March 5, 2021
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the reshuffling of political leadership in Zimbabwe, cyberattacks in Indonesia, and the relationship between Uganda and The United States.
In Myanmar on Sunday, dozens of protestors were wounded and at least 18 people were killed by the military’s security forces. On Wednesday, an additional 38 people were killed in what has been the deadliest crackdown since the February 1st coup and six journalists were detained on criminal charges. Myanmar’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was seen for the first time since the coup when she appeared on video in court where she was given two additional charges. The slogan ‘everything will be okay’ was written on Angel’s shirt, a 19-year-old anti-coup protester, who joined activists in Myanmar on Wednesday before she was shot and killed in the streets. She was one of many hundreds of activists who were peacefully protesting in Myanmar’s second city before police opened fire. Myanmar police, numbering at least 19, have entered into India in order to escape the military force. The men were lower-ranking members who chose to leave due to their lack of alliance with the military control, they are expecting many more to come. They entered into India unarmed and feared persecution in Myanmar for disobeying orders against the disobedience movement. The United States has begun to block the ministries of defense and home affairs as well as top military personnel from different types of trade. This action has been taken in response to the military’s crackdowns on the protests within Myanmar. This action comes a month after President Joe Biden’s sanctions on the nation and as the US Commerce Department announced it is considering more potential actions. In Armenia, the military called for Prime Minister Nikol Pashiyan’s resignation over his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which he called a coup attempt. His supporters took to the streets to demonstrate their support. The opposition also held rallies and at one point protestors successfully forced their way into a government building. In Spain, protests that began over the arrest of a Spanish rapper have continued. They have become a collective outcry by a generation that has struggled through years of economic hardship and that sees a lost future even after the pandemic ends.”
The WHO has announced that COVID-19 cases have increased for the first time in six weeks. Studies have suggested that the variant found in Brazil is able to infect people who have already had the virus. There are concerns that vaccine passports, a government-issued document that confirms someone’s status as vaccinated, could be ethically problematic due to the imbalance in vaccine distribution that favors wealthier nations. Israel is the first country to roll out such a policy, the “green pass,” which allows vaccinated people to engage in normal activities. The following countries have begun vaccinations this week: Nigeria, Angola, DR Congo, Kenya, Iraq, Sudan and Rwanda.
The Communist Party leader Xi Jinping made remarks on the global position of China, claiming that while in various regards “the West is strong and the East is weak,”, we are in a time that “the East is rising and the West is declining.”; speeches claimed the United States posed the largest threat to China. The National People’s Congress is set to convene for a week during which Mr Xi is expected to detail a long-term blueprint for China’s increasingly prominent role in global politics. Amidst the East versus West rhetoric, Microsoft has accused Hafnium, a Chinese, state-sponsored cyber-espionage group of hacking emails and calendars on their server Exchange; this is Microsoft’s 8th accusation in just 12 months. In response, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued an emergency directive, a rare decision, ordering all government agencies to update their Exchange servers by Friday noon. The accusations go further, claiming the China-based spies have accessed “infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher education institutions, defence contractors, policy think tanks and NGOs.”. Moreover, a U.S. firm has reported to the Indian authorities that the cyber-hack from a Chinese-based hacker group known as RedEcho from early February is still active. The hack targeted an Indian port network system and attempted to penetrate the electrical sector; there are claims the group has targeted up to 10 critical infrastructures and that the hacks began after the Sino-Indian skirmishes last summer. Meanwhile, the think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute has reported its findings that the Chinese Communist Party ran a coordinated campaign to discredit the BBC.
Legislators at twin meetings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress in Beijing this week plan to introduce legislation which would squash political opposition in the Chinese-run financial hub. The Chinese government has not yet published the details of the proposals, but has outlined broad changes that would effectively allow Beijing to vet candidates for Hong Kong’s legislative council and pack an election committee which chooses Hong Kong’s chief executive. Among the proposals is an increase in the size of Hong Kong’s legislative council and its election committee, essentially giving Beijing-backed politicians a majority in each body. These moves come after China proposed a new loyalty oath for all Hong Kong elected officials, from local councilors to legislators, that could be used to bar democratic politicians. Xia Baolong, China’s top official in charge of Hong Kong, said “the administrative power in Hong Kong must be maintained in the hands of patriots.” In related news, the European Union has called on the Chinese government to “carefully consider the political and economic implications of any decision to reform the electoral system in Hong Kong,” and warned that the EU was ready to take additional steps if human rights conditions in Hong Kong continue to deteriorate. Reinhard Butikofer, the head of the European Parliament’s delegation on China, called for the EU to use its newly-created global human rights sanction regime to punish China for the moves.
