later they are still dealing with challenges such as driver’s licenses and cell phones. But Molina has managed to send a cartoon back to Nicaragua each day during his exile.

Moderated by ICOA board chair Jonathan Miller, the November 16 “Journalism in Exile” event was part of “How Did We Get Here?”, a monthlong exhibit and event series on migration at the CAP ArtSpace Gallery on The Commons in Ithaca. ICOA co-organized the series with several other community groups under the name People’s Pop-Up Project. Pedro Molina curated a selection of political cartoons about migration from around the world.

A postscript: The day of the “Journalism in Exile” panel happened to be election day in Sri Lanka. The eventual winner has been implicated in Samarasinghe’s husband’s murder. In December, Samarasinghe was removed from her human rights post at Sri Lanka’s UN mission.


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