Photo: Various groups stage a rally at the People Power Monument on February 24, 2018 to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the EDSA Revolution. Rappler
Sunday, February 25th marked the 32nd anniversary of the Philippine People Power Revolution: EDSA. In 1986, civil resistance against the rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos was championed by both civilians and the military and backed by the Catholic church, leading to the ousting of Marcos. The 2018 government celebrations coincided with protests by civic groups, the official wreath laying and flag raising ceremony alongside flowers and candles honoring martial law martyrs. Filipinos, with more than a century of recorded street protest starting with one staged by the first workers’ union in the country in 1903, monitor the state of democracy in their country, prepared to defend their liberty and rights.
On February 20, 1986, Marcos proclaimed himself the victor of a snap election. On the same day, Corazon Aquino called for civil disobedience and the boycott of Marcos’ cronies’ companies. The stocks of those companies fell the next day as two million people took up her cause.
Marcos responded by threatening to reinstate martial law if Aquino led a nationwide strike, and by coordinating his own mass demonstration of support in return. Reports would later claim that over ten million pesos had been reserved to pay “supporters” to attend this rally in Marcos’ honor.
Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile announced two days later his defection from Marcos. He was joined by Lieutenant General Fidel V. Ramos, and other military personnel followed suit. The Catholic Church announced its support and urged people via radio to provide aid and guard the defectors against anticipated reprisals. Marcos, in retaliation, denounced Enrile and Ramos.
Before and during this time, various protests against the totalitarian regime had begun to coalesce into a movement. When, on February 23, Enrile and Ramos met along EDSA, they were surrounded and protected by a growing number of supporters in a movement that seemed increasingly like a revolution. Marcos answered their calls for democracy and an end to their subjugation with columns of armored tanks.
“Thus began the banded Filipinos’ show of force—through song and slogans; through earnest extensions of friendship to hard-faced soldiers; through the flashing of the Laban sign—symbol of Cory Aquino’s campaign and of the movement that carried her; through prayers and linked arms and rosaries, human barricades and flowers.”
On February 25 1986, Corazon C. Aquino was sworn in as the elected President, ushering in democracy and pushing the dictator Marcos out of a country that had unified for freedom.
This year, several groups marked the historic day with new protests. Some view Duterte as a president becoming a dictator, and camped out for over a week to protest the drug war and extrajudicial killings associated with it, martial law in Mindanao, and charter change. Martial law survivors Judy Taguiwalo, former Secretary of Department of Social Welfare and Development, and Satur Ocampo, former representative of nationalist and democratic Bayan Muna Party, attended the protests. Duterte currently faces accusations of crimes against humanity over his war on drugs. As many as 20,000 people may have been killed in police raids or vigilante shootings in attempts to stop the illegal trade.
Militant groups held another program in Quezon City. The groups gathered at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani to launch their “Congress of the Masses.” Among the issues they called out is the administration’s move for charter change, constitutional revisions they fear will only benefit Duterte’s allies. Farmers from disaster-hit areas in Samar also joined the militants in the march denounce the alleged militarization in the regions, and to demand proper rehabilitation for their lands.
As the People Power Revolution is celebrated, the drive for freedom is kept in the forefront of the minds of Filipinos, who watch warily as their President strengthens his power.
As a protester said “It is a warning to all would-be tyrants that the people will always resist and triumph over authoritarian rule, no matter how long and no matter how difficult.”
Photo: Students demonstrate in the US capital, using a lie-in to protest for stricter gun laws and honor the victims of school shootings.
Juan Jiménez Mayor, leader of an anti-corruption panel in Honduras, has resigned as a result of “rising hostility from the Honduran government” toward him and his group of prosecutors. His resignation was accompanied by the resignations of the panel’s top prosecutor, Julio Arbizu, and of Chilean judge Daniel Urrutia.
The efforts to block the panel, which included threats, freezing proposed legislation to protect witnesses, and stalling the enforcement of new campaign finance laws, are the “beginning of a political offensive against the fundamental pillars that are against corruption in Honduras,” says director of the National Anti-Corruption Council Gabriela Castellanos.
Transparency international has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. This year’s report shows that the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption. The index found that New Zealand and Denmark rank highest, in other words least corrupt, while Syria, South Sudan and Somalia rank lowest.
The ‘Mass Shooting Generation’: Children, born after the Columbine attack in 1999, that have grown up in a world that treats gun violence at schools like an unfortunate fact of life. But now they’re growing up, finding their voices, and in light of recent incidents, they’re making themselves heard.
The three main presidential candidates have formally accepted their nominations. For the first time in modern Mexican political history, three independent candidates from outside the traditional parties are ready to enter the competition too, pending ratification by electoral authorities.
Each party candidate held a rally in Mexico City this week, addressing key issues including corruption and violence, the economy, and relations with the United States under President Trump. The LA Times covered their addresses. See a summary below.
Lopez Obrador, of the leftist MORENA party, proposed creating a federal public security department that would incorporate military and police forces, to address security issues in the country. This is Lo?pez Obrador’s third bid for the presidency, and he currently leads the polls. In a speech, Lo?pez Obrador, vowed to maintain a friendly realtionship with Washington, but calls the idea of a wall along the border unnecessary and in violation of human rights.
Ricardo Anaya of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) was sworn in as the candidate for a coalition between the conservative PAN and the left-leaning Partido Revolución Democrática (PRD). His main speaking points were violence and corruption, inequality, and poverty. Anaya proposed to grow the economy by boosting investment and progressively increasing the minimum wage, saying, “the best social policy is economic policy, and well-paid jobs.” Regarding the wall, he declared, “Mexico will not pay a single cent,” and insisted that, while relations with the US will remain friendly, he would not let Mexico be taken advantage of.
José Antonio Meade accepted the nomination by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, the ruling party that dominated Mexican politics for most of the 20th century. He too spoke on corruption and violence. His more unique message was to promise to create a “national registry of the needs of every person,” which would include things like scholarships, medicines, and transportation.
This week saw the US consumed by debate over gun control. This comes directly in the wake of the shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead and many more injured. Although many agree that something should be done to prevent further attacks of this nature, disputes over the exact course of action highlight a fissure in the country. Students and many democratic lawmakers are calling again for a ban on highly dangerous weapons. They want also more thorough background checks and stricter regulations about who can legally purchase guns. Gun proponents, as per usual, have accused these people of “hating freedom.” Republican lawmakers, including Florida State Senator Marco Rubio and US President Donald Trump, see the shooting as evidence that there are too few guns in use. Trump has suggested arming teachers in classrooms to dissuade attackers and rejected the idea of active shooter drills. Regardless of the president’s intentions, a poll this week found that two out of three Americans, a significant majority, support stricter gun legislation. The disparity between this popular opinion and the national legislation brings again into focus the non-democratic implications of the powerful gun lobby in the US.
In other news, Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to move forward with his investigation into Russian interference in the US presidential election. Last Friday, he released an indictment against 13 Russians. It says these agents created false American identities on social media to “deepen racial and partisan divides and to stoke distrust in democracy.” More recently, Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, has been charged with financial crimes that include money laundering. Campaign Deputy Rick Gates has also been charged, caught up in a complicated plot to leverage money from Manafort’s real estate. He is expected to plead guilty in cooperation with the counsel. CNN also reports that Mueller is investigating Jared Kushner’s efforts to secure foreign funding for his interests during the presidential transition.
More than 400 people have been killed by a government aerial offensive, backed by Russia, in Eastern Ghouta this week. The attack was launched on the rebel-held enclave on Sunday and has continued since. Human rights groups and the UN Special Envoy to Syria are pressing for an urgent ceasefire and immediate humanitarian access. They estimate that well over 2,000 people in the territory are injured, and the death toll is steadily climbing. Russia has so far rejected all agreements, stating the need for a ceasefire that would apply also to the Islamic State, Al Nusra, and additional rebel groups in the Ghouta region.
A ceasefire must be reached soon – each day of its delay worsens the humanitarian crisis in the region. Said Doctor Abu Yahia, “Our medical center was hit in four air raids yesterday, which caused significant damage to the facility and the services it offers…Hospitals across the entire city have been bombed.” Hospitals and support cannot continue at their present rate for much longer, especially not while being targeted. This has been one of the bloodiest weeks in the country’s long civil war.
In the north of Syria, militias loyal to Assad reclaimed Afrin. For about a month, Turkey has been conducting an assault on this Kurdish-held area, and although this is seen as a victory for Syria, the assaults have not ceased. Turkey had previously been promising to rebuild the city to be reinhabited, however this recent development serves as a harsh setback. It also complicated Turkey’s mission, which had been heavily influenced by the presence of the Kurds in Afrin as a perceived security threat to the Turkish border.
Rights groups in Myanmar report that the site of a mass grave in Rakhine state is being bulldozed, purportedly on government orders, flattened to “hide evidence.” This follows the report by the Associated Press that exposed other sites of massacres backed by witness reports and video documentation. Aerial photography showed other villages razed, suggesting that the government cleared not just the destroyed areas, but tracts that had until then stayed unaffected and intact as well.