Zimbabwe’s political leadership is reshuffling as one of the two Vice Presidents, Kembo Mohadi, resigned following sexual misconduct allegations. The allegations emerged after a news site published sexually explicit phone recordings of him propositioning married women. Mohadi denies the allegations claiming he is a victim of a smear campaign using voice technology, although does not identify who may conspire against him. The resignation decision comes as a surprise, raising speculation about potential opposition against him from within the leading ZANU-FP. Meanwhile, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has used controversial threats to promote Covid vaccination by stating “You are not going to be forced to be vaccinated, but the time shall come when those who are not vaccinated won’t get jobs,”. The threats come as some frontline health workers are resisting the Sinopharm vaccine donated from China, however, observers claim the comments may have undermined trust further. In other news, the Cairo-based bank Afreximbank has an agreement with Zimbabwe allowing the rearrangement of $1.4billion of debt; the country is reported to have $8 billion in foreign debt. Finally, the residents in the town of Kariba are concerned as extreme rain pour has caused landslides dangerously close to roads and homes, and the dam fills quicker than previously projected.
While facing Covid-19, February was the deadliest month to date for Cuba with over 100 deaths and over 7,000 cases. The country may be saved however by the multiple vaccines that are beginning their last phase of trials this month. One of the vaccine trials, Soberana-02, will vaccinate 44,000 people and they have already made over 300,000 doses as they hope the trial will prove to be successful. The government is figuring out how they will be able to vaccinate their 11 million person population as they may need to provide up to 3 doses of the vaccine. According to Reuters, eighty US House of Representatives members have written a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to lift the sanctions former President Trump imposed. They hope that Biden will end the restrictions on travel and remittances, as many people in Cuba rely heavily on them.
Pope Francis is visiting Iraq this week, having landed in Baghdad on Friday. Two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, had planned to visit Iraq previously, but those visits were cancelled as a result of conflict in the country. Pope Francis will visit Our Lady of Salvation, a Syriac Catholic Church in Baghdad which was the site of a 2010 terrorist attack which killed more than 50 people. On Saturday, the pope will fly to Najaf, the holiest city for Shiites in Iraq, to meet with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric in the country. The Pope’s visit comes as a spike in coronavirus cases has prompted the Iraqi government to re-impose lockdowns and Shiite authorities have suspended religious pilgrimages. The Vatican has insisted that the March 5-8 trip will be a safe, socially distant, and sober visit devoid of the usual fanfare and celebrations that accompany a papal visit. Pope Francis arrives in Iraq, where an estimated 95% of the population in Muslim, at a difficult time for the country’s Christians. Before the beginning of the war in Iraq in 2003, an estimated 1.2 million Christians lived in the country. Today, that number is less than 250,000, comprising less than 1% of Iraq’s total population.
On Monday, the Prime Minister and United National Movement (UNM) opposition leaders met with the President of the European Council to relaunch talks about the political crisis. The opposition said that they would potentially concede on their request for snap elections in favor of a plebiscite but that they are not willing to concede on their demands for the release of UNM Chair Nika Melia and Mtavari Arkhi TV shareholder Giorgi Rurua, who they have deemed “political prisoners.” The Prime Minister has said that opposition parties have “continued destructive actions and tried to block the functioning of the state legislature,” referencing the anti-government rallies held at the Georgian parliament. The opposition has since announced that it will postpone protests until negotiations have concluded.
The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, has announced that the plan to adopt a resolution that is “anti-Iran” at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been set aside due to the intensive diplomatic efforts among the member states of the board of governors. The European signatories to the nuclear deal, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), were expected to adopt a resolution that criticized Iran for its reduction to nuclear commitments. The resolution was then cancelled to avoid conflict escalation and make room for diplomacy. While the U.S. has yet to lift sanctions, it has expressed its support to the Europeans in withdrawing the resolution.
Cyberattacks against activists criticizing the government’s handling of the pandemic have been increasingly more prevalent in Asia. In Indonesia, WhatsApp accounts of an activist and his friend were hacked, and both were accused of inciting riots and hate speech. These cyberattacks have also been directed towards journalists. These have come in the form of hacked Instagram and Twitter accounts, WhatsApp numbers being taken over, and online threats. A recent survey has shown that nearly 70% of Indonesians are now afraid to express their sentiments on the government online.
For 17 days now, a group of pro-democracy protesters have been marching to protest the imprisonment of nine pro-democracy demonstrators who have been denied bail. The march began on February 16th and is expected to end at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument on March 7th. The increasing number of arrests of pro-democracy groups and individuals taking place in the country have garnered international attention. In the recent Freedom House report, Thailand has declined in its ranking of rights and liberties, from partly free to not free. Thailand scored a 30 at a 100 point scale, with 100 being absolute freedom. This is mostly attributed to the dissolution of an opposition party in the 2019 elections and the military crackdown on youth-led pro-democracy protests. The Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha has only continued to defend the military and police for their actions towards protesters. Just this week, he insisted to the public that the use of the tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets in last week’s protests were justified and in accordance with international standards. In other news, Facebook has taken down 185 accounts run by the Thai military who have been allegedly involved in spreading misinformation. In addition to 18 Instagram accounts, the Facebook accounts, pages, and groups were removed from the platform. It was emphasized that the reason for the removal is due to the misleading behavior and not the very content being posted. Nevertheless, this is the first instance in which Facebook has taken action against accounts linked to the Thai government.
