Weekly Report: 25 May 2018 — CANVAS

Photo: Venezuelan citizens wait to check in at a “Red Spot” to verify they cast their votes during the presidential election. Reuters.

Cambodia

Cambodia’s National Ministry of Interior has threatened officials of the CNRP, the dissolved opposition party, with seizure of assets if they continue calling for a boycott of the election. This has alarmed observers, who say there is no legal precedent for such a move: the ministry spokesperson has argued that as the CNRP officials are no longer residents of the country, the seizure is permissible. Several CNRP officials and activists have fled the country and are living in self-exile following the dissolution of the party last year. However, Sok Sam Oeun, lead attorney at the Amrin Law and Consultations Group, says he has “no idea” what legal provision the government could use, as calling for a boycott of an election is not illegal in Cambodia. Furthermore, a senior election observer at COMFREL, one of the two observers who declined to send representatives, says the call is an expression of free speech, not an “obstruction” of the election. The former deputy president of the CNRP has compared the threat of seizure to Khmer Rouge tactics, where the regime would evacuate citizens from their homes and towns, only to take all their belongings. A CPP spokesperson has stated that average citizens who may choose to boycott the election will not face any repercussions.

As of Thursday, the National Election Committee has approved all 20 of the political parties that registered for the election. Only two of these currently hold parliamentary seats, the ruling CPP and the Funcinpec party, which only gained seats when the CNRP was dissolved, and not through an election. The remaining parties are all considered to be government allies or too small to gain significant votes.

The country’s second lese majeste case resulted after a barber allegedly shared a post on Facebook that insulted the king.

Venezuela

Maduro won the controversial election this weekend, amid low voter turnout. He has secured himself another six years of rule but his main rivals have claimed the election was fraudulent, and are joined in this assessment by many other countries. Falcon, who had run against him, said “The process undoubtedly lacks legitimacy and as such we do not recognize it.” Maduro won with just under 68 percent of the vote, beating Falcon by nearly 40 percent; Bertucci trailed behind at 11 percent. Many of the voters paused by pro-government stands called “red spots,” set up near polling stations, where they would scan their “fatherland” cards in the hopes of winning a prize promised by Maduro during his campaign.

The US is still deliberating placing sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector: a move considered to be a “game-changer.” The economy already in crisis and with the price of crude plunging in the country, the oil-dependent state is expected to be devastated by oil sanctions.

Myanmar

A report by Amnesty International details atrocities committed by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army where the group massacred nearly 100 Hindus. In it, Amnesty warns both sides who have murdered civilians that their actions are unacceptable, prompting other media sites to wonder which side Amnesty is on. It is these attacks, and ones like them, that prompted the brutal retaliation of the Myanmar army leading to the mass exodus of around 700,000 Rohingya.

Canada and Members of Parliament in the UK support referring the Rohingya case to the International Criminal Court for a full independent investigation.

Two antiwar activists were sentenced on Tuesday, May 22, to two months in jail for unlawful assembly. They had failed to gain permission from the proper authorities before demonstrating against the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar state military. The two insist they were arrested unfairly and that the country’s Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, used as legal basis for their arrests, was unjust. As well, they state the court, and the entire judicial system, is unfree and entirely too influenced by the administration. Their lawyer will file for appeal.

The trial for the two Reuters reporters accused of violating the Official Secrets Acts continues. This week, the prosecution has asked to introduce the reporters’ phones into evidence. This is a shift from previously, when the case rested only on the documents the police claimed the reporters were holding in their hands when they were arrested in a cafe late last year. The prosecution has not explained how the phones will pertain to the case, but the judge nonetheless will allow printed versions of the phone’s contents to be submitted. The defense lawyer says he is concerned about tampering with the evidence, as there is no proof the evidence has been properly extracted and the phones have been in the police’s possession for some time. As well, some documents may have been sent to the reporters without their knowledge in the meantime: the reporters would never have seen those files. The next hearings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, May 28 and 29.

Myanmar and Bangladesh tensions continue near the border. Refugees on the Bangladeshi side are erecting makeshift homes for themselves in the no-construction zone. The Myanmar border guard has been using loudspeakers to make announcements demanding the Rohingya leave the are, which Bangladesh authorities say are disrupting life and instilling fear into the people on their side of the border. Myanmar remains resolute that the growing population near No Man’s Land is unacceptable: repatriation efforts remain at a near stand-still.

Planning and Finance Minister U Kyaw Win has resigned from his post as reports reveal that he may be investigated for corruption.

Nicaragua

Peace talks between Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, the opposition, and civil groups, agreed to only one week ago, already came to an impasse on Wednesday and are now suspended indefinitely. The negotiations came to a halt when the opposition demanded the resignation of the president, elections, and   constituent assembly to reform the constitution. The government, and some observers, decried these demands as far outside the reaches of peace talks. Foreign Minister Denis Moncada said the opposition was using the dialogues to push “toward a soft coup.”

Since the collapse of these talks, two more have died in clashes. More than 75 people have died, and over 850 have been wounded.

The Organization of American States’ Secretary General Almagro has called for early elections in Nicaragua, and on Monday the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemned Nicaragua’s response to weeks of protests against President Daniel Ortega, criticizing a crackdown that resulted in rights abuses including torture and possibly even murder.

North & South Korea

The summit between North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has been called off. Trump canceled the meeting, which had been scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, citing “tremendous anger and open hostility” as a main factor that drove his decision. Trump followed up this announcement with a broad threat, that the US military would be ready to act if North Korea were to try anything “foolish” in retaliation for the called off talks. So far, however, North Korea has responded rather with the statement that it is ready to talk “at any time in any form” with the US delegation.

Zimbabwe

Deputy Minister of Finance Terence Mukupe made headlines this week when he publicly stated that the army would not allow an opposition leader to take charge of the country, even if democratically elected. This echoes Mugabe-era threats by the military, also warning the opposition of intervention if there were to be an attempted power transition. The government has attempted to distance itself from Mukupe over his comments, but they regardless reflect the lingering fears and feelings of many in Zimbabwe.

The country has now applied to rejoin the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe had been part of this bloc of former British colonies until 2003, when Mugabe withdrew after the nation’s membership was suspended over disputed elections. Many in the UK have expressed great enthusiasm for this move, but with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stipulating that “Zimbabwe must now show commitment to Commonwealth values of democracy and human rights.”

Finally, Former President Robert Mugabe was notably absent from a parliamentary hearing this week regarding the nation’s $15 billion loss in diamond revenue. Mugabe had initially presented this problem in 2016, blaming corruption and foreign involvement for the nation’s losses. Consequently, this session of parliament had been called for lawmakers to hear Mugabe’s evidence, making his absence a red flag for many. The former president himself has in fact walked back on his initial claim since making it, dismissing the losses rather as an “urban legend”. The parliament has summoned him again for a new session on May 28.

Other news:

Syria – State news network SANAA has reported that a military base in Homs has come under fire, but neglected to give further details. Homs was recently taken back into Syrian control, after the last remaining terrorists were evacuated and the Syrian flag was raised. This story is still developing. – Wichita Eagle

Mexico The second presidential debate, which took place on Sunday, again featured attacks against frontrunner Lopez Obrador and a focus on how the candidates will handle Trump and his agenda. NAFTA negotiations continue with Trump calling Mexico and Canada “spoiled.” – Reuters | Reuters

USA – President Trump is known for his use of Twitter. He has also been known to block those users who criticize him. This week, however, a federal judge ruled this practice to be unconstitutional, calling it a restriction on free speech. This case addressing how social media interacts with the constitution is a novel one, and will likely have impact far beyond just the president’s twitter. – NY Times