Rohingya refugees continue to refuse to repatriate, demanding that their civil rights be upheld and their homes be rebuilt before they return. As the government knocks down yet more houses, these demands seem far from being met. A government spokesperson stated the land being bulldozed was only “plain land” that the government was preparing for efforts to rebuild. Construction crews have erected new housing structures on some of the cleared areas, intending to provide housing for Rohingya, according to a government administrator in Maungdaw. That does not appear to be the case for the majority of those built or planned so far, however, and many Rohingya fear authorities are seizing land they’ve lived on for generations. The UNHCR maintains its concerns that conditions in Rakhine state are not safe for voluntary return.
Rights groups have also urged authorities to release information about two ethnic Kachin civilians who were reportedly captured by soldiers in northern Myanmar.
The ruling government has announced its readiness for a dialogue with the opposition, just one day after extending the national state of emergency. This controversial move is not likely to inspire progressive talks, as the emergency was extended in order to subdue the opposition protests in Male. The original emergency, imposed by President Yameen after the release of opponent political prisoners, was set to expire after 15 days. On day 14, the protests had yet to be quelled, so the emergency will now continue for another 30. The opposition has called this move illegal.
This island nation has lately become cause for international concern. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India has condemned the extension of the emergency in a public statement. “It is important to ensure that all democratic institutions are allowed to function in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the Constitution,” stressing also a return to normalcy as soon as possible. The Maldives has nevertheless stressed its desire for India to stay out of the nation’s domestic affairs. “There is no doubt that the Maldives is experiencing one of the most difficult periods in its history. It is therefore important that friends and partners in the international community, including India, refrain from any actions that could hinder resolving the situation facing the country,” stated the foreign ministry.
International concern has also been raised over Chinese influence. Shortly after the state of emergency was imposed, eleven Chinese warships were deployed to the East Indian Ocean. China never confirmed that the ships were sent in response to the emergency, however they failed to indicate any other reason they might be there. Amid China’s other efforts to expand its influence in the region, however, this latest move concerns other countries in the region, giving them cause to keep vigilant.
President Maduro announced the presale of Venezuela’s new oil-backed cryptocurrency on Tuesday. As Venezuelans continue to struggle with runaway inflation, the government hopes this digital currency will provide an alternative for the collapsing bolivar. The price of the so-called ‘petro’ will be pegged to the price of a single barrel of Venezuelan crude oil. The government hopes that petro sales will help with the repayment of debts and allow investors to circumvent the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. However, many potential investors harbor doubts and do not “trust the government to faithfully maintain the link” between the price of the petro and the price of oil. Furthermore, as the US considers imposing sanctions on Venezuelan oil, the petro’s backing looks less and less stable. Read the government reports on the petro proposal here.
On Wednesday, Maduro announced his intention to hold a “mega-election,” by adding legislative elections to the scheduled presidential elections in April. Originally, the legislative elections had been scheduled for 2020. The Washington Post has said could that this change could “obliterate the opposition-dominated legislature” by shortening their term by two years. This announcement also followed the opposition coalition’s refusal to nominate a candidate for the presidential election. In any case, the National Assembly, populated largely by opposition members, has been ineffectual since Maduro instated a Constituent Assembly. This extra body, with wide-ranging powers and filled with his supporters, has overpowered the national legislature. The April elections hold little hope for any opposition members to retain their positions, especially as major leaders of the coalition are barred from public office for the next decade, have fled the country, or are under house arrest. Maduro also plans to include municipal and state legislative councils in the April elections. An analyst who also served as a Venezuelan cabinet minister in the early 90’s, Moisés Naím, said Maduro was imitating Putin and Hussein in staging “virtually meaningless elections.” If the opposition boycotts the congressional elections as well, he could replace the only institution not under his control and command nearly every elected office in the state. The Lima Group has stated they will not recognize the results of the April presidential election.
Vietnam – A court in central Vietnam has sentenced an environmentalist blogger to 14 years in prison for “abusing his democratic freedom and opposing officials on duty.” Activist Hoang Binh led several protests against authorities over the handling of a major environmental disaster caused by a steel plant development in 2016. His sentence is one of the harshest to have been delivered to a peaceful activist in this country. – Reuters
Colombia – President Juan Manuel Santos is asking for international aid to handle the large number of immigrants fleeing Maduro’s regime in neighboring Venezuela. – NPR
Nigeria – Dozens of girls remain missing after Boko Haram militants attacked a school this week. A problematic combination of silence and conflicting reports from the government, regarding the status of the search and the girls’ recovery, are causing parents intense stress and grief. – NYTimes
Romania – Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said publicly that he’s looking to replace the country’s top anti-corruption prosecutor. This seems to be a direct consequence of the large number of politicians from the ruling party convicted by the prosecutor and an attempt to ease future abuses of power. – Bloomberg
Israel – An investigation is underway, looking into whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provided “official favors” to the largest telecom company in Israel in exchange for positive online news coverage. This comes on top of the separate bribery allegations already facing Netanyahu. – Economist
Poland – A drastic increase in logging activity in the Bialowieza Forest, one of the world’s last primeval forests, violates international law. The European Court of Justice is expected to take appropriate action, further increasing tension between European Union and this defiant member state. – NYTimes
Zimbabwe – The funeral for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was held this week with more than 5,000 people in attendance. Those supporters, however, now find themselves in rival factions as the party attempts to move forward with different ideas about leadership and direction. Skirmishes broke out between the various groups at the funeral. – BBC | DW
Photo: President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his State of the Nation address at Parliament in Cape Town (Reuters)
It has been reiterated numerous times over the course of the week that the Syrian people alone are the only ones to determine the future of their country, reinforcing Syria’s sovereignty and reaffirming Syria’s commitment to the final statement of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi.
Continuing aggressions by Turkey and Israel bombard Syria, causing countless injuries and claiming several civilian lives. The UN Secretary-General “has called for an immediate de-escalation in Syria after Israeli recent aggression on Syrian territories.”
In commemoration of the 36th anniversary of the open strike announced in 1982 against the Israeli occupation, authorities and their decision to annex Golan and impose the Israeli laws and “identity” on its Syrian citizens, locals of the occupied Syrian Golan gathered on Wednesday. “The Syrian people in the occupied Golan have always renewed their deep attachment to homeland and commitment to the Syrian identity, undaunted by repressive Israeli measures”.
Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] (Continued Aggressions) | SANA (Call For Immediate De-Escalation) | SANA (Terrorism) | SANA (Syrian Golan)
The United States was shaken this week by a devastating shooting at a Florida high school. A 19-year-old gunman killed 17 and injured an unknown number of people. This is the 239th school shooting since the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 26 in 2012, but also the deadliest in this time frame. President Trump has called the shooter “mentally disturbed,” evoking the sentiment that the shooting is a result of poor mental health infrastructure in the United States. Many across the country see it rather as yet another consequence of insufficient gun regulations. The Florida shooter, despite a long history of dangerous and erratic behavioral issues, did pass his background check and purchase the gun he used legally.
In other US news this week, senators have rejected an immigration deal proposal that would have funded the wall and instituted strict limits on incoming migrants, but helped the ‘Dreamers’ whose fate has been recently under threat by the Trump administration. This leaves those hundreds of thousands of people, who have known no life other than that they’ve lead in the US, with uncertain futures. In other immigration-related news, on Thursday the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Trump’s ban on people traveling into the U.S. from six Muslim-majority countries is unconstitutional.
CNN | NYTimes
Candidates for the presidency will have to register online by February 26th for their position on the ballot to be confirmed March 5th. The opposition party has 9 days to make its final decision to whether or not their will abstain from the race.
The Lima Group, plus Canada, have criticized the government’s decision to hold elections without coming to an agreement with the opposition. The countries said the election “would not be free and fair as long as Venezuela has political prisoners, the opposition was not fully participating and Venezuelans abroad were not allowed to vote” and advised the government to reconsider their election calendar. Colombia stated they would not recognize the outcome of the elections.
The President of Venezuela has ordered the country’s consulate in Miami to be reopened before the elections in April. It had been closed in 2012 by Chavez. US Senator from Florida Marco Rubio, echoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s earlier comments, tweeted about supporting a military coup in Venezuela. When the Associated Press contacted him, he emailed back “The Maduro regime is an illegitimate government which has brought suffering and misery to the people of Venezuela.” Thousands of people in Florida are from Venezuela, having fled crime, economic deprivation, and unrest under Maduro’s regime.
Brazil will declare a “state of social emergency” in Roraima, a northern border state. To control the flow of refugees from Venezuela, the government will boost funding and troops in the area, said Defense Minister Raul Jungmann on the 14th. Ten percent of the population of the Roraima’s capital are arrivals from Venezuela – about 40,000 people who are now straining public resources. Colombia is also struggling with Venezuelan immigration as thousands of people cross its borders.
Reuters | Business Insider | Washington Post | Brazil Government News
As Cambodia nears its July national elections, the ruling CPP continues to consolidate its power, moving the state closer to single-party dominant rule. In addition to the le?se majeste?? law proposed last week that makes defamatory speech about the Cambodian monarchy illegal, five other amendments were passed, each impacting the freedom of citizens or limitating the potentional power of any opposition groups. These amendments to the Cambodian constitution included new restrictions on voting rights, authority by the government “to take action against political parties if they do not ‘place the country and nation’s interest first’,” and an instruction that Cambodia is not to interfere in “internal affairs of other countries since it opposes foreign interference in its own affairs.” This last amendment seems to target the CNRP, the largely dismantled opposition party, which has consistently appealed to the international community to pressure the government toward free and fair elections. Prime Minister Hun Sen pivots, from picking away at his opposition, now fragmented and mostly in exile, to entrenching his position through legislation.
