December 15, 2017
Photo: Harlem Désir, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, this week said that the decision by Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) to impose a fine on one of the country’s leading private independent broadcasters, TVN SA, is unjustified and disproportionate – PhotoCredit: OSCE
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“A peaceful beginning to the workweek was shattered Monday after an explosion rattled through one of the busiest transit hubs in New York City, causing the authorities to evacuate hundreds of commuters and throwing the morning into chaos,” writes the New York Times. Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke of an attempted terrorist attack and said no other devices had been found. Akayed Ullah, main suspect, made it clear from a hospital bed where he was being treated for burns from the pipe bomb he strapped to his body that he was on a mission to punish the United States for attacking the Islamic State group, said acting US attorney Joon Kim. The suspect had clearly hoped to die in the act, taking as many innocent people as he could with him, but through incredible good fortune, his bomb did not seriously injure anyone other than himself.
Also on Monday, a federal judge ruled that transgender people will be able to join the U.S. military as of January 1, 2018. The ruling denies a request by President Donald Trump’s administration to enforce his ban on transgender troops while the government appeals an order that is blocking it. The army members who sued Trump, defence Secretary James Mattis and military leaders in August had been serving openly as transgender people in the U.S. Army, Air Force and Coast Guard. They claimed that Trump’s ban discriminated against them based on their sex and transgender status, and that they had relied on the Obama-era policy to reveal they are transgender.
As we wrote about Roy Moore’s contested electoral race two weeks ago, voters in Alabama headed to the polls on Tuesday in a hard-fought U.S. Senate race. With Donald Trump endorsing fellow Republican Roy Moore in spite of allegations against him of sexual misconduct toward teenagers, the stakes were high. With the President’s approval ratings at an historically low, a win by Moore would have strengthened Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, some of whose leaders have not backed Moore, according to Reuters. Against all odds, democratic candidate Doug Jones is announced the winner of the Senators-race in the conservative Alabama late on Tuesday, shaking the Republican establishment
On Monday, the South China Morning Post reports on the rape of Rohingya women by Myanmar’s security forces. An independent research by Associated Press has found that the forces’ behaviour has been sweeping and methodical, concluding that rape was used as a ‘calculated tool of terror’ against Rohingya. In interviews with 29 women and girls who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, AP found that the stories of sexual assault survivors had a “sickening sameness” to them, with distinct patterns in their accounts, their assailants’ uniforms and the details of the rapes themselves. According to the SCMP, “the testimonies bolster the UN’s contention that Myanmar’s armed forces are systematically employing rape as a “calculated tool of terror” aimed at exterminating the Rohingya people.” The interviewees ranged in age from 13 to 35 and described assaults between October 2016 and mid-September this year.
Then on Thursday, Dublin councillors vote to revoke the Freedom of the City of Dublin award given to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The decision is a new chapter to the story of symbolic protests against her handling of violence against Rohingya Muslims in the country, the Guardian reports. Only a month ago, musician Bob Geldof returned his own freedom award at Dublin city hall, as a protest against Suu Kyi. The news comes on the same day that Doctors Without Borders claims it has found at least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed between August and September in a crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces. The organization makes this claim based on field surveys conducted by its own people over the last couple of months, in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Also on Thursday, Reuters reports on the arrest of two of its journalists in Yangon this week. According to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, these acts were a signal that press freedom is shrinking in Myanmar and the international community must do all it can to get them released. Guterres implied a relation between the arrests and the continued persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the country. “It is clearly a concern in relation to the erosion of press freedom in the country,” he told a news conference in Tokyo, referring to the detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who had been working on stories about the strife in Rakhine State.
On Monday, Al Jazeera reports on the ongoing protests of Zimbabwean diaspora, after the ousting of Robert Mugabe a month ago. The article reflects the feeling of disillusionment, after the end of the 37-year Mugabe rule sparked scenes of jubilation all over the country. Members of the Zimbabwe Vigil Coalition have demonstrated outside the Zimbabwean embassy in London every Saturday since October 2002. Now, even though Mugabe is gone, they claim that Emmerson Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s replacement, has filled his cabinet with “contaminated genocidaires from the armed forces and discredited former Mugabe freeloaders”. The article goes on quoting Sue Onslow, a specialist in African history at The Institute of Commonwealth Studies in London: “There were hopes that Mnangagwa would reach out to other elements, to build upon the extraordinary multiple agenda of supporters of the opposition and civil society activists in those massive street demonstrations in Harare and Bulawayo, [but] these have been swiftly disabused,” she told Al Jazeera.
On Thursday, VOA reports on United States’ efforts pressuring the Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa to address the 1980s Gukurahundi. US lawmakers and a top Department of State official have urged the ZANU-PF leader to address atrocities committed by the country’s North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade, which left more than 20,000 supporters of the then opposition Zapu party led by Joshua Nkomo dead and thousands maimed and displaced. “Thousands of Zimbabweans still live with physical and psychological wounds of the atrocities,” said remarks made at a Congressional hearing on Zimbabwe conducted by the Congressional Committee on Foreign Relations. Mnangagwa is believed to have had a strong hand in the atrocities, which were covered as a fight against dissidents that were killing innocent civilians. The Congressional Panel also urged Mnangagwa’s government to allow people living in the diaspora to vote in the next elections.
