December 17, 2020
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers new casualties in Iraqi protests, investigations into opposition figures in Hong Kong, new international pressure on Belarus, and more.
Albanians have taken to the streets to protest the killing of a 25-year-old man who violated a curfew intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.Protesters have blocked the streets of Armenia’s capital in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Pashinian to resign, chanting slogans such as “Nikol, traitor!” and “Armenia without Nikol!” The opposition largely steps from dissatisfaction with Pashinian’s ceasefire deal over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.French President Macron has responded to weeks-long demonstrations over police violence by stating “there is an ‘urgent need’ to reform the security forces.” He will hold a summit next month to review a draft security law.Over 20,000 Moldovans have joined protests demanding a snap election of Parliament. President-elect Sandu, elected two weeks ago, has echoed these calls.Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have converged on New Delhi with the intent to “camp out for weeks to protest new agricultural laws that they say could destroy their livelihoods.”
The Pfizer vaccine was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved as the UK began rolling out their vaccination program this week. The vaccines are being given across 70 locations to patients over 80, health workers are expected to be next. In the US, the White House is pressuring the FDA to approve the Pfizer vaccine within the week as cases in the US bring 200 hospitals to full capacity following a Thanksgiving surge. The coronavirus has now taken 1.5 million lives globally. Issues of global inequality are surfacing as rich states buy up the majority of vaccinations, leaving poorer nations with the prospect of only vaccinating 1 in 10 by the end of next year. Vaccine development is still ongoing, as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is trialling combinations with Russia’s Sputnik V for improved efficiency, and Australian vaccine trials are on hold due to false HIV positive readings.
The San Isidro movement remains active following the sit-ins, hunger strikes and arrests of the previous weeks. The government first agreed to meet with the protesters but has since U-turned, now defaming the movement as a US plot. The Cuban government has responded with repressive measures, including arbitrary house arrests, like that of Tania Bruguera. Human Rights Watch claims that Covid-19 restrictions are being misused to repress protesters, including arrests and fines for “spreading an epidemic.”
Prisoner Brandon Bernard was executed in Indiana Thursday night after a last-minute supreme court appeal was rejected. The execution has prompted new waves of criticism calling to abolish the death penalty in the US, an aim supported by President-elect Joe Biden. The post-election lawsuits continue with a Texas lawsuit claiming election fraud filed with the Supreme Court. Over 100 Republican House members have publicly supported the lawsuit, although figures from both parties have condemned the “baseless’”lawsuit. In other news, the Senate avoided a government shutdown by passing the stopgap funding bill, which allows the government an additional week to agree on COVID-19 relief.
Minister of Economy Marcelo Montenegro discussed the extent of Bolivia’s sharp economic downturn during a televised interview this week. He claimed that the prior presidential administration had “stopped public investment” and “paralyzed employment” amidst the already negative conditions of the COVID-19 outbreak. Separately, the Cuban government announced that it was open to discussions about resuming the deployment of medical brigades to Bolivia, an initiative that was halted due to soured relations between Bolivia’s previous administration and the island.
A Chinese journalist named Zhang Zhan has been in detention since May for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak and is now on hunger strike, raising concerns about her survival. Human Rights Watch revealed a leaked prisoner list that showed how authorities detain Muslim Uighur’s for ‘being young’ or speaking to siblings abroad. The Chinese authorities allegedly use databases by the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to flag individuals and detain them as ‘predictive policing’. In other news, China has signed a deal with Papua New Guinea for a fishery worth US$200 million. which, given the lack of fish in the area, raises suspicions regarding its proximity to Australia, with which they have a deteriorating relationship.
Several bank accounts associated with the Good Neighbour North District Church, whose volunteers acted as mediators between protesters and police in 2019, have been frozen amidst a money laundering investigation that the church’s leaders have termed an “act of political retaliation.” 36 social welfare organizations have called for the government to release the church’s funds so it can continue to provide services to the homeless population. In a similar move, former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui’s assets have been frozen as the government investigates embezzlement claims against him that Hui fervently denies. Just last week, Hui fled to Copenhagen and declared his intent to resettle in the UK as criminal investigations against him continue back in Hong Kong.
