CANVAS Weekly Update – September 25, 2020


September 25, 2020

Dear friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers mass arrests of women in Belarus, protests against recent deals to normalize relations between Arab states and Israel, and further crackdowns on journalists and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.


Researchers have uncovered evidence that more detention centers have been built in Xinjiang province over the past few years, despite claims from authorities that the region’s “re-education centers” were on the decline. Apart from identifying newly built camps and prisons, their report says, “Evidence suggests that many extrajudicial detainees…are now being formally charged and locked up in higher security facilities.” International pressure on China over its abuses in Xinjiang has been mounting lately; on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted almost unanimously to ban products made with forced labor in Xinjiang province. Separately, Facebook shut down over 150 Chinese-run accounts that were posting about the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

Hong Kong

Notable pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was arrested by Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday for “attending an unauthorized demonstration last October” and “violating a government ban on wearing a mask during that gathering.” Wong argues that the police had “political motives” for the arrest and that they are “try[ing] to confine all activists within Hong Kong’s borders” as many flee the city. The police also announced a new policy for journalists this week that only recognizes members of international media organizations or outlets registered with the government. Major media groups such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association (HKPPA) will no longer be recognized under this policy. This has far-reaching implications for journalists, ranging from restricted access to press conferences to reduced protections from police.


On Saturday, 2,000 women participated in the “Sparkly March” in which they wore shiny accessories and called for President Lukashenko to step down. 314 women were arrested for taking part in the demonstration; police planned to arrest more, but “they ran out of room in [their] vans.” Days later, Lukashenko was sworn in for his sixth term at a small ceremony that was not announced to the public beforehand. Usually, the country broadcasts inaugurations on state television and radio channels, but many speculate that the president deviated from tradition to avoid confrontation with protesters. This move comes after the European Union failed to impose sanctions on Belarusian officials. Cyprus refused to green-light the sanctions unless the EU took similar action against Turkey for its “drilling in the contested waters of the eastern Mediterranean.”


Amnesty International released a report detailing the horrific abuses of refugees and migrants in Libya, which the country has yet to acknowledge. Migrants have been blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue to witness severe human rights violations within the country. While experiencing extrajudicial killings, sexual or physical violence, forced labor, disappearances and other forms of exploitation, new reports have materialized detailing the involuntary transportation of migrants to unofficial detention centers and deportation.


The West Bank and Gaza broke out in protests this week, denouncing the Emirati and Bahraini decisions to normalize relations with Israel and for leaving Palestinian leadership out of any negotiations. Palestinian Authority President Abbas has said that the only time peace will come to the Middle East is when Israel fully removes itself from the occupied territories. Palestine, which was supposed to chair the Arab League for the next six months, has rejected the position in protest of the recent normalization of ties.


President Trump announced on Wednesday that, “as part of [his] continuing fight against communist oppression,” the U.S. Department of Treasury would ban imports of Cuban rum and cigars, prevent American tourists from staying in 433 government-funded Suban hotels, and restrict Americans from organizing and attending large events (e.g. conferences and weddings) in Cuba. These sanctions come as the island nation is suffering from one of its worst food shortages in over two decades, a disaster attributed to ongoing embargoes and COVID-19’s devastating effect on tourism. Cubans endure long waits — sometimes eight to ten hours — just to enter scant government-run grocery stores.


Representatives of the Sudanese government met with American and Emirati officials in Abu Dhabi this past weekend to discuss regional stabilization. While discussing a potential deal to normalize relations with Israel, Sudan reportedly requested to be removed from the USA’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and to receive a US$3 billion aid package. The talks concluded without any formal resolution about Sudanese-Israeli relations, however. Meanwhile, the country is still struggling with COVID-19 and massive flooding, both of which have contributed to soaring food prices; the cost of some staples have risen by over 50%. This week, the International Monetary Fund approved Sudan’s plan for economic restructuring, opening the door for much-needed debt relief.


Tensions are high in Bolivia leading up to next month’s election. Supporters of ousted president Evo Morales’ Movimeinto al Socialismo party were prevented from holding an election rally and had previously engaged in street fighting in the city of Oruro with the members of the current party in office. This comes after interim president Jeanine Anez announced she would not be running in next month’s election and has fueled discontent within the country by suppressing and jailing pro-Morales supporters.