CANVAS Weekly Update – April 30th, 2021


April 30, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers protests in Russia, opposition arrests in Zimbabwe, a new immigration bill in Hong Kong and political negotiation in Georgia.

Conflict Update:

Amid protests in support of Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s main opposition leader, 40 regional offices owned by his team are going to be disbanded as prosecutors attempt to brand his movement an extremist organization. All public activity by Navaly’s organizations has been stopped by the orders of a Moscow court, including calls for protest. Somalia’s president was supposed to have stepped down in February but instead attempted to extend his time in the position by two years. Fighting broke out in the capital this week in response to the president’s attempt to formally extend his term and he has since promised to reverse the legislation. In Palestine, parliamentary elections originally scheduled for May 22nd have been delayed indefinitely. In the Persian Gulf, a year of maritime peace came to an end as American ships have been ‘harassed’ twice by Iraian military vessels within the past month. In Baghdad, 80 people were killed when an oxygen tank exploded in a hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Coronavirus Update:

Global COVID-19 infections have been increasing for nine consecutive weeks while the number of deaths have increased for six consecutive weeks. In Germany, the most recent infection numbers have defied ‘worst-case predictions’ while Brazil’s death toll became the second highest in the world, as it passed 400,000 this week. India’s death toll increased to over 200,000 this week as the country grapples with nearly 400,000 infections per day and an estimated 18 million cases nationwide. Several states in India ran out of vaccines a day before the inoculation campaign was set to expand to include everyone over the age of 18. In Delhi, crematoriums have had to build makeshift funeral pyres due to a shortage of space and wood. The WHO, United Nations and over 40 foreign governments have been deploying resources like field hospitals, ventilators, oxygen, vaccines and laboratory supplies to India this week to help the country fight the recent surge. The Indian variant of COVID-19 has been detected in countries around the world, sparking fears that they could face a similar resurgence of cases.



According to a new report from the United Nations, almost half of Myanmar’s population could be forced into poverty by the end of 2021 as the country teeters on the verge of economic collapse caused by the double shock of a military coup and the Covid-19 pandemic. Rising food costs, significant losses of income and wages, the breakdown of basic services such as banking and healthcare, and an inadequate safety net is likely to push millions of already vulnerable people below the poverty line of $1.10 USD per day, with women and children hit especially hard. Analysis from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), published Thursday, warned that if the security and economic situation does not stabilize soon, up to 25 million people, or 48% of Myanmar’s population, could be living in poverty by 2022. That level of impoverishment has not been seen in Myanmar since 2005, according to the UNDP. According to the report, by the end of 2020, 83% of Myanmar’s households reported that their incomes had been, on average, cut almost in half because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The February 1 military take over further exacerbated Myanmar’s economic situation, with the UNDP estimated that the coup d’état caused a 12% increase in poverty in the country. Further, clashes between Myanmar’s security forces and regional armed groups have resulted in fresh deplacements of civilians in several parts of the country, as well as forcing many to seek refuge outside its borders. As fighting intensifies between the Myanmar Army and Karen insurgents in southeastern Myanmar, thousands of ethnic Karen villagers are poised to cross into Thailand. Karen rebels and the Myanmar army have clashed near the Thai border in the most intense fighting in the area in 25 years, leading to villagers on both sides of the border being forced from their homes. The Karen Peace Support Network says thousands of villagers are taking shelter on the Myanmar side of the Salween river and they will flee to Thailand if the violence escalates furter. Thailand’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that 2,267 civilians had crossed into Thailand from Myanmar as of Friday. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said some 40,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in eastern Myanmar, while another 11,000 have been displaced by fighting in the north and 5,800 in the northeast.


The United States:

This week marks President Biden’s first 100 days in office and first address to Congress. In the address, Biden praised the historic success of the positions of Vice President and House speaker being filled by women. Moreover, Biden discussed raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, equal pay, the death of George Floyd, law enforcement and racism, and the pandemic; the tone of the address was of unity and moving forward. Meanwhile, Florida has successfully pushed new legislation which restricts voter access. Similar to the bills passed in Georgia and Michigan by Republican lawmakers, the restrictions impact mail-in voting and distributing water in waiting lines. These voter suppression bills are a challenge to democracy and disproportionately impact minorities. Finally, in Elizabeth City, 5 activists have been arrested at a peaceful protest demanding the footage of the police fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr. It is reported that the media were also threatened with arrests.


