March 2018 — CANVAS

Weekly Report: 30 March 2018

Photo: More than 70 pro-democracy protesters were arrested at a demonstration in Minsk, Belarus this week. V Fedosenko. Reuters. Zimbabwe President Mnangagwa was slammed by opposition groups this week after ruling out possible election reforms. The decision was announced after negotiations with the US this week, where Zimbabwe was given a set of conditions that, if met, would lead to the restoration of good trade relations between the countries. The move not to reform was one of these given conditions. Critics are furious over this development, citing the dire state of civic freedom in Zimbabwe at present. “Villagers are being commandeered and coerced to attend Zanu PF political rallies and other functions. No less than 5 000 soldiers in civilian attire have since been deployed into rural Zimbabwe to clandestinely campaign for the ruling party,” said Obert Gutu, spokesperson of the MDC. Also this week, Mnangagwa is launching five anti-corruption courts around Zimbabwe. This is to combat the pervasive corruption in the country, which Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranks extremely poorly, at 157 of 180 countries in the world. It’s also no coincidence that these courts are being launched right as Grace Mugabe faces game poaching and smuggling charges. In other recent news from Zimbabwe, some activists in the village of Kadoma came up with a clever way to address the problem of potholes in their roads. They planted banana trees in the holes, an action that the government was definitely not pleased by. Like many creative and especially strategic protests, however, this had the exact intended effect, and the government moved quickly to fix the roads. Venezuela...

New Malaysian Bill Against Fake News Isn’t Solving Any Problems

Photo: An advertisement in a public transit terminal reminds commuters not to spread fake news online. It’s no secret that in this modern age of fast and easy communication, fake news has become a serious threat to justice and democracy. Each country has reacted differently to this new challenge, with some fighting it full force and others embracing it to their own advantages. One of these strategies in particular attracted the world’s attention this week, though, when the Malaysian government introduced its controversial “anti-fake news bill”. The new policy could charge offenders with up to six years in prison for spreading “any news, information, data and reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting words or ideas.” At first, this plan may seem as though it could have some merit. Fake news is, after all, a grave and near universal problem today. A recent Freedom House report found that online manipulation tactics, including fake news, played a significant role in more than 18 elections last year. This, on top of the other ways that fake news affects and shapes society, also led to a fall in global internet freedom for the seventh consecutive year. All this is to say that the world simply has not figured out how to address this serious threat. Malaysia’s strategy does seem to attack fake news directly, and it would perhaps be a good tactic if the articles themselves were the primary issue. As is demonstrated by the Freedom House report, however, the critical challenges are rather...

Vietnam’s Own Lady Gaga Detained Post Album Promo

Photo: Mai Khoi holding up a sign during Donald Trump’s visit to Vietnam last November. Bennett Murray. The Guardian. Mai Khoi Do Nguyen, often called Vietnam’s Pussy Riot or Lady Gaga, was detained at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi Tuesday morning. She had just returned from Europe, where she was promoting her newest album “Bat Dong,” or “Dissent” in English. Human Rights Watch attests that many Vietnamese activists have been prohibited from traveling abroad, but Mai Khoi has not yet been subject to this travel ban and able to travel to promote her music. Many political activists fled the country during a government crackdown last year, but Mai Khoi stayed, and was seen last November during Trump’s visit to the country with a sign reading “Piss On You Trump.” She is one of dozens of activists on a watch list for her strong criticisms of the government, and she and her husband have been evicted from their homes three times. The most recent eviction was following her anti-Trump demonstration when “agents from Vietnam’s secret police claiming to be employees of the building’s owner” first barricaded her inside her apartment, then demanded she and her husband leave. With this arrest, her husband worries in a Facebook post about the conditions of her detention and whether they will be evicted again. At least 120 others are currently being held in Vietnam for dissent against the government. Mai Khoi has used her music to criticize the authoritarian rule in Vietnam and to call for free speech and the promotion of human rights. In 2016 Mai Khoi joined the ranks of approximately 25...

Weekly Report: 23 March 2018

Photo: Venezuela opposition banner reading “No to the dictatorship of hunger, corruption, and repression. OUT MADURO” Venezuela Four Venezuelan officials have been blacklisted by the United States, part of a new set of targeted sanctions against the South American country’s government. The four were all players in Maduro’s political network, and each was connected to allegations of graft and corruption. Any assets within US jurisdiction will be frozen, and any Americans are forbidden from engaging in any financial transactions with the individuals. Also included in this expansion of sanctions was a ban on Venezuela’s cryptocurrency introduced last month by Maduro. US Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin lambasted the currency as Maduro’s attempt to maneuver around previous sanctions. The sanctions did not include any restrictions on Venezuela’s oil sector, as the US worries targeting oil would only deeping the suffering of Venezuelan citizens. The Venezuelan government however, has no such reservations. This week an ex-oil refinery boss of the state-owned company PDVSA was arrested and accused of corruption. This arrest joins dozens of others as the government cracks down on the oil sector. The opposition has called the arrests nothing more than a power struggle within the government. In other news, several protests across the country were held over the weekend against the May presidential elections. They were organized by the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela, made up of the opposition coalition MUD, leftist dissidents, and some civil society groups. Parliamentarian Delsa Solorzano says “The assemblies are a show of resistance against a regime that wants to deny us our rights. We have to salvage the right to vote freely.” Another...

Farmers in India March For Six Days For Change In Agrarian System

Photo: The farmers were elated that their voices were finally heard (Kiran Mehta/Al Jazeera) Thousands of farmers marched to Mumbai to demand better conditions for themselves in the country. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), abbreviated CPI(M), drew a parallel between this movement and the historic Salt March led by renowned nonviolent activist Mahatma Gandhi during British colonial rule. All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), a farmer-oriented political front connected to the CPI(M), is guiding this mobilization in Maharashtra state and is joined by many tribal farmers. Around half of India’s labor force works in agriculture, but the industry makes up only 14% of the nation’s GDP. Infrastructure is lacking and support is far too inelastic, unable to support citizens in times of blight or drought and unable to accomodate or store surplus. These deficiencies are only deepened as climate change makes crop output ever more erratic. India’s agrarian system is severely failing farmers — destroying livelihoods and creating a trend of suicide among many who feel they will never escape hopeless debt. Activists estimate that between 2015 and 2016, nearly 12,600 farmers committed suicide. This occurs with alarming frequency during times of crop failure, highlighting the severity of the shortcomings of the agrarian system in India. More than 45,000 protesters gathered in Mumbai after six days of walking. They were supported by community members, who brought them food, water, and slippers to replace their worn out shoes, in a show of solidarity. Some marchers were in their 60s and 70s, have depended on the land for decades, and left their livelihoods to be a part of...