CANVAS Weekly Update – April 23rd, 2021


April 23, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers attacks on press freedom in Hong Kong, changes to electoral rules in Zimbabwe, US sanctions for Myanmar and an agreement to end Georgia’s political crisis.


Conflict Update:

After winning a sixth term, President Idreiss Deby of Chad was killed on Monday during a clash between government soldiers and a rebel group that has been training in Libya. Despite the constitution dictating that the president of the national assembly or the vice president are next in line for the presidency, Deby will be succeeded by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby, who will lead a transitional military council for 18 months until new elections are held. On Thursday, two days after President Zelensky of Ukraine warned of the possibility of war, Russian troops were ordered to pull back from the Ukrainian border by May 1st.  The day before, dozens of protest leaders were arrested across 20 cities in Russia for holding rallies protesting the treatment of opposition leader Alexsei Navalny. Thousands of Russian attended the protests despite heavy police presence. Navalny has been moved to a hospital for treatment as he approaches the third week of his hunger strike. The day of the protests, President Putin delivered an annual state-of-the-nation address where he warned of a powerful response if the West crossed “what he called a ‘red line.’” In Jordan, 16 of the officials accused of aiding the former crown prince in “fomenting unrest” were released. Two officials remain in detention.


Coronavirus Update:

5.2 million COVID-19 cases were recorded this week, the highest weekly count to date, as the number of infections approach their highest rates since the beginning of the pandemic. India recorded 314,835 cases in one day, a new world record. Oxygen shortages have become a concern in the country: some hospitals in New Delhi are waiting for supplies from neighboring states after their oxygen ran out and at least 22 people have died in the state of Maharashtra due to the shortage. Pfizer has committed a non-profit distribution campaign of its vaccines in India. In other vaccine news, the COVAX initiative successfully began vaccination campaigns in SyriaYemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, amid reports that the initiative has only delivered one in five of the number of doses initially it estimated would arrive by May due to supply shortages, export bans and ‘hoarding.’ Also in vaccine news, the European Medicines Agency determined that the benefits of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweighs the risk of blood clots. There have been 8 cases of blood clots and one death after the administration of 7 million doses.



A meeting between the leaders of Southeast Asian countries this weekend at an ASEAN summit in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta will feature at least some discussion of the ongoing violence in Myanmar. There is significant international pressure on the leaders, the meeting of whom will include Burmese coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing, to resolve the escalating violence. However, the invitation of General Min Aung Hlaing has sparked outrage among Burmese activists and human rights groups who feel his presence at the meeting lends legitimacy to the military government. Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a Burmese activist, said Min Aung Hlaing’s attendance at the summit would “signal not just to people in Myanmar but also in other countries in Southeast Asia that the ASEAN institution is immoral.” Others have called for the National Unity Government, which considers itself the legitimate government of Myanmar after being formed by ousted lawmakers and opponents of the coup on April 16, to be invited to the special summit. Dr. Sasa, the spokesperson for the National Unity Government, wrote in an open letter to ASEAN that the new government was “fully prepared” to participate in the summit and warned engagement with Myanmar’s military should only occur if the junta stops the killing of civilians and other abuses. On Thursday, the National Unity Government sent a letter to INTERPOL calling for the arrest of General Min Aung Hlaing ahead of his reported planned trip to the summit. In response to the escalating violence, the United States has imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Myanmar, this time targeting two state-owned businesses with connections to the armed forces. The U.S. Treasury Department identified Myanmar Timber Enterprise and Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, representing the country’s timber and pearl industries, as sources of funding for the military and its leadership. The sanctions bar the companies from doing business in the United States or with American companies, and their assets were frozen. The imposition of these sanctions comes as Chevron, the second-largest oil and gas producer in the United States, continues to lobby the Joe Biden Administration to avoid imposing sanctions on Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, with which Chevron has a long-standing relationship. Chevron says sanctions could endanger the long-term viability of the Yadana gas field, which has been operated in part by Chevron since the 1990s. The Yadana gas field is one of the military’s largest sources of revenue, bankrolling up to 70% of its operations in years past, according to analysts. This year, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise is expected to collect at least $536 million worth of revenue, according to EarthRights International. Additionally, Chevron and its partners in the Yadana project pay taxes to the Burmese government to be able to operate in the country, at least $120 million in 2018.


