December 30, 2020
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the indictment of 12 Hong Kong protesters, internet crackdowns in Thailand, escalating protests in Kurdistan, and EU sanctions on Belarus.
Two weeks ahead of the official transition period ending, Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU fail to make a breakthrough. South Korea introduces a ban on flying leaflets to North Korea, despite criticism that the government is prioritising close ties over freedom.
The United States has begun to distribute the first doses of the newly-approved Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers across the country. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization as early as this weekend in the country, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. The first cases of community transmission were recorded in Sydney, Australia this week since December 3rd, authorities sending a public health alert. Local authorities responded by canceling visits to elderly care homes and encouraging increased testing. Brazil announced a coronavirus vaccination rollout plan set to start in early 2021.
The United States
The House of Representatives has yet again passed a stopgap 2-day spending bill to avert a government shutdown. On Sunday night the government must vote on a proposed $900 billion Covid relief package. Meanwhile, the Texas lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the election results has been rejected, including by the judges selected by Trump. In other news, the Department of Homeland Security announced findings that extensive Russian hacking campaigns are targeting the government and private companies.
A Shenzhen court indicted all but two of the twelve Hong Kongers who were arrested months ago for attempting an illegal sea crossing to Taiwan. These twelve citizens were the subject of the #Save12HKYouth campaign which gained widespread support after reports that they were “denied access to lawyers and abused while in Chinese custody.” Further opposition figures have been targeted by the legal system this week: Adam Ma was denied bail again while facing charges of secession for multiple counts of chanting independence slogans, and the Bank of China closed the account of one of the twelve Hong Kongers being held in Shenzhen for “administrative reasons.”
The EU Commission approved a 24 million euro assistance package for Belarusian “civil society and independent media, students…youth professionals…small and medium-sized enterprises…[and] health capacities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Around the same time, the EU also implemented new sanctions on Belarusians involved in the ongoing crackdown on protesters, which continues to result in hundreds of civilian arrests every week. Meanwhile, the government continues to target human rights watchdogs: the courts added another two months to the pretrial detention of a coordinator for the Vyasna Human Rights Center, and police summoned the chairman of the Belarusian Journalists’ Association for questioning about “causing damage to national security.”
The US President-elect, Joe Biden, is set to begin normalizing US-Cuban relations by lifting certain sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, such as travel restriction and remittances. However, sanctions relating to Cuban Human Rights abuses are set to remain. In other news, dialogue between the San Isidro protesters and the government have fallen through, however, the unprecedented protest staged a few weeks ago continues to have its impact through its size and cross-cleavage support. The Cuban Catholic Church has waded in to call for dialogue while the protesters’ presence is stirring debate in the US surrounding the efficacy of sanctions.
On Saturday, the police arrested 35 members of the opposition MDC Alliance Youth which assembled to launch their 1 million programmes. The Secretary-General of the alliance claims the mass arrests are in aid of the ruling political party, the police claim they arrested the youths for an unsanctioned gathering. Meanwhile, reports claim authorities are evicting families amidst the ongoing health and economic crises, and a UN World Food Program is requesting $204 to assist as food insecurity impacts 4 million Zimbabweans.
Indonesian police have announced the capture of a senior member of the al-Qaeda militant group Jemaah Islamiah on Thursday. The detainee, Zulkarnaen, is one of the alleged masterminds of a series of bombings in Bali in 2002 which are known to have killed more than 202 people. In other news, the country has pledged free COVID-19 vaccines to its citizens, the president first in line to receive the vaccine. Unrelatedly, the country has lifted a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which marine conservationists have blamed for coral reef damage and overfishing. Critics of the new policy claim it will only benefit large-scale fisheries and contribute to depleting fish stocks in Indonesian waters.
The use of Uighur forced labour hits headlines as the European Union condemns the government’s use of arbitrary detainment. Meanwhile, software by Alibaba reportedly included facial recognition AI which had an algorithm identifying Uighurs., the company has since removed any ethnic tags. In other news, the US has blacklisted a series of Chinese companies while the US Navy sets out to be ‘more assertive’ against China.
This week, the Diplomat reported on a recent Thai crackdown on the use of the internet as an organizing tool. An important instrument in organizing under repressive governments, activists in Thailand have turned to the internet in the face of severe COVID-19 restrictions that limit activism. In other news, Thailand has relaxed travel restrictions for tourists from 56 countries in order to help stimulate the economy.
Protests driven by economic frustration in the Sulaymaniyah province of Iraqi Kurdistan continue to escalate. Security forces fired tear gas on protesters while the government blocked internet access and prevented journalists from reporting on the demonstrations. Meanwhile in Baghdad, prominent activist Salah al-Iraqi was shot and died before making it to the hospital. The killers of this major figure in the 2019 anti-government protest movement remain unknown.
Iranian and world leaders met virtually this week to discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. US President-Elect Joe Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the deal, following the country’s leaving in 2018 by current president Donald Trump. Iranian President Rouhani claimed the country would return to compliance with the JCPoA within an hour of the United States returning to the deal, given the US lifts the crippling sanctions on the country. However, relations between the two countries remain fraught, as Iran came under fire on Monday for the death of an ex- FBI agent in 2007.
Prominent US political figures, including Senator Rubio, have come forward with an open letter responding to the Ortegas regime recent codification of press censorship. The letter criticises political harassment, restrictions on free speech and civil society, specifically calling for respect of independent media. In other news, a new report by the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress has claimed 31% of Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica are accompanied by children in need of psychological support.
After months of talks, Sudan was officially removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism on Monday. Soon after, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced that the completion of this key step meant that the two organizations were ready to provide long-awaited financial assistance to Sudan. The country continues to face an influx of refugees from neighboring Ethiopia, prompting Prime Minister Abdalla to visit Ethiopia to discuss the conflict in Tigray and offer to “broker a ceasefire.” The latter offer was rejected. Days later, Abdalla confirmed that an unspecified number of Sudanese soldiers were killed by Ethiopian forces while conducting a security patrol near the border.
Bolivia has approved the first same-sex civil union following a two year battle. While the Bolivian constitution does not recognize same-sex marriages, the couple successfully managed to argue that the denial of a marriage license was a violation of international human rights standards. LGBTQA+ activists hope that this case will be the first in a series of steps to overhaul the country’s marriage laws. At a MAS political event this week, it has been reported on Twitter that a chair was thrown at the head of former president Evo Morales. The party has blamed right-wing instigators for the aggression.