At the same time, Cambodia’s economy is flourishing. Tourism, largely from China, fuels the economy along with low-cost manufacturing for the rest of the world. Cambodia is edging towards China’s position of key manufacturer in the global market as China’s wages rise and firms look for new locations from which to source their products. Some firms may however be attempting to pressure the Cambodian government as Walmart did, to respect its civil society.
The Cambodian National Council for Women signed its annual report this week. The report congratulates the government on its efforts to elevate gender equality in society, highlighting examples like the issuance of land titles to “poor women and widows” and an increase in female civil servants. Women’s rights activists, however, doubt the validity of the achievements. They point out that the increase in female civil servants was barely significant, with just one percent growth, and more than half were at lower level and municipal positions: never at any decision-making level. Nominations for the seats claimed from the recently-dissolved opposition party being almost exclusively men, “female representation at the national level has actually dropped.” Thida Khus, executive director of women’s rights NGO Silaka, declared that efforts towards gender equality have “come to a standstill” due to the political tension in the country. She hopes attention will return to the issue after the July elections.
Human Rights Watch | CNBC | Phnom Penh Post
The Carnival of Oruro: Cultural Heritage of Humanity in Bolivia commenced on February 9th. Traditionally, it is a 10-day celebration that honors Bolivia’s indigenous history and Christian symbols in a display of cultural syncretism. It is considered one of the world’s most important celebrations and one of the largest in South America.
The first day of the Carnival saw a gas explosion and a traffic accident. A series of further explosions, in this case deliberate, took place over the course of the Carnival. This has led President Morales to call for exhaustive investigations of the explosions that have claimed over 40 lives and injured over 120 civilians. One of the attacks was labeled a “fatal homemade Carnival Bomb.” ‘A Criminal Attack’,” as the deadly device consisted of ammonium nitrate, dynamite, and explosive oils. This is not the first year that Carnival has claimed innocent lives, leaving concern and sadness lingering amongst the Bolivian people as tragedy strikes once more.
Bolivia Without Violence launched a campaign called “Carnival without excess, without violence,” which aims to reduce “crime during the annual celebrations and [encourage] men to treat women and girls with respect.” Bolivia is also raising awareness of the Law to Guarantee Women a Life Free From Violence, which, according to the UN, has yet to reduce femicide. Statistics have shown that over 100 women arehave been murdered yearly in Bolivia. The campaign consists of private, public, and international organizations, including UN Women and local municipal governments that, who distribute thousands of leaflets, install billboards, establish emergency hotlines, and broadcast educational videos.
History recalls several decades of Bolivia “fighting to reclaim its coastal territory from Chile, which it lost in the 1897 War of the Pacific,” leaving the country landlocked. March 23rd marks the yearly celebrations Bolivia holds to celebrate the Day of the Sea, a national holiday marking the loss of its territories to Chilean forces. President Morales has announced a mass mobilization to commemorate the centennial of the maritime claim against Chile, in which nationwide ceremonies will be held as a “show of unity of the Bolivian people around the maritime demand.”
In light of intensifying criminal activity throughout the country, Mexican federal intelligence agents have been assigned to tail presidential candidates: notably PAN candidate Anaya, an opponent to ruling PRI’s candidate Meade. Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete said that Anaya was supposed to have been informed of the security detail and insisted that the tail was for security reasons only– not, as Anaya wrote, in order to spy on the opposition. The agents had been assigned to tail Anaya through his tour of the Veracruz state, where cartel-related violence is common. The detail was to simply “report any mishap” that may occur on the campaign trail as part of a “protocol in which [they] analyze security issues in the states.” Critics have claimed this use of agents and resources is “wasteful,” particularly as the country struggles to conduct successful and effective intelligence operations against its main security threat: drug cartels.
An indigenous woman named Maria de Jesus Patricio, or “Marichuy,” is running as an independent candidate in the presidential race. This week, she was injured and one member of her team was killed in a car accident. The candidate previously served as the spokesperson for the political arm of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, the National Indigenous Congress. Patricio has not collected enough signatures to enroll officially as an independent candidate, let alone win the presidency. However, her presence in the political field helps to draw attention to the poor, the indigenous, the most marginalized in the country, and their struggles in civil participation.
Polls continue to show left-wing presidential candidate Lo?pez Obrador in the lead with 33 percent of support, although Anaya, candidate for the left-right coalition called “For Mexico in Front,” has been catching up, now only 8 points behind with 25 percent. Jose Antonio Meade of the ruling PRI trails behind still, with one poll showing a decrease from 17 percent to 14 percent.
Associated Press | US News | Reuters
South Africa – Jacob Zuma, former President of South Africa, “announced on Wednesday evening that, although he does not agree with his decision, he will resign as president of the republic effective immediately”. – news24 | DW
Zimbabwe – Morgan Tsvangirai, former prime minister and leader of Zimbabwe’s largest opposition party, has died. The future of his party and its leadership remains uncertain. – NYTimes
Ethiopia – Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned after deadly unrest pushed his government to release several high-profile political prisoners. – NYTimes
Maldives – The alliance of Opposition parties in the Maldives has appealed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to mediate all-party talks to resolve political turmoil in the country. – First Post
Myanmar – This week, Bangladesh authorities passed a list of 8,032 names of Rohingya refugees to be repatriated to Myanmar. This is despite the fact that the U.N. announced the conditions in Myanmar are unacceptable for voluntary return, given that Myanmar hasn’t addressed the Rohingya’s exclusion and denial of rights in Myanmar, and the outflow of refugees from Myanmar continues. – NYTimes | Washington Post
Photo: Students stage a ‘lie-in’ in front of the White House to demonstrate against gun violence. NY Daily News.
19 years ago, the shooting at Columbine High School shook the US to its core and permanently changed the educational experience of American students. On that day, two armed students killed 13 people and injured more than 20, making it one of the most horrific and deadly shootings in the nation’s history.
In the 19 years since, there have been so many more mass shootings in the US that the Columbine attack is no longer even among the top 10 deadliest in modern American history. In fact, five of these most fatal attacks have occurred just within the past year and a half. Breaking news no longer delivers the shock that it once did. Although always heartbroken, many Americans have long since stopped asking how something like this could happen.
There is a new emerging set of voices, however, that will not so easily be quieted by the usual political “thoughts and prayers” rhetoric. The high school students of today, a demographic born within the past 19 years, have grown up in a world that treats gun violence at schools like an unfortunate fact of life. Some are calling them the ‘Mass Shooting Generation.’ From the time they entered school, they were put through active shooter drills and made to practice lockdowns, silently huddled together on the floor in the darkest corner of a classroom.
Now, these students are reaching adulthood, finding their political voices, and, in the wake of the Florida shooting, speaking out. Above all else, they want increased gun control. This is one of the most controversial topics of US political discourse, made ever worse by the huge sums of money paid to officials by the National Rifle Association (NRA) pro-gun lobby. In 2016, the NRA spent more than $30 million to help elect Donald Trump. The students are now pleading that he listen to them instead.
Still, Trump insists that the mental health of the shooter was behind this incident, denying that the incredible ease of access to guns in the US played a role. Emma Gonzales, a teenager speaking at a recent anti-gun rally, countered that gun control is paramount issue here, that nothing else could have prevented the attack. “We need to pay attention to the fact that this isn’t just a mental health issue,” said Gonzalez. “He wouldn’t have harmed that many students with a knife.” It is imperative to note also that the Florida shooter bought his gun legally, passing the required background checks despite a violent history.
Knowing that words are not enough, the ‘Mass Shooting Generation’ has decided to act. On Monday, students staged a ‘lie-in’ demonstration outside the White House. Despite the cold, wet weather, they lay on the ground to symbolize the students slain in so many horrific attacks. At a Florida high school not far from the recent attack, student protesters held signs that said, “It could’ve been us.” and “Your silence is killing us.”
More demonstrations are planned across the country in the coming weeks, including student marches on the Florida Capitol, a protest in Washington D.C., a nationwide school walkout, and then in April, The National Day of Action Against Gun Violence in Schools calls for a massive show of solidarity and empowerment across the country. This day, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, will mark also 20 years of the latent fear and grief that have become endemic to American schools. It will also hopefully spark a new era of healing and progress in the US against gun violence, led by the students affected most.
In Belgrade, we started with a prank. Then Otpor! became a household name, and helped topple Slobodan Milošević
If you want a citizens’ movement to grow quickly, humour is a better strategy than anger. I was one of the founders of the Otpor! (Resistance!) grassroots movement in Serbia, which in 2000 helped topple Slobodan Milošević. With democracy in Europe today challenged by populism, perhaps some of the lessons we learned at the time are worth recalling. In Belgrade, our movement started with a prank: we took an oil barrel, painted a picture of Milošević on it, and set it up in the middle of Belgrade’s largest shopping district. Next to it we placed a baseball bat. Then we stood aside, inconspicuously. Before long, shoppers were standing in line to take a swing at the barrel and express their feelings for the president. The police arrived, but could do nothing but drag the Milošević barrel away. Pictures of the incident spread. Otpor! became a household name.