The United States:

This week marked several important developments in the US regarding racism and police violence. Derek Chauvin, the ex-police officer who killed George Floyd last year, has been found guilty of all charges, including unintentional second-degree murder. The long awaited verdict was met with cheers from the peaceful protest outside the court. Just two days after the conviction, mourners met at the funeral of Daunte Wright, who was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop last week. Family members of high profile fatalities such as Breonna Taylor and Emmett Till attended as protesters have demonstrated in Brooklyn Center all week. Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year old black girl was shot by a police officer in Columbus, sparking yet more grief and outrage. In other news, a hate crime bill was passed by the Senate, in response to an increase in anti-Asian hate incidents since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The bill received 94-1 votes in support, as Republican Josh Hawley was the only Senator to oppose the bill. Finally, Biden aims to prioritise “work, not wealth,” with the administration’s upcoming economic agenda which is expected to raise taxes high for the wealthiest Americans earning over $400,000,000 a year.



This week, members of UK parliament voted to declare that China is perpetrating genocide against the Uyghur minority. The vote carries no actions or policies, although further sanctions are in discussion. The move sends a clear signal to the world; the decision was welcomed by the chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, Bob Menendez. Meanwhile CNN reports that 3 parents that appealed publicly to be reunited with their children have been arrested on charges of terrorism. In other news, Sino-US relations are being challenged by claims of hacking. According to cybersecurity firm Mandiant. Pulse Secure has been compromised by hacks targeting government, business and infrastructure. However, both China and the US have pledged commitment to cooperating on tackling the climate crisis.


Hong Kong:

Beijing’s assault on the freedom of the press continued in Hong Kong this week as Choy Yuk-ling, a producer for public broadcaster RTHK, was found guilty of making false statements to obtain public records for a report that was critical of police. She was ordered to pay a fine of 6,000 Hong Kong dollars, or about $775 USD. The Hong Kong court found that Ms. Choy broke the law when she used a publicly-available database of license plate records to investigate a July 2019 mob attack at a train station in Hong Kong that left 45 people injured. Press freedom groups in both East Asia and around the world have denounced Ms. Choy’s arrest and described it as part of a campaign of harassment. In other news, a domestic worker who recently arrived in Hong Kong from the Philippines has been confirmed as carrying a mutation of the COVID-19 virus, making her the third local case of the more infectious variant in the city. The woman had completed quarantine at a hotel in Sai Ying Pun where two people staying in an adjacent room were confirmed as carrying the N501Y mutation, raising fears that the virus had spread on the hotel floor, according to Hong Kong health officials. Hong Kong authorities also revealed that they had suspended the right of Chinese testing firm BGI to operate mobile screening stations after the firm was found to have wrongly labelled at least 27 people as preliminary-positive earlier this week. 78 close contacts of these individuals will be released from quarantine once the cases were confirmed to be virus-free. In a further effort to stem the spread of COVID-19 to Hong Kong from high-risk areas, Hong Kong has suspended flights from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines for two weeks. These three countries were labelled as “extremely high risk” after there had been multiple imported cases carrying new, more infectious variants of the virus into Hong Kong in the past 14 days.



This week, the Parliament voted in favour of removing a clause which subjects vice Presidential candidates to public election, meaning they will now be appointed by the President. Moreover, judges will now no longer require a public interview, and be appointed by the President and a judicial committee. The decision to remove the rules from the 2013 constitution was pushed by the ruling ZANU-PF party which utilised its two thirds majority in Parliament. The opposition claim the move is dangerous as it centralises power in the executive, President Mnangagwa. In other news, shortly after the African forest elephant was deemed endangered, it has been revealed that hunting rights will be sold for approximately 500 elephants in Zimbabwe. It is claimed that declining tourism income has led to the decision. The Zimbabwean advocacy group Center for Natural Resource Governance has strongly condemned the decision.



After Raul Castro announced the end of his term and therefore the end of the Castro regime in Cuba last week, everyone wondered who would take his place. On Monday, the Communist Party hierarchy selected Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to the position of First Secretary. He is a “pencil-pushing” bureaucrat and his vast experience and knowledge of the dysfunctional bureaucracy will prove to be beneficial for him in his new role. In other news, Cuba recorded a record number of Coronavirus cases on Thursday at 1,207. Cuba has been facing a new wave of infections on the island, but as some of their homegrown Covid-19 vaccines reach their final trials, many are hopeful for a turn around soon.