Journalist Wilih Narváez has reported harassment outside of his residents in Managua, where an unidentified man threw rocks, motioned cutting off a head and shouted that he knew the journalist from Chanel 10 was there. In a phone interview, Narváez told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that he informed the Nicaraguan National Police of the harassment, however, the authorities are yet to act. Followingly, on the Day of the Journalist, the CPJ and regional human rights organizations IFEX-ALC, AMARC-ALC, and The Institute of Race, Equality, and Human Rights, released a joint statement condemning the failure of the authorities to protect the press from harassment and threats. The statement also criticises the legislation compelling organisations to register any foreign funding. According to CPJ, “news outlets have been forced to close and individual journalists threatened, harassed, sued, surveilled and jailed, as dozens more fled the country for their own safety” since the 2018 crackdown. Meanwhile, Freedom House, a prominent think tank, has reported that Nicaragua is among the countries with “the greatest democratic setbacks over the past 10 years worldwide”. In other news, a boat of 6 deceased irregular migrants was found off the coast; the government’s refusal to allow the migrant to cross to the United States has led to boats entering more dangerous waters.
Lithuania on Friday refused Belarus’s request for the Baltic nation to extradite opposition figure Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, with the Lithuanian foreign minister saying “hell will freeze over first,” before the demand by Belarus’s leader Alexander Lukashenko is granted. Tsikhanouskaya, who challenged Lukashenko in a presidential election last August that the opposition decried as rigged, sought refuge in neighboring Lithuania after Lukshenko’s government moved to crack down wide-ranging protests in the aftermath of the vote. The Belarus General Prosecutor’s Office said on Friday that it had requested Lithuania, a European Union member state, extradite Tsikhanouskaya “to face prosecution for crimes against the governing order, public safety, and the state.” In related news, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has said there will be “no transfer of power,” in the country and highlighted that any change in the balance of power would come from a new constitution which Belarus plans to adopt next year. Further, a court in Minsk earlier this week sentenced Katsiaryna Barysevich, an independent journalist, to six months in prison on charges of revealing personal data in her report on the death of Raman Bandarenka, a protester who was killed during demonstrations last year.
A joint statement from Sudan and Egypt’s foreign ministers has affirmed their support of the Democratic Republic of Congo and their desire to lead negotiations with Ethiopia over the dam. There is huge support for an enhanced structure of negotiations that will include the United States, European Union, and United Nations. The dam is a huge part of many nation’s water supplies and affects the lives of many within different countries, therefore the conflict needs to be carefully thought out. In other news, a US warship (the USS Winston S Churchill) has docked in the Port of Sudan, the docking demonstrates the strengthening of the relationship between the two countries as Sudan is no longer on the US terrorist watch list.
The relationship between Uganda and the United States has become strained recently after the government of Yoweri Museveni has been accused of multiple human rights violations. In January 2021, Museveni was declared the victor in a race the opposition said was rigged in the government’s favor. During the campaign, state security forces shot dead scores of people on the streets and abducted hundreds of others, many of whom are still missing. Ned Price, the U.S. State Department spokesperson, said in a statement last week that “Uganda’s January 14th elections were marred by election irregularities and abuses by the government’s security forces against opposition candidates and members of civil society.” Some members of Congress have pushed for visa bans and asset freezes for human rights violations under the United States’s Magnitsky Act. Museveni has accused the U.S. government of trying to impose American standards on Uganda, but singer and opposition candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, has said that the Biden Administration in the U.S. should follow through with its threats. Bobi Wine recently released a list of 423 opposition supporters who were kidnapped and are still missing following January’s election. In a recent televised speech, Ugandan President Museveni called the missing people “terrorists” who were planning anarchy in the country. Museveni also said that missing people were arrested by either Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), the intelligence wing of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), or by commando units.
At least 7 have died with 5 more seriously injured as a railing gave way and students fell four stories at El Alto Public University. The authorities are looking into the tragic incident that occurred as students were traveling into their assembly hall. This event has sparked the senate president, Andrónico Rodríguez, to propose the review of the university autonomy and begin conversations with the sectors involved. In other news, regional elections in Bolivia are less than a week away. The United Nations has declared that they are hopeful the country will continue to have democratic elections in the same way that they did in October 2020, allowing everyone to go out to vote as well as remain safe from the Covid-19 pandemic.