Of course, pushing a warmongering autocrat out of power is different from defending democracy in places in which it is meant to have taken root but has come under threat. When seeking to put an end to dictatorship, the task is to erode the tools and institutions that serve the regime and its strongman – indeed, the goal is to shake up the status quo entirely. Defending democracy, however, means finding ways to defend democratic institutions and principles from those who want to undermine them, even if they’re elected officials. It means creating leverage to block governments or political forces that seek to dismantle such pillars of democracy as an independent judiciary, parliamentary oversight, minority rights, or press freedom.
I’ve spent the last 12 years heading Canvas, an NGO that helps pro-democracy activists in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and also parts of the former Soviet Union. It is no small paradox that Europe today has become a region where democracy needs to be protected in new, vigorous ways. Democratic backsliding is of course particularly worrisome in countries that are relative newcomers to the EU (Poland and Hungary joined in 2004). But the spread of illiberalism is a major concern in many established “traditional” democracies as well.
Campaigners can be successful if they have vision, unity and a plan of action. Most of all, they must stick to the principles of nonviolence. When we launched Otpor! as a civil resistance movement, the situation in my country was desperate. The vast majority had turned their backs on politics. Yet a tiny group of students managed to grow into a movement of 70,000 people which ultimately defeated Milošević. Otpor! was successful where others had failed. One explanation is that our strategy made use of the political vacuum between existing power structures and public dissatisfaction. Today in Europe, the vacuum between political elites and disgruntled voters is being exploited by populists – people who offer anger, not hope. But calling out populism will only go so far if citizens aren’t encouraged to take action.
Grassroots movements can be leaderless. They can sprout up outside traditional party structures and they can transcend those dividing lines. In Poland, after the Law and Justice party gained power in 2015, a civil society movement called the Committee for the Defence of Democracy rallied opposition to it across partisan lines.
In Romania last year, huge crowds of up to half a million people repeatedly took to the streets to say no to government plans to shield corrupt officials from prosecution. The movement reached beyond the urban, educated classes and capitalised on widespread public frustration with corruption. Romania has the largest number of officials prosecuted for corruption in Europe. People wanted to keep up the pressure. In the face of their protests, the government was forced to backtrack on plans to push through changes by emergency decree.
Combining protests and symbolic gestures of civil disobedience is important. In Poland, women have taken to the streets to fight for their rights. Law and Justice seeks to enforce traditionalist religious values across public life. Resisting this is hard, but one tipping point was reached in 2016, when 250,000 women forced the government to withdraw its initial plan for an almost total ban on abortion. Not only did they protest in large numbers across some 150 cities and towns, they also initiated a one-day strike – which forced businesses and political elites to sit up and pay attention. In Hungary, where elections are due in April, a group of NGOs recently launched a movement called Country for All, which seeks amendment to an electoral law that threatens the democratic process.
Laughter is a potent weapon. In Romania, protesters carried large cardboard cut-outs representing the country’s leaders dressed as convicts, in black-and-white striped prison shirts. In Germany, people in the town of Wunsiedel mocked the regular marches held by rightwing extremists. Local residents and businesses made pledges to donate €10 to an anti-extremism organisation for every metre the far-right crowd marched. In Finland, people came out dressed as clowns holding acrobat hoops to counter a white supremacist group that organised street patrols against immigrants. Humour can be a powerful tool against absurd, hateful attitudes.
To stand up to populism, Europeans need to reinvent a democratic narrative. Two things keep democracy and freedom alive: strong institutions and active citizens. It is a two-way street: institutions are there to deliver to citizens, and citizens must in turn defend democratic institutions from abuse. Europeans may have taken democracy for granted for too long. Those of us who have taken part in civil resistance movements in the past know all too well that apathy is what authoritarians count on to get their way.
A whole toolbox for campaigning can be put to use against illiberal forces. Sharing your experiences helps to inspire others and sharpen their strategies. The bottom line is that democracy is simply too serious a matter to be left to politicians or parties alone. And grassroots campaigning is more effective when it’s also fun. Populists, just like autocrats, are weakened when they become objects of derision.
• Srđa Popović was one of the founders of the Serbian student movement Otpor!
Photo: “Thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin [Syria] to denounce the Turkish aggression on their city.” (Syrian Arab News Agency)
Democratic Republic of Congo
This week, the Congolese government has ordered former colonizer Belgium to close its consulate and cut off flights from Brussels. This came as a result of worsening relations between the two nations since the Belgian government terminated all cooperation on projects in the former Central African colony over human rights and security concerns. However, “the Belgian government has redirected €25m allocated for such projects to non-government organizations working on humanitarian aid in the country.”
Ethnic violence between the Hema and Lendu has erupted in northeastern DRC, taking the lives of more than 24 people and leaving hundreds of homes burned to the ground. Meanwhile, the US has slapped sanctions on Congolese General Muhindo Akili Mundos and rebel leaders Gedeon Kyungu Mutanga, Guidon Shimiray Mwissa, and Lucien Nzabamwita for “contributing to widespread poverty, chronic food insecurity, and population displacement”. These are the same four men that the UN Security Council sanctioned last week for human rights violations.
As conflicts persist in the DRC, rampant militia groups “have recruited at least 585 children for use as fighters or human shields in the war afflicting in Kasai regions.” In addition to the recruitment, humanitarian organizations disclosed that at least 120 children have been abducted and abused and another 350 have lost track of their families, classifying them as unaccompanied.
Consequently, over 8,000 Congolese have fled to neighboring countries Burundi and Tanzania over the past week, following military operations to rid eastern DRC of the various militia groups. Moreover, many refugees are displaced, and many NGOs report that the number of refugees fleeing is an understatement of the crisis.
As President Joseph Kabila still refuses to step down after his mandate ended in December 2016, elections meant to replace him continue to be repeatedly delayed. Since the DRC’s constitution does not allow the president to seek a third consecutive term in office, this has led to speculation of his unwillingness to give up power. Thus it has been stated that President Kabila “intends to respect the constitution and relinquish power after elections scheduled for December” of this year.
Independent Voice of America (Ethnic Violence) CAJ News Africa (Child Soldiers) CAJ News Africa (Refugees) Voice of America (President Kabila)
Power struggles have broken out within Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. This follows the news that opposition leader Tsvangirai will leave the country to seek medical treatment for colon cancer in South Africa. The details and severity of his illness are unclear, with a huge disparity between reassurance from him that he is recovering and reports from major media outlets that call him “critically ill.” In any case, Tsvangirai’s departure from the country is itself a huge destabilizing force for his party. To make it worse, the election is mere months away, and the negative prospects for the opposition are seriously exacerbated by the disarray of the leadership structure in his absence. Tsvangirai has three deputies, of which one, Nelson Chamisa, was appointed to serve as the interim leader until his return. Others in the party are disputing this decision. Many feel that deputy Elias Mudzuri, who was the acting leader before this recent announcement, should continue to hold the position. Still others believe that the temporary leader should be the third deputy, Thokozani Khupe. The infighting bodes very poorly for the upcoming election. An opposition alliance had already endorsed Tsvangirai in the upcoming election against Mnangagwa, but further endorsement of any of the replacements seems rather unlikely while the party is in disarray. All of this helps Mnangagwa, whose ultimate goal is to stay in power.
In other election-related developments, many have begun to speculate that Mugabe is forming a new political party, “The New Patriotic Front”, with other members of his ousted regime. The party declares that the November coup was illegal and calls on the military to reinstate Mugabe as leader of Zimbabwe. This development is still in its early stages, but could eventually come to have very serious consequences for the country and its upcoming elections.
On Wednesday, Zimbabwean leaders and civil society organizations called on Mnangagwa to end the political violence that has been rampant in the country over the past few weeks. The speakers referenced a legislator who was pelted with stones last week and underscored the importance of defending democracy. Nelson Chamisa addressed the country: “I am saying this because we are seeing an escalation of attacks on MPs and citizens, particularly as we approach general elections, yet we do not want elections to be tainted by violence and instability, and this issue must be taken to the President so that his call for peaceful elections is taken seriously.”
Cambodia announced a new law banning anyone from insulting the king: offenders risk up to five years in jail. Hun Sen, a leader planning to extend his tenure in the July elections, led the cabinet meeting in which the law was adopted. He has already made progress dissolving the opposition and “[has driven] many of his critics into self exile”.
The current king, Sihamoni, keeps a relatively low profile, particularly compared to his father, and his status is mostly symbolic. He is regarded kindly by Cambodians and is largely seen as “above the political fray.”
Rights groups are still nervous that this new law will allow dissenters to be targeted, particularly because Hun Sen has often been accused of having the courts in his pocket.
Opposition MP Sam An was jailed in 2016 for “incitement” when he accused the government of using “incorrect border maps during negotiations with Vietnam” in a Facebook post. Sam An appealed the conviction, taking it to the Appellate Court and eventually the Supreme Court. Today, the Supreme Court upheld the previous decision and Sam An returned to jail to finish serving his sentence of two and a half years.