On Friday, at the long-awaited ZANU-PF congress, the party was expected to announce Emmerson Mnangagwa as their candidate for the 2018 national elections. ZANU-PF also would endorse their recall of Robert Mugabe from the party and government. Farai Mutsaka, writing for the National Post, signals some “bold moves” in the new President’s first weeks in office. A new budget plan proposes to reduce diplomatic missions and ban first-class travel for everyone but the president; the new cabinet also plans to amend an unpopular, Mugabe-backed indigenization law; Zimbabwe’s corrupt police, have been removed from the streets and told to reform; and Cabinet ministers who rarely attended parliamentary question-and-answer sessions seem to have changed their ways. Despite the fact that such changes would have been unthinkable under Mugabe, Mutsaka remains sceptical, especially because of the deeply ingrained system of patronage that was built in 37 years under Mugabe.
Syria Deeply writes about a new dynamic among Syrian refugees seen in recent months. Syrian asylum-seekers have begun to move in the opposite direction because of what they describe as a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment in host countries. The article describes the story of Um Farouk, a 47-year-old Syrian refugee, who decided to leave Europe and return to Turkey. Farouk felt lonely, had difficulty coping with the Danish culture, and felt looked down upon for wearing a veil. The article moves on to argue that, “although few in comparison to the number of people who fled Syria for Europe, stories like Um Farouk’s no longer are so unusual as they once were. The number of Syrians leaving Europe is on the rise after an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment. Little is known about how many refugees are leaving Europe, as the majority of those leaving are illegally smuggled out through Greece and most are not returning to Syria – but to neighbouring countries like Turkey.
On Tuesday, a UNHCR appeal for $4.4 billion to support 5.3 million Syrian refugees in surrounding countries focused on a possible opposite movement of refugees. Syrian refugees could again seek to reach Europe in droves if aid programs are not sustained in five neighbouring countries hosting the bulk of them, as well as the host communities in Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt that have taken them in, the United Nations claimed. UNHCR referred to 2015, a year in which the lack of funding led to an acute shortage of services, when one million refugees fled to Europe.
Late last week, The Maldives signed an important free trade deal with China. While President Yameen said the Maldives viewed China as “among our closest friends, most trusted and most dependable partners”, his government had to defend its free trade agreement with the country against criticism from the opposition that it was signed in haste and with insufficient parliamentary scrutiny. The deal was said to be especially important for fish-exports, since the EU declined to extend tax exemptions for Maldives fish in 2014. Main reason to do so was the country’s failure to comply with international conventions on freedom of religion. According to VOA, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said it was deeply concerned over what it claimed to be a rushed deal. It said lawmakers had requested access to FTA paperwork but the government gave parliament less than one hour to approve a document of more than 1,000 pages.
On Tuesday, Raajje reports on a new government decision under which local officials can no longer meet diplomats and NGOs without government permission. The government announced that every councillor from now on requires a special permission from the home ministry to meet members or diplomats of foreign nations and organizations. According to the news platform, the United States’ Ambassador to Maldives Atul Keshap has criticized the government’s decision to restrict local councils from meeting members or diplomats of foreign nations and organizations. In a tweet on Monday, Keshap stated that it was a “further restriction on democracy and transparency” in Maldives.
On Thursday, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media has said that the decision by Poland’s National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) to impose a fine of 1.48 million Polish Z?otys (€352,000) on one of the country’s leading private independent broadcasters, TVN SA, is unjustified and disproportionate. TVN SA received the fine for coverage by one of its channels, TVN24, of opposition demonstrations in Warsaw in December 2016. The protests came as a response by the opposition and public to the Polish government’s proposals to limit the media’s access to the Polish parliament. OSCE representative Harlem Désir stated that the channel’s coverage of the protests in Warsaw was clearly about an issue of public interest, in the light of which “there appears no justification for the finding that TVN24’s coverage breached the law and in any case the huge fine levied is clearly disproportionate to the alleged violation.”
Newly appointed Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, making his debut on the European stage, claimed he is happy that Poland’s opposition to allowing refugees into Europe seems to be gaining greater acceptance in the 28-nation bloc. The Prime Minister’s comments came in reaction to European Council President Donald Tusk’s statement that the EU’s mandatary refugee quota system has been divisive and ineffective. Tusk called on EU leaders to reach unanimous agreement on reforms to the European asylum system, and claimed he will propose alternatives if there is no consensus. Morawiecki’s predecessor Beata Szydlo’s term as prime minister was marked by bitter conflicts with the EU over migrants, the environment and the state of Poland’s democracy.