Marine General Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters this week that the United States has no plans to begin a withdrawal of the last 2,500 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq. Gen. McKenzie said Operation Inherent Resolve’s efforts against ISIS are not finished; though the physical ISIS caliphate has been defeated, an estimated 10,000 fighters remain active in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, Shi’a militia groups funded by Iran continue to operate in Iraq and occasionally attack coalition bases. When asked about the U.S. end goal in Iraq, General McKenzie pointed to the recent strategic dialogue between the Iraqi and U.S. governments in April, adding that it’s likely the NATO mission in the country will expand and outpace the U.S. role in Iraq. Another rocket attack this week in Iraq targeted an area of Baghdad International Airport that houses U.S. forces. Iraqi military officials said at least three rockets were fired near the airport on Thursday, injuring one Iraqi soldier. U.S. officials blamed Iran-backed militias for the attack, but no group has claimed responsibility. The attack was the twenty-third such action against American interests in Iraq–including troops, the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, and Iraqi supply convoys to foreign forces–since American President Joe Biden took office in January of this year. In other news, a prank TV show has sparked outrage in Iraq after featuring fake ISIS fighters who kidnap celebrities, strap fake suicide-bombs to their chests, and threaten the celebrities with execution. The program, called “Tanb Raslan,” invited celebrities to visit displaced Iraqi families who had supposedly fled from ISIS. As participants arrived at the house where they thought they would meet a family, they were ambushed by actors dressed as jihadist fighters who immediately threatened to kill them. The show was reportedly under written by the state-sponsored Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary, whose fighters helped to expel ISIS from Iraqi cities.



On April 19th, the ruling party and representatives of the opposition signed an agreement written by EU mediators that is thought to be the key to ending Georgia’s months long political crisis. The agreement includes pardons for the 19-21 June 2019 protests, the repeat of parliamentary elections in 2022 if the ruling parties earns less than 43% of the votes in this year’s municipal election, as well as judicial and electoral reforms. Only one MP from the leading opposition party, the UNM, has signed the agreement. The remaining UNM MPs, along with the European Georgia MPs, have not signed the document, citing disagreements about the  mechanisms for a “timely release” of detained chairperson Nika Melia and Giorgia Rurua, a shareholder of pro-opposition Mtavari Arkhi TV. The Georgian President, Salome Zurabishvili, announced that she will pardon Rurua if the opposition signs the proposal and enters parliament on April 27th.



According to an investigation by The Guardian, hundreds of ordinary people suspected of supporting opposition politicians have been snatched off the streets by security forces in the worst wave of repression seen in the country in decades. Many have suffered systematic torture, detention in harsh conditions in often secret prisons, and the denial of access to lawyers or relatives. Some victims appear to have done no more than vote for political parties which sought to remove Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni from power. Some detainees have had their joints or genitals beaten with wires, been burned with cigarettes, or had fingernails torn out. At least one person has been confirmed as having died while in custody, but it is likely that the death toll is much higher. Many of those abducted have suffered significant and potentially long-lasting physical and psychological trauma. A Ugandan government spokesperson this week challenged the implementation of visa restrictions by the United States which target Ugandan government officials, saying that the U.S. did not have credible evidence against government officials; he characterized the U.S. accusations as generalized, collective guilt, and collective punishment. In other news, Uganda has told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the billions of dollars in reparations sought by the Democratic Republic of Congo for the former’s role in the conflict in the latter’s Ituri province could ruin its economy. The D.R.C.’s “claims are dangerously disproportionate,” Uganda’s Attorney General, William Byaruhanga, told the U.N. court this week, adding that granting them would have “staggering economic consequences.” On Monday, lawyers for the Democratic Republic of Congo told the ICJ that they were seeking $4.3 billion in reparations payments for the alleged victims of Uganda’s involvement in the 1998-2003 conflict in mineral-rich Ituri province. They also claimed a further $2.8 billion for damages to wildlife, $5.7 billion for macroeconomic damages, and over $700 million for the loss of natural resources, bringing the total reparation demands to over $13 billion.



The annual global review of death penalty released by Amnesty International for 2020 shows that while the challenges brought about by COVID-19 has contributed to a decline in global executions, eighteen countries continued executing last year. The report shows that “Iran came in as the second-highest global executioner with more than 246 executions carried out between january and December 2020.” One of the executed journalists was Ruhollah Zam, who was once-exiled due to his work that helped inspire the nationwide economic protests in 2017. It estimates that at least 30 executions were linked to drug-related offences.



Amnesty International released their annual global review of death penalty that shows death sentences have been on the rise in Indonesia, mostly for drug offenders. While there was a 36% decline in death sentences worldwide, Indonesia has seen a 46% increase in 2020. With 117 death sentences meted, 85% of which were drug-related and the rest was related to murder. Given the pandemic, trials have been moved to online which only slows down the due process. The organization has attributed the heightened punishment on drug-related offences to the Jokowi administration. Not long after he took office in 2014, he immediately called for death penalty for drug dealers and rejected pleas from convicted drug traffickers. This aggressive stance has led Indonesia to execute 18 death-row inmates from 2015-2016, which drew condemnation from the international community. While execution has been on hold given the global community’s reaction, death sentences continue to be given to offenders.