A letter from September of 2017 has recently been made public, wherein the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications within the Cambodian government ordered internet providers to block access to the Cambodia Daily website. Executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, Nop Vy, states the “government’s actions were damaging to media freedom and open access to information.” The government also suspended 20 radio stations that carried US content, and banned the National Democratic Institute. The Institute is US-funded and supports transparent government and civic participation.
Ten tourists were arrested in Siem Reap for taking pornographic photos and publishing them online. Seven of the foreigners have been released on bail. Locals describe the group, and other tourists in general, as acting in a manner very disrespectful toward Cambodian culture. The locals and police there are frustrated with and tired of the inappropriate and party-oriented behaviors of the vacationers.
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Mexico to keep an eye out for Russian influence or interference in their elections, saying that “European counterparts had noticed that Russia had its fingerprints on a number of elections.” An aide for ruling PRI candidate Meade warned in January that Russia may try to support López Obrador.
López Obrador of MORENA has an 11 point lead ahead of his competition for the presidency, with 34% of the vote according to polls from Parametria. The runner-up, Anaya, is 5 points ahead of the ruling party’s candidate, Meade, and has gained some ground on López Obrador. This year’s election could be the first year independent candidates are on the ballot in this country with a history of de facto single-party rule. These candidates, although it is doubtful they will win, could take votes from the other candidates and affect the outcome. This is particularly true as many Mexicans are still undecided between the top three.
Deaths at the border between the US and Mexico rose in 2017, from 398 in 2016 to 412, even though the number of people attempting to cross the border dropped significantly. Accompanying this statistic is the 44% drop in border patrol apprehensions. Altogether, it appears “the deterrent is Donald trump” according to bluntly stated article by The Economist.
A US brewery is setting up shop in a Mexican state and will neighbor with local farmers. Already suffering from water shortage, the farmers worry the new brewery will suck up all the water, strangling their livelihoods. Last summer, local farmers protested the project with other residents, forming a movement called Mexicali Resists. Thousands of people gathered in protest before government buildings, blocking deliveries going to the construction site. Now unrest has flared again as protesters camp out in front of the site, clashing with police and private security as dozens block the construction of a water pipe to the factory. In the 1940s, large tracts of land previously owned by a cotton-producing company were split into community-owned ejidos, and with the land came water rights. Now, the farmers guard the water rights carefully and are “seething at the idea that precious water rights are being handed over to gringos.” Since its formation in 2016, Mexicali Resists has employed several tactics to stymie the progress towards completing both the brewery and its water supply, ranging from blockades to climbing a crane coupled with a hunger strike, to physically confronting police officers.
Alejandra León, a lawyer for some of the farmers, reports that an environmental impact study on the brewery revealed which current wells would be tapped (as the area has banned drilling of new wells as the water table recedes). The owners were unaware the company had looked into using their wells.
Reuters (Russia) Reuters (Voter Polls) The Guardian The Economist The Guardian (Brewery) Mexico News Daily
The International Criminal Court has taken initial steps towards investigating Venezuela over “allegations of excessive force and other abuses,” including “serious abuse and ill-treatment” of detained opposition members by government security forces in response to opposition protests. In the past, Maduro has dismissed criticism of his regime as US-prompted attempts to undermine his government. Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the ICC began the preliminary examinations after “a careful, independent and impartial review of a number of a number of communications and reports”. While Bensouda has not released the names of the leaders to be investigated, the ICC mandate is to prosecute individuals for serious crimes, such as crimes against humanity: heads of state and government officials are generally the subjects. The examination will continue if the court finds enough evidence to commit to a full investigation and if the national courts are found unable or unwilling to conduct proper trials on their own. Protesters, quelled by the reaction from the Venezuelan government, may need to step forward to assist in this case. There is no timeline for this examination, or the possible investigation to follow.
Sitting President Maduro has officially been chosen as the Socialist Party candidate and the election date has been set for April 22nd. Both decisions immediately follow the end of talks between opposition and government, without agreement. The quick elections have drawn criticism from other Latin American countries, wanting the government and opposition to conclude negotiations addressing the conflict first, and the US said it will reject the “snap” election. The opposition is still undecided on a candidate, or if it will even participate in the election, despite its role in pushing for elections originally. Maduro has announced plans to “wean Venezuela’s economy off” of oil production.
This comes at the same time the US is considering sanctioning Venezuelan oil in an attempt to pressure the country into holding free and fair elections. Venezuelan oil production has been decreasing since 2014, but still the country pumped more than one million barrels a day in December by industry estimates.
The fall in production has only intensified the suffering of Venezuelans, already experiencing food and medicine shortages. Other Latin American countries stated they are disinclined to take measures that may worsen the humanitarian crisis.
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The United States of America
The government has shut down and reopened again, the second time in 2018. The spending agreement that ended the last shutdown expired this week, and national lawmakers have been unable to reach another agreement for national funding moving forward. Many expect this shutdown to be very brief, with a deal seeming well within sight. Earlier in the week, Trump had said that he would “love to see a shutdown” if the legislators couldn’t come to a deal that satisfied him on immigration.
President Trump is garnering criticism for his plans to hold a military parade through the US capital this summer. Although he was reportedly inspired by one such parade he saw in France on Bastille Day, many Americans associate these displays primarily with authoritarian regimes. While this decision is not nearly enough to label Trump as an authoritarian-esque leader, it falls along a string of similar events that, when taken together, are cause for concern for many fearful Americans. Earlier in the week, the president accused Democrats of treason for not standing and applauding him during the State of the Union.
In the financial world, US stock markets made global headlines as they fell and shook over the course of the week. The market swings “can be traced to the positive U.S. jobs report on Friday, a sign of a strengthening economy in which workers are finally earning higher wages”. Concerns over inflation have also been raised, however, and it seems likely that the Federal Reserve will consequently raise interest rates.
CNBC The Guardian Financial Times
Last Thursday, the Supreme Court, in a surprise move, ordered the immediate release and re-trial of nine key political prisoners, along with the reinstatement of 12 opposition parliamentarians who would in session create an oppositional majority. Among the prominent opposition prisoners was former President Mohamed Nasheed, living in self-exile, who had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges that were largely criticized as having been politically motivated.
Celebrations that had turned to protests demanding President Yameen to comply with the decision occurred over the weekend. While the administration and police had originally announced that they would comply with the ruling, the Maldivian government has since refused and, should the Supreme Court move for the impeachment or arrest of President Yameen, has ordered its security forces not to comply.
On Saturday, when parliamentary sessions had been set to resume, the government suspended the parliament. Security forces blocked the members that tried to enter the parliament anyway. Monday, parliamentary sessions had been postponed indefinitely, and the political prisoners remained in jail. The Legal Affairs Minister commented that there were ‘numerous challenges’ to implementing the order, contradicting a Supreme Court statement from the preceding day that had stated the opposite.
Later on Monday, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency, stating that the Supreme Court decision had “resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest.” With this announcement and two later amendments, numerous constitutional rights have been suspended and Yameen “has effectively quashed any moves by the opposition to impeach him while also stripping the Supreme Court of any authority,” while giving “security forces sweeping powers to make arrests.”. After the state of emergency had been declared, security forces stormed the constitutional court, eventually arresting two Supreme Court judges, whom President Yameen accused of plotting to overthrow him. The chief judicial administrator and former-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom were further arrested, as well as three family members of one Supreme Court judge.
Late on Tuesday, the three remaining Supreme Court judges announced that the decision to release the nine opposition politicians from prison would be reversed, although the ruling to reinstate 12 opposition legislators would remain valid. Opposition politician Eva Abdulla accused Yameen of coercing and intimidating the judges to get the ruling he wanted.
Last Friday, Mohamed Nasheed had announced his plans to run in the elections, still optimistic the opposition “would succeed in ending the autocratic government within the next […] days and urged the people […] to stand against the injustice of the government.” He has since described “the government’s refusal to obey the court order as tantamount to a coup”. In reaction to the emergency decree, the united opposition urged the security forces “not to support a dictatorship” and Nasheed “accused Yameen of declaring ‘martial law’”, asserting that he should be removed from power. Later in the week, reports appeared about death threats against the arrested Chief Justice and opposition legislators.
India and the United States, along with other international actors including the UN and EU, have expressed concern about the emergency decree, calling on the government to “lift it and restore civil liberties”. Nasheed has urged the US to introduce targeted sanctions and appealed to India to intervene with “a physical presence”. China subsequently asserted that India “has no justification for intervening in the Maldives crisis” and President Yameen “sent envoys to friendly nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them on a political crisis”. A high UN official has warned the Security Council of a further deterioration in the Maldives, while an EU delegation has arrived on-site, though unable to meet the President or other senior government officials.
Al Jazeera The Guardian Stratfor The Guardian CNN
Syria welcomes the outcomes of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress that was held on January 29th and 30th in Sochi, Russia. Unanimous consensus was reached regarding Syria’s sovereignty, independence, safety and territorial unity, and the right of the Syrian people to choose their political and economic systems. This affirmed that “the political progress in Syria cannot begin or continue but under the leadership of Syria without any foreign interference.”