On Monday, Reuters writes about the growing number of Venezuelans fleeing economic hardship, crime and what critics call an increasingly authoritarian government. The nearby Brazilian city of Boa Vista fears a full-fledged humanitarian crisis when more Venezuelan migrants make their way over the border, especially since the local towns have limited infrastructure, social services and jobs to offer the migrants. According to United Nations High Commission on Refugees, shelters are already crowded to their limit. The crush of migrants have also fled to Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean country to Venezuela’s north, and Colombia, the Andean neighbour to the west. We can also see a completely different demographics leaving Venezuela now, compared to early on in the conflict. “Unlike earlier migration, when many Venezuelan professionals left for markets where their services found strong demand, many of those leaving now have few skills or resources. By migrating, then, they export some of the social ills that Venezuela has struggled to cope with,” according to Reuters.
On Tuesday, the country’s chief prosecutor stated that Venezuela will open a criminal investigation into former oil czar Rafael Ramirez. As Nicolas Maduro has named a completely new and military leadership to the country’s state oil company PDVSA, this broad shakeup of the OPEC nation’s oil industry has resulted in the arrest of dozens of executives. The Maduro administration claimed that the decision came forth out of a review of documents known as the Panama Papers that showed Ramirez’s involvement in the “intermediation” of oil sales together with his cousin Diego Salazar, who was arrested this month. Only a week ago, Rafael Ramirez had to announce his resignation as Venezuela’s UN Ambassador claiming he “was removed for expressing ‘opinions’ critical of the Venezuelan president”.
On Wednesday, the United States called on Cambodia to reverse steps that “backtracked on democracy” before the general elections next year. After a year in which a rival of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, Kem Sokha, was arrested, and his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia stated that the US is “advising that these steps that have taken place here that have backtracked on democracy could be reversed.” Murphy told reporters in Phnom Penh that Cambodia still had time before the general election in July to “conduct an electoral process that is legitimate”. The statements come in the same week that the Committee on Foreign Affairs for the U.S. House of Representatives called for a list of individuals and businesses in Cambodia that should be subject to sanctions. That same Committee also talks about a review of trade agreements with the country as part of a bid to pressure its government to reverse restrictions on democracy ahead of a general election next year. Both the EU and the US this week suspended funding for the 2018 elections.
On Friday, Reuters writes about Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s reaction, in which he allegedly challenged the United States and European Union to freeze the assets of Cambodian leaders abroad, in response to his government’s crackdown on the opposition and civil society. “I encourage the European Union and United States to freeze the wealth of Cambodian leaders abroad,” he stated in Phnom Penh. As part of the measures, the US and EU have suspended funding for next year’s election and Washington has put visa curbs on some Cambodian leaders.
Late last week, DRC makes the international news for a bit, when 14 Tanzanian UN Peace Keepers were killed in the country. On Monday, The United Nations mission in the DRC paid tribute to the Tanzanian soldiers, who were killed on 7 December in “the worst attack on UN ‘blue helmets’ in recent history.” The killings are attributed to an Islamist extremist group. Besides the death of 14 UN staff, more than 50 peacekeepers were left wounded after militant fighters overran a remote base in the east of DRC, the Guardian reports. The attack was said to be well-coordinated with the attackers being armed with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades.
Close to the end of 2017, The Wire writes about the tough year for DRC and especially its citizens. The list of reasons why the country would like to forget 2017 seems endless. “Presidential and legislative elections were delayed, the violence in Kasai intensified, a long-standing opposition leader died and violence in eastern Congo continued,” forming just a fraction of the list. Like this is not enough, Time on Thursday writes about eleven Congolese fighters who have been jailed for life, for raping dozens of children. The militiamen were found guilty of raping 40 children aged between 18-months and 12-years old. Reuters also reports on the verdict, saying that human rights groups hailed Wednesday’s decision as a strike against the culture of impunity around sexual violence in Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war.
Saudi Arabia – Citizens of Saudi Arabia will soon be able to go to the movies for the first time in more than 35 years. From March next year, commercial movie theatres will be granted licenses, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information said in a statement on Monday. Will the need to diversify its economy make the conservative country open up even more? – CNN
Uzbekistan – President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s decision to liberalize the ex-Soviet nation has urged some mosques in Uzbekistan to start broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer from loudspeakers for the first time in a decade – Reuters
European Union/Israel – While Benjamin Netanyahu paid the first visit to the European Union headquarters by an Israeli prime minister in 22 years on Monday, he did not find similar endorsement from the EU as he got from President Trump on the issue of recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – NY-Times
Ukraine – On Monday, A Ukrainian judge turned down the prosecutors’ request to place opposition figure Mikheil Saakashvili under house arrest, paving the way for his release from detention – Reuters
Bulgaria – Early this week, Bulgaria has frozen assets, property and bank accounts belonging to businessman and media owner Ivo Prokopiev, who said the state was trying to silence the country’s independent media – Reuters
South Africa – The country’s ruling ANC will pick a new leader this weekend to replace Jacob Zuma. The next party leader will also very likely become South Africa’s next President, and face the difficult task to revitalize the Zimbabwean economy and fight corruption – Reuters
CANVAS’ Daily News
Palestinian Nonviolence in the context of Trump’s Jerusalem announcement