The bail application for activist, Parit Chiawarak “Penguin”, submitted by his mother with a bond of 200,000 baht has been rejected by The Criminal Court in Bangkok. Parit is being charged with multiple offences, including lèse majesté charges from last November’s anti-government protest at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument. The Human Rights Watch continues to call on Thailand to release activists who are detained for  lèse majesté charges. The organization has been firmly stating that this violates the activists’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Concerns only continue to grow from local and international organizations, one of which being the International Commission of Jurists. The group has outlined the threats posed by the COVID-19-inspired laws when it comes to free media. The ICJ asserts that there are loopholes that may allow abuse of human rights, especially with extreme punishments for violations. Moreover, ICJ argues that countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand have already been abusing current laws to restrict information and dissent as a means to combat supposed misinformation.



UN This week, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, registered his pre-candidacy for the Nicaraguan Presidential elections in November this year. Juan Chamorro, who is an economist and nephew-in-law of the former President, registered under the Citizens’ Alliance, an opposition coalition. As former executive chair to the Citizens’ Alliance, he used his pre-candidacy speech to rally opposition unity to bring down Ortega. In other news, a mass was planned by the Mothers of April Association (AMA) to commemorate the anti-government demonstrators murdered 3 years ago during the protests, in particular, protester Franco Valdivia. However, police forces shut down the event and arrested the president of AMA (she is also the victims sister) and 3 others. The arrested individuals were released the same day, however, the police intervention has drawn criticism, especially from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).



Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week as Lukashenko seeks continued support from Russia amid ongoing protests triggered by last year’s widely-disputed presidential election. No major announcements were made after the talks, but both Putin and Lukashenko praised the progress being made toward unifying the two countries. According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, Putin and Lukashenko did not discuss merging the two countries into a single state during the talks. Ahead of the meeting, Lukashenko stoked concerns that he could make concessions to Russia in exchange for Putin’s continued support, saying he was on the verge of making one of the most important decisions of his 26 years in power. Lukashenko’s comments prompted opposition fears that he might agree to let Russia establish a military base in Belarus, or to abandon the national currency in favor of the ruble. In other news, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher met with opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya this week in Lithuania in a show of support before the Lukashenko-Putin meeting. “It is important that the international community speak up and speak out about what’s happening, that we pay close attention, and that we call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Belarus,” Fisher said after the meeting with Tsikhanouskaya in Vilnius. The meeting between Amb. Fisher and Tsikhanouskaya came as the United States re-imposed sanctions on nine state-owned companies in Belarus for human rights violations by the Lukashenko regime. The move by the U.S. Treasury Department primarily forestalled potential future sales of U.S. crude oil to the country. The U.S. Department of State cited government suppression of political protests following the fraudulent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko as justification for the sanctions.



Experts are calling into question the implication for Sudan’s decision to call the US, EU, and the UN to mediate the ongoing conversations surrounding the GERD. There could be implications surrounding the desire for there to be more western influence, the lack of desire for there to be Middle Eastern influence, as the Arab League were turned down in there offer to mediate, or it could just be the Sudanese desiring to turn the attention away from their border conflict. The ongoing state of the Dam and relations between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt will be closely monitored. In a continuing effort by Sudan to normalize their ties with the Israeli State, Sudan abolished a decades long law boycotting Israel. The bill came into place back in 1958 and had forbidden economic and diplomatic ties with Israel. After the fall of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan is on a path to becoming more diplomatic, and this is one of the efforts they are making to continue on that path. The Parliament approved the bill that appealed this law as well as confirmed their endorsement for the establishment of a state of Palestine as a two state Arab-Israeli conflict decision.



There have been calls from around Bolivia this week for the left-wing MAS party to renew after their many defeats in the regional elections. The party of former president, Evo Morales, only won 3 areas, in the first round, and many blame this on the lack of solid leadership for the party. Many left the party under Morales due to a “macho culture” that they felt, they joined other parties or ran independently and were able to win in their elections. The Bolivian president shared on Thursday the commitment that Bolivia has to protecting the earth and fighting against climate change. On Earth Day, the president committed to two different decrees, “the first to protect the wild fauna that lives in Bolivia and (in the) other decree we eliminated the abuse of the de facto government that introduced (…) without blushing the entire chain of transgenics to our country” of various crops, said the president. In other news, the justice has authorized the entry of a private doctor to care for former president Jeanine Áñez. The doctor will be able to enter Miraflores women’s prison in order to make sure that her current health doesn’t continue to deteriorate.