Though several officials and groups consistently condemn Turkey’s aggression on the Afrin area in Syria, the hostility has yet to cease. This is heavily influencing the further destabilization of the region. Consequently, after 19 days of Turkish aggression, thousands of citizens took to the streets of Afrin to denounce and oppose Turkey’s assaults.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has “condemned the false allegations made by the United States in which it accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons in the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside.” Syria upholds the belief that the use of chemical weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction is a crime against humanity, that is conceived as unacceptable, immoral, and unjustified act under any condition. It is claimed that the accusations are merely fabrications of US partners on the ground and that there is no evidence of such attacks. Furthermore, it is believed that US allegations coincide with efforts to end the crisis in Syria via a peaceful solution and are made after the US and its allies fail to pass anti-Syria resolutions at the UN Security Council and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria believes the US’s motivations for maintaining presence in the country are no longer to fight ISIS.
The Foreign and Expatriates Ministry of Syria has also expressed that Israel’s repeated attacks on Syria reflect Israel’s continuous “aggressive approach represented by supporting terrorist groups to prolong the crisis in Syria and to raise the morale of the terrorists”. On Wednesday, Israeli aircraft fired missiles from Lebanese airspace, which coincided with armed terrorist organizations’ attacks. Over 1,000 rockets and mortar rounds were launched on several cities in Syria, killing and wounding hundreds of civilians. This is deemed proof of coordination, partnerships, and alliances between Israel and terrorist organizations. Thus, the peace and security of the region and, on a larger scale, the world are threatened. The Syrian government reiterated its warnings to Israel, stressing the serious repercussions that would be taken if Israel persists with its attacks on Syria, continued terrorist support, and occupation of Arab territories.
It was officially announced by the Kazakh Foreign Minister that the 9th round of Astana meetings on Syria will hopefully be held at the end of February. Also, it has been agreed by Russian President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan that a new Russian-Iranian-Turkish summit on Syria will be held in Istanbul – date pending.
Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] (Syrian National Dialogue Congress) SANA (Continued Turkish Aggression) SANA (Thousands Take to the Streets) SANA (Chemical Weapons Allegations) SANA (Crime Against Humanity) SANA (Israeli Attacks) SANA (9th Round of Astana) SANA (Russian-Iranian-Turkish Summit on Syria)
What really scares populists? Grassroots campaigning and humour: How can ideas that toppled a dictator be used today to defend democracy? In this latest article for The Guardian, Srdja Popovic speaks from his experiences with OTPOR! to explain how people can use laughter, unity, and nonviolence to defend their democratic institutions from destruction.
RiceBunny – The Resilient #MeToo Movement in China: #MeToo has been one of the most profound developments in the modern feminist movement. In China, however, the government and censorship have created additional obstacles for students and activists seeking justice. The resulting hashtag #RiceBunny is a message from Chinese women to the world that they will not be silenced.
Myanmar – Myanmar’s government has denied the claims in the AP’s report on mass killings and graves. Instead, they argue that only “terrorists” were killed and then “carefully buried.” A man named Islam saw the horrors committed by the soldiers firsthand. He was a Buddhist in the military forces, but converted to marry a Rohingya woman. When the soldiers came to his village, he was conscripted with other Buddhists to help massacre his fellow villagers: those who refused were jailed or killed. Islam escaped one night past drunk guards and fled to Bangladesh, where he was reunited with his wife. – NY Times | The Guardian
Bangladesh – Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister and leader of the country’s main opposition party, has been sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment on corruption charges. – Al Jazeera
Ecuador – A referendum this week has resulted in the decision to set a two-term limit on the presidency, the most straightforward consequence likely being the prevention of leftist ex-leader Rafael Correa from ever returning to power. – TeleSUR
Germany – A deal has finally been reached for a new German government, more than four months after negotiations began. The conservative alliance and the left-leaning Social Democrats have again joined in coalition, leaving the controversial, far-right AfD party as the leading opposition. Members of the Social Democratic Party will now vote on the new configuration. – NYTimes
North Korea/South Korea – Kim Jong Un’s sister has arrived at the Olympics and shaken the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The diplomatic challenge of getting North Korea to attend the international event was a strategic operation that lasted months. – Bloomberg
South Africa – Over the weekend, senior leaders of the ruling ANC party met with President Zuma to ask him to step down amidst mounting pressure over corruption allegations. By Wednesday, reports stated that Cyril Ramaphosa, who had taken Zuma’s position as the ANC’s leader last month, was “holding direct talks with Jacob Zuma over a transition of power”, possibly implying a sooner-than-expected change of leadership. – The Guardian | Reuters
Hong Kong – Late last week, three leading Hong Kong activists and the 2014 Umbrella Movement were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by US Congress members. Beijing has condemned the nomination “as a form of ‘meddling’ in its internal affairs.” – Al Jazeera
Kenya – Following last week’s media shutdown, two TV stations resumed broadcasting on Monday, the final station getting back on-air Thursday, after a court ordered their immediate restoration late last week. The government had not yet commented on the delay. This came in the context of an opposition ‘mock inauguration’ last week Tuesday, which led to the arrest of three opposition figures who had participated, of which two were released the same day and another was deported to Canada. – Reuters | NY Times
Bolivia – As heavy rains and flooding continue to drench Bolivia, over 3,100 families have been displaced. Also, the Bicentennial Library Project of the Martí Studies Center in La Paz gave a “a more complete version of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’s diary” to Cuba. Bolivia’s Ambassador to Cuba said the delivery of the newfound documents “represents a vital step in understanding the past and present” for the country, according to Presna Latina. – teleSUR | teleSUR
Photo: This image circulating on Chinese social media explains the origin of the movement’s adapted hashtag.
#MeToo has been one of the most profound developments in the modern feminist movement. Far more than a hashtag, it has been a conduit for unity among women, enabling many for the first time to openly share the abuses committed against them without fear of being silenced or of retribution from the powers that be. It has realized overdue consequences to a tremendous number of men in high positions – men who have so long abused their power over female colleagues in completely unacceptable ways. #MeToo is powerful. Celebration of its victories, however, should not completely overshadow the movement’s ongoing struggles.
China is a male-dominated, highly censored culture. Needless to say, it is absolutely not conducive to social media campaigns, especially those that challenge men in positions of power. When the Weinstein story first broke in the US, launching the #MeToo movement, Chinese state-run media ran articles affirming that, “Chinese traditional values and conservative attitudes tend to safeguard women against inappropriate behavior from members of the opposite gender.” Statements like these met immediate backlash, however, from women whose personal experiences told a very different story. Nevertheless, the Chinese government’s longstanding policy of writing off feminist groups as ‘Agents of Western Interference’ seemed to again stifle any effectual change from taking off at that time.
The #MeToo movement first breached Chinese media when Luo Qianqian, a citizen of China living in the US, decided to share her story. Luo had been sexually assaulted by a professor at her university. She recalls that he pounced on her while she cried and pleaded with him to stop. Although he did withdraw from the advance, the encounter ended with him begging for her silence on the incident, and her realizing that she had no choice but to comply. That silence finally broke when she shared her story on China’s primary social media platform Weibo. In her post, she told her story and urged others to do the same with the hashtag #WoYeShi (directly translated: #MeToo).
The campaign manifested quickly in universities, where the power imbalance between students and their professors generally ranges from concerningly stark to unacceptably extreme. This systematic struggle facing university students, the most emboldened and socially active part of the population, should have created the perfect storm for #MeToo to explode. But the Chinese face an obstacle that the West generally didn’t: the government.
It is always a danger when people power movements adapt the tactics of other, successful movements and expect them to work the same way. In this case, Chinese students took the hashtag #WoYeShi (#MeToo) and began to share their stories, just like women in the rest of the world were doing. Something different happened, though, once their posts were published – they disappeared. Even though the Chinese government had seemed initially supportive of the movement, publicly firing the professor that assaulted Luo Qianqian, it quickly reversed course and worked to shut the momentum down.
In the face of such adversity, a new iteration of #MeToo was born in China. There was no other feasible way for the movement to proceed. With government sensors cleansing the internet of all expressly related content, women have begun to use alternate hashtags to continue to share their stories. That’s how #RiceBunny emerged, which in Chinese is pronounced “mi tu”. It serves the same function, but with a renewed and resilient fervor for the cause that a mere ‘copy-paste’ of the international movement could not quite achieve. In effect, the rise of #RiceBunny is much more than a clever circumvention of the censors. It is a powerful message from this generation of Chinese women, telling their government and the world that will not so easily let themselves be silenced.
Photo: Maldivian opposition protesters demand the release of political prisoners in Male, Maldives
(AP Photo/Mohamed Sharuhaan, via US News)
United States officials claim that their economic sanctions are “absolutely working” and plan to continue them in a push on the South American country towards democratic change.
One official explained that the sanctions have begun to force Venezuela to default on its debts. He goes on to blame Venezuela’s total economic collapse on “the bad choices of the Maduro regime.”
“Our strategy on Venezuela is extremely effective,” said the same official. Amid these international sanctions and the country’s economic collapse, Maduro has continued to consolidate his power. Venezuela has “long accused Washington of trying to topple the government” and places responsibility for hyperinflation, and for food and medicine shortages, squarely on foreign interference.