Six alleged supporters of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab were killed in clashes with the police. Authorities say that the incident took place on the highway just outside of Jakarta, where a police car tailing a group of men was attacked. Meanwhile, the acting U.S. Secretary of Defense has met with his counterpart in Indonesia as part of his Asia Tour for promoting open Indo-Pacific policy. Finally, Indonesia received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from China this week. In a statement, Indonesia’s Bio Farma said that it has yet to determine the efficiency of the Sinovac vaccine but is expected to release its first report in January.
Opposition MDC Alliance Vice President, Biti, has been released on bail following assault charges and his trial is set for January. Harare’s mayor, Mafume, was released on bail this week following his arrest in November on corruption charges. The MDC Alliance claim the charges are politically motivated, especially as Harare’s previous mayor, Gomba, was arrested and barred from mayoral duties in July. Anti-government journalist and anti-corruption activist Chin’ono continues his legal battles against charges of inciting public violence. Finally, the police have announced a crackdown on ‘cyberbullying’ of officials, stating arrests are ‘imminent’, rights groups call this a crackdown on freedom.
The International Olympic Committee suspended President Lukashenko from all Olympic activities after last month’s investigation into “claims made by local athletes…that they [were] being taken off national teams and excluded from competitions due to their disagreement with the results of the presidential election.” The IOC’s President said that Belarus’ National Olympic Committee, which Lukashenko leads, had not “appropriately protected Belarus athletes from political discrimination” during the past few months of unrest. Russia’s IOC spokesperson expressed disagreement with the decision, as has Lukashenko. Separately, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded that Belarus investigate torture allegations against its security forces and release all unlawfully detained protesters.
At least six protesters have died in the Sulaymaniyah governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan amidst increasingly tense demonstrations over economic woes such as delayed salaries, a lack of public services, and rising unemployment. There have been reports of “angry crowds setting ablaze political parties’ headquarters and local government buildings,” drawing criticism from UN bodies and national leaders alike: President Salih released a statement on Tuesday calling “for an end to ‘corruption, looting, plundering and smuggling’” in Sulaymaniyah. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court has stopped a probe into “alleged war crimes by British troops in Iraq” after determining that the UK was already taking genuine independent steps to investigate the allegations.
Tensions between the United States and Iran continue to escalate. American military forces are on “high alert” in the Middle East as top security agencies watch “‘troubling indicators of potential attack preparations’ from Iranian militias in Iraq.” The general fear is that Iran could take advantage of the impending tumultuous U.S. presidential transition and current drawdowns of troops in the region to launch an attack on American interests. Additionally, the U.S. added Iran to its list of “violators of religious freedoms” on Monday. Iran, meanwhile, blacklisted the U.S. ambassador to Yemen in response to the U.S. imposing similar sanctions on Iran’s equivalent envoy. Finally, President Rouhani blamed U.S. sanctions for making it difficult for Iran to purchase vaccines and needed medicine to contain its COVID-19 outbreak, the worst in the Middle East.
According to a report by the Permanent Commission on Human Rights of Nicaragua (CPDH), the Nicaraguan police have committed 1,622 human rights abuses this year. The overwhelming majority of complaints were by women, 70% were against the National Police and 70% reported political persecution and threats. The police have responded claiming they are being victimized. In other news, a mine in La Esperanza collapsed, trapping 10 people.
An anonymous U.S. government official has told members of the Sudanese government that Sudan will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism by December 14. Meanwhile, the U.S. removed Sudan from its list of “violators of religious freedoms” following lengthy efforts to restore freedoms lost during former President al-Bashir’s regime. In other news, a spokesman for the transitional government run by Prime Minister Hamdok publicly disapproved of last week’s decree by General al-Burhan to form a new body tasked with overseeing Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, arguing that such a move violates constitutional agreements.