Inside Venezuela, Venezuelans have been looting food delivery trucks in desperate attempts to find food, as well as organizing food riots and protests. While Venezuela is no stranger to unrest, the looting is less a resistance to the political regime than it is a near necessity for the lower classes, whose livelihoods have been wrecked by the economic collapse and rampant inflation. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America who has spent decades researching Venezuela, commented, “They want relief, not necessarily to force Maduro from power.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has embarked on a tour around Latin American countries. Along the way, he has mused aloud that Venezuela may soon be subject to a military coup. He states that he has no intelligence to support the claim, but is basing this off the trend of military takeover in times of serious crises in Latin America. He also states that he is not advocating for a military coup in the unstable country. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Arreaza criticised these comments and encouraged Latin American countries to ‘unite against a common enemy’: US imperialism.
Miami Herald ABC News BBC
The Associated Press has released a report (containing graphic descriptions) on a late August attack by Myanmar soldiers, who killed hundreds of villagers and dumped their bodies in mass graves. Cell phone evidence with time stamps backs up the claims in the report made by refugees who survived the attack. Those who could, ran to hide in trees outside the village. The soldiers arrived armed not just with rifles, but with shovels and acid as well, prepared to hide their crimes. Myanmar’s military communications office has refused to speak to the press about the recent report. A local security officer stationed near the village denied knowledge of any mass graves.
Last week we learned about a petition started by Rohingya refugees, setting out demands that must be met before they will willingly return to Myanmar. Chief on this list are the need for security, legislation ensuring them citizenship and corresponding rights, and that their homes be rebuilt before they return. High levels of distrust in the Myanmar government and its promises stem from over 40 years of mistreatment. Rohingya have fled in mass numbers from Myanmar before, in the 1970’s and then again in the 1990’s.
This week, it has appeared increasingly likely that the attempts to return the refugees are already foundering, and Bangladesh continues to refuse to consider local integration options. Meanwhile Myanmar is not making any moves towards increasing the security or upholding human rights for returning Rohingya. The refugees in Bangladeshi camps have expressed that they would rather starve in the camps than face almost certain death in Myanmar.
The Associated Press The Guardian
Maldivian opposition leaders have filed a petition to the nation’s Supreme Court on Sunday to temporarily remove incumbent President Abdulla Yameen. The petition stated that Yameen should be suspended for misrule, rights abuses, and “unprecedented corruption, including unjust enrichment through appropriation of state properties and funds for personal benefit, for the benefit of his family and political associates,” reported Al Jazeera. Signatories included former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen’s half-brother. The President has dismissed the petition and denied accusations. The Supreme Court has not commented yet on whether they would hear the petition.
On Monday, the Criminal Court also issued a 15-day remand period for MP Faris Maumoon (Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s son), following his arrest on Saturday, only shortly after he had been released from six months in police custody. Earlier, on Saturday, reports about a resignation of Police Commissioner Ahmed Areef and unrest within the police department had spread, but have since been refuted by police officials.
The most prominent news from the Maldives released on Thursday, when the Supreme Court surprisingly ordered the immediate release of nine key political prisoners. Among them was Mohamed Nasheed, currently still in self-exile, who now might be able to run for presidency again in this year’s election, though new trials were ordered. Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges, largely criticized as politically motivated. The court acted further, overturning another ruling on Thursday that will allow 12 opposition parliament members to return to the legislative body, now with an oppositional majority. In their reaction, the opposition stated this verdict to “effectively end President Yameen’s authoritarian rule”, wrote Agence France Press on the Guardian. The administration and police announced that they will comply with the ruling, while President Yameen has ordered the dismissal of the police chief. Hundreds of opposition supporters celebrated in the streets of the capital Male, but were quickly pushed back by police, who also fired teargas. Nasheed meanwhile urged his supporters “to avoid confrontation with the police.” By early Friday, the Associated Press had reported of violent clashes between protesters and the police.
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The United States of America
This past week began in the US with the first State of the Union address by President Trump. This annual speech is the head of state’s chance to directly address the American people, to share with them what he has accomplished, to remind them of his continuing goals, and to announce new plans, policies, and initiatives that he has for the nation. While this year’s address took plenty of time to revel in its “extraordinary success” and to reiterate many of the policies that Trump outlined in his campaign, it introduced very little new policy. Much of the speech was dedicated to taxation and immigration policy. Trump spoke at great length about the dangers that immigrants pose to the US, the toll that such high immigration takes on the American people, and of course the urgent need for a wall along the border with Mexico. This part of the speech was seriously unsettling to a huge portion of the American public. Additional points included increasing investment in fossil fuels, funding infrastructure improvements, fighting the national drug epidemic, increasing military funding, and the announcement that he would continue to keep open the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.
In other news from Washington, a controversial memo is prepared for release, against the wishes of many national lawmakers and top law enforcement officials. It regards FBI’s Russia inquiry, supposedly accusing the Justice Department and FBI of abusing their authority. FBI director Christopher Wray has stated that he may quit his position if the memo is released, further complicating the whole situation. Lawmakers in favor of its release, notably including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have said that it does not undermine the Mueller investigation. President Trump, on the other hand, has said that the contents of the memo will discredit the Russia investigation. This is especially problematic for the democrats and law enforcement officials who oppose the memo’s release. They have raised questions about the memo’s accuracy and about its omission of key information that they say is needed to put the issue into proper context. After all, this memo reflects simply the thoughts and opinions of its author, Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. It is not a formal, government-sanctioned release. In any case, Washington is bracing for impact.
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On Wednesday, Reuters revealed that the government is going to match the lease contracts of white farmers to the same 99-year lease period black Zimbabweans had been able to opt for. This measure concerning land ownership addresses one of Zimbabwe’s most sensitive issues. At the same time, efforts were launched to find and repatriate millions of dollars which had been smuggled oversees during the last years of Robert Mugabe’s rule. According to the Guardian, observers have noted that the current anti-corruption drive could be covering Zanu-PF intra-party factional fights. President Emmerson Mnangagwa has meanwhile made the headlines by saying that Robert Mugabe did not make mistakes during his time in power, when asked by Russia’s Sputnik News.
Reuters had further seen an appointment letter, revealing that President Emmerson Mnangagwa named High Court Judge Priscilla Chigumba as new head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Chigumba is set to take the post which has been vacant since former chair Rita Makarau resigned in December. Different opposition figures have stated in reaction that they would be alertly watching Chigumba in her new position. Some pointed out Chigumba now had to rise to the occasion, while People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson, Jacob Mafume, voiced his concern that “a key participant in the elections gets to choose a chairperson on his own,” wrote New Zimbabwe. With regard to the election, VOA Zimbabwe had reported early this week that the EU had signaled its willingness to send election monitors to Zimbabwe. Simultaneously, Reuters reported that a “company helping to produce a new voter roll for Zimbabwe has accused the election commission of ‘impropriety’ in its handling of tenders, potentially tarnishing the credibility of [the upcoming] poll.”
Facing “severe turbulences” ahead of the election, Zimbabwean main opposition political parties have called for unity in the MDC Alliance. One of the bigger challenges is alliance candidate Morgan Tsvangirai’s ailing health. At the same time, the MDC Alliance’s President said that US President Trump had “pledged to bail out the MDC Alliance government with $15 billion for reconstruction and economic recovery programmes if they are voted into office in the forthcoming polls”, reported New Zimbabwe. National People’s Party (NPP) leader and presidential candidate Joice Mujuru who is currently touring Zimbabwe, has been assaulted with rocks, but not seriously injured, alongside others at a political rally. The NPP blames Zanu-PF supporters for the assault.
Reuters The Guardian New Zimbabwe / AllAfrica (Opposition on Chigumba) New Zimbabwe / AllAfrica (Trump pledge)
Imprisoned opposition leader Kem Sokha was denied bail by Cambodia’s Appeal Court in his first court appearance since his arrest in September. Kem Sokha was charged with treason, accused of trying to topple the government with American support. Thursday’s ruling upheld an earlier decision after lawyers had filed an appeal on January 18. According to one of Sokha’s lawyers, the judge stated that Sokha should be kept in prison “due to ongoing court procedures and his own safety,” wrote Channel NewsAsia. This lawyer expressed disappointment and will discuss a possible appeal at the Supreme Court with Sokha and other lawyers.
Meanwhile, self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy officially launched the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, which he and other opposition members abroad had announced earlier this month. Rainsy spoke to approximately 400 supporters in California at the launching event. He called this movement ‘symbolic’ and seeks to keep the now-dissolved CNRP ‘alive’, release Kem Sokha and other prisoners for political charges, and ensure free, fair and ‘inclusive’ elections with a participation of the CNRP. In the meantime, Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned him not to bring his movement to Asia, saying the government would take action against it, calling it ‘terrorism’. In another reaction, two Khmer Kampuchea Krom advocacy organizations have appealed to all Khmer Krom not join the new CNRM, while another organization said “individuals should decide their political alliances themselves, after careful consideration.”
After the sentencing of two environmental activists last week, Cambodian soldiers allegedly killed a three-person team, which had been on patrol in the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in North-Eastern Cambodia on Tuesday. The team was said to include a forest protection ranger, a military police officer, and a Cambodian employee of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society. They had confiscated Vietnamese logging equipment illegally, said a senior environmental official in the province. He asserted that “the three were killed […] by government armed forces who backed the illegal timber cutting”. The Guardian further wrote that they “are the latest victims of an alarming trend in recent years, the murder of environmental defenders by parties seeking the financial exploitation of natural resources.”
In the international realm, US senators have urged the UN in a letter to address the situation in Cambodia and introduce sanctions, prompting discussions within Cambodia and beyond, among politicians and analysts.
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Turkish forces continue to inflict aggression on certain regions in Syria. This has caused serious controversy as civilians are being killed and houses, places of worship, and archaeological sites are being destroyed. It was voiced by the General Directorate for Antiquities and Museums at the Ministry of Culture that Syrian identity and “the past of the Syrian people and their present and future” are being threatened.
In opposition to US intervention in Syria, a solidarity stand was organized at Aleppo University. They stood “in support of the national decision and in rejection of the US intervention in Syria and the US illegal military presence which violates the international law and makes an aggression on the Syrian sovereignty.” There is skepticism that this intervention hinders any efforts to realize a political solution to the Syrian crisis, and instead supplies and supports terrorist existence. This show of solidarity also symbolized the unity of the Syrian citizens and “their support to the Syrian Arab army in its war against terrorism and the evil powers.”
Additionally, the Damascus University and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) mission in Syria aims to cooperate in the organization of “workshops, lectures, and programs related to spreading the concepts of international humanitarian law.”
Meanwhile, more promising prospects for Syria emerged as the Syrian National Dialogue Congress took place this week in Sochi, Russia. The conference hosted around 1500 participants and observers representing different parts of Syrian society and figures from foreign opposition groups. A popular perspective highlights the importance of holding the Congress as a “step on the road to resolving the crisis in Syria”, even though some groups were absent. Though the reality is that the Congress will not achieve political reconciliation, its purpose is to lay the groundwork for future settlement of the crisis, shedding light on the different common positions and views regarding the conflict’s resolution.
Staffan De Mistura, the UN’s Special Envoy for Syria, strengthened the necessity of a constructive dialogue and political solution as the only solution to the crisis in Syria. The results of the Congress were transmitted to Geneva as a contribution to the settlement process among the Syrians according to the UN Security Council Resolution No.2254.
The Congress concluded with a final statement that was composed and approved by the different perspectives present. It stated, “We, the delegates of the Conference of the Syrian National Dialogue, representing all segments of Syrian society, its political and civil powers, ethics, confessional and social groups, … with the intention to put an end to seven years of the suffering of our people, through the achievement of a common understanding of the necessity for the salvation of our homeland … the restoration of its dignity on the regional and world stage, the provision of fundamental rights and liberties for all its citizens, and most importantly the right to peaceful and free life without violence and terror.” The statement went on to say that “respect of and full commitment to the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a land and a people, in this regard no part of the national territory shall be ceded. The people of Syria remain committed to the recovery of the occupied Syrian Golan by all lawful means in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.” (To read the entire statement click here)
Syrian Arab News Agency [SANA] (Turkish Aggression on Archaeological Sites) SANA (Solidarity Stand) SANA (International Humanitarian Law) SANA (Sochi Congress) SANA (De Mistura – Syrian National Dialogue Congress) SANA (Final Statement)
Democratic Republic of Congo
Waves of violence continue to engulf the DRC. UN peacekeepers are currently stationed in the country, having been deployed with the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO). DRC President Joseph Kabila claims, however, that “MONUSCO has not ‘eradicated’ any armed group in nearly 20 years.” Furthermore, many armed groups have been ambushing the peacekeepers, even killing one on Saturday.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, who condemns the killing, has called on all armed groups in the DRC “to lay down their arms and seek to resolve their grievances peacefully”. To the dismay of Guterres, however, President Kabila has warned MONUSCO not to consider the DRC under the UN’s care, adding that he would clarify DRC-UN relations in the coming days.
To escape the violence, surges of refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries like Burundi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Military operations have intensified against the various armed groups. This has alarmed the UNHCR, as they witness thousands of children, women and men abandoning their homes.
Escaping forced recruitment, direct violence, and other abuses by armed groups, scores of refugees had no option other than to flee their homes to neighboring countries, already hosting many other refugees, and to existing overcrowded transit centers and camps. Since the beginning of 2018, over 5 million Congolese have been displaced, both internally and externally. “This places DRC among the world’s biggest displacement crises.”
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North/South Korea – After what has been seen as a rapprochement between the nations over the upcoming Winter Olympics in the South, the North has abruptly cancelled a joint cultural performance. The reason was ‘biased’ and ‘insulting’ media coverage in the South, according to a North Korean telegram. South Korea reportedly called this move ‘regrettable’. Meanwhile, the North Korean flag is displayed alongside others at the Olympic village. – BBC
Kenya – On Tuesday, thousands attended the mock-inauguration of Raila Odinga in Nairobi, after it had been unclear whether police would permit supporters to gather. The gathering was mostly peaceful, though there were unconfirmed reports of scattered clashes and teargas used nearby. However, authorities appear to have ordered a media blackout to hamper coverage in Kenya. Intending to play the role of ‘deputy-president’ in the mock inauguration, Kalonzo Musyoka was reportedly blocked from participation in the event, and said on Wednesday that gunshots were fired at his home and a grenade detonated in what was “an assassination attempt.” – The Guardian
Spain – Tuesday, Catalonia postponed the election of its new regional president until further notice, following Spain’s Supreme Court decision that Carles Puigdemont, separatist leader the only candidate, could not be elected without physical presence. Remaining in Belgium, Puigdemont stated that he could lead the region from abroad, fearing to be arrested for charges including sedition and rebellion upon return to Spain. The candidate was the only nominee for the post after separatists won by a small margin in December regional elections. Pro-independence parties said they would not nominate a new candidate, suggesting a continued push for secession, amidst a sustained direct control by the national government. – Reuters
Bolivia – Bolivian President Evo Morales is revising the Patriotic Agenda for 2020-2025, the country’s long-term national goals, to address the needs of the country’s growing middle-class sectors. “The current agenda is composed of 13 proposals to eradicate poverty, stabilize the economy, and provide basic social, health, education services.” – teleSUR
Cuba – Fidel Castro’s son popularly known as “Fidelito” to the Cuban people, has committed suicide at 68 years old. He had been a USSR-trained nuclear physicist, and headed the nuclear program from 1980 to 1992. – BBC
Poland – On Thursday, Polish lawmakers approved a draft of legislation that would make it illegal to charge Poles for any type of complicity in the tragedies of the Holocaust. Because the Polish state did not yet exist, lawmakers in the country have long refuted terms like “Polish death camps”, that were of course operated by the occupying Nazi forces. This new proposed law is nevertheless drawing sharp criticism, especially from the US and Israel, who point out that even under occupation, the Polish people themselves were often complicit, and that this law seems to be an attempt by Poland to undermine open speech and to potentially rewrite history in a more favorable way. – NYTimes
Uzbekistan – Rustam Inoyatov, security chief of Uzbekistan, was ousted yesterday by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in a bloodless coup. Inoyatov had been the biggest brake on Mirziyoyev’s transformative politicking. Although a popular world perspective portrays this development as encouraging, it gives no indication of how Mirziyoyev plans to use his now-unchecked power. – The Diplomat
Mexico – A student disappeared for days after being arrested and beaten by police officers. He was eventually found, disoriented and unsure of his own identity, with “visible signs of torture.” His peers, joined by students from many other schools, have organized a massive protest; they shut down their schools and are demanding that the government investigate the officers. Two officers have already been arrested. In other news, recent polls show candidate López Obrador from the political party MORENA leading the race with 32 percent. – BBC teleSUR Reuters
CANVAS would also like to bid farewell to Gene Sharp – dear friend and powerful inspiration. His passing is an obligation to carry on the torch of democracy, human rights, people power, and nonviolent struggle with even stronger commitment. “Sharp had an extraordinary talent for finding movers in every corner of the world, and he offered them a guiding light as they fought for democratic change.” In a piece for the Washington Post, Srdja Popovic and Slobodan Djinovic, co-founders of CANVAS, reflect on the passing of visionary Gene Sharp. They remark on his legacy, as it affected their own movement in the past, and as it continues to shape nonviolent movements into the future. Read more here: Gene Sharp has passed away — but his ideas will go on inspiring activists around the world
Women’s Rights are Human Rights – Iranian Women Protesting the Veil Law: In the struggle for women’s rights in Iran, enduring since the 1979 Revolution, a resurgent act of protest this week demonstrated the exasperation many have with the implemented Sharia Law. This policy sidelines women and bestows on them the “harsh reality of subjection to a patriarchal interpretation of Islamic law when applied by the legal machinery of a modern state.”
Protesting Putin – Thousands Demonstrate Across Russia: Across Russia on January 28th, demonstrators took to the streets in opposition to Vladimir Putin and in support of boycotting the upcoming presidential elections in March. The rallies were called by Alexei Navalny, the politician widely regarded as Putin’s only significant political opponent. From Moscow to Vladivostok, thousands of Russian citizens, especially young people, braved police threats and frigid temperatures to make their voices heard.
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