This week, Ding, a Chinese worker reported forced labour in dire conditions, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Ding describes sickness outbreaks in dorms controlled and blocked by guards; he escaped by bending. Researchers suggest that the famous Belt and Road Initiative is reliant on forced labour, and many have fallen victim to human trafficking, passport denial, and deception into illegal work hours. Li Qiang, the director of China Labor Watch, claims most interview research demonstrates breaches in international law. In other news, national security is receiving heightened attention in China which claims espionage is playing an increasingly dangerous role. New regulations targeting foreign spies were announced this week which places responsibility on institutions, such as Universities and enterprises, to train and vet against espionage.

Hong Kong:

Hong Kong’s legislature this week passed a controversial, new immigration bill which could give Chinese authorities unlimited power to prevent residents and others from entering or leaving the city. The Chinese government in Beijing routinely imposes similar travel restrictions on dissidents and foreign citizens, including those facing civil cases, on the Chinese mainland. The Hong Kong government has dismissed the concerns of activists and rights groups, saying the legislation, which will come into effect August 1, merely aims to screen illegal immigrants at source amid a backlog of asylum applications and does not affect constitutional rights of free movement. Under the new regulations, Hong Kong’s immigration director will have the power to stop people from entering or leaving the city, without a court order, including banning airlines from carrying certain passengers. In other news, Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, along with three others, plead guilty of participating in an illegal assembly on June 4th of last year which commemorated the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown on protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Last year was the first time the vigil had been banned, with police citing coronavirus restrictions on mass gatherings. Flouting the ban, tens of thousands of people lit candles across the city in what was largely a peaceful event last June. Commemorations of the Tiananmen Square crackdown are illegal in mainland China, but Hong Kong has traditionally held the world’s largest vigil each year.


This week, a prominent MDC Alliance youth leader, Obey Sithole, has been arrested on criminal nuisance charges, meanwhile the trial of 2 other opposition youth leaders has commenced in Harare Magistrate’s Court. Opposition groups claim the charges are bogus and part of a wider crackdown by the ruling ZANU-PF; Sithole’s charges come after he led a demonstration calling for the resignation of the Justice Minister. However, the communicating false information charges against journalist and government critic Hopewell Chin’ono were finally dismissed by the High Court this week. He remains on bail for 2 other charges, but insists he is innocent and victim to government persecution. In other news, the Institute for Young Women’s Development (IYWD), a Zimbabwean feminist organisation, hosted an event to encourage womens participation in local governance and advocating for transparency to combat declining services and to scrutinise budget choices.



Cuban activists are sneaking past their regime’s strict censorship on media by using Twitter’s new live audio feature. Young people are staying up late to tune into a new chatroom “This Week in Cuba” where a live audio chat room discusses different events that have occurred that week. The activists and social media influencers are able to maneuver around the strict rules since Twitter is not banned. People would receive punishment for any tweets that are remotely anti-regime or government, but the quick moving and casual nature of the live audio rooms removes this threat. In other news, the island has officially exceeded 100,000 coronavirus cases this past week. Officials are attributing this to new strands as well as people’s lack of risk perception, reminding Cubans that Covid-19 is still rampant and something to think about.



The death toll from a massive fire at a Baghdad hospital for coronavirus patients has risen to at least 82. Flames swept through the intensive care unit of the Ibn al-Khatib Hospital, which exclusively attends to Covid-19 patients with severe symptoms, last weekend. Officials say the blaze, which also injured 110 people, was set off by an exploding oxygen cylinder. The day after the fire, Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, said widespread negligence on the part of health officials was to blame for the inferno. Following a special cabinet meeting to discuss the tragedy, the government suspended several key officials, including the health minister and the governor of Baghdad province. Other officials, including the hospital director, were dismissed from their posts. Mid-week, Turkish warplanes continued to strike suspected Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq, while commando troops conducted a search and sweep operation, according to the Turkish defence ministry. Turkey’s military launched a new ground and air offensive against militants of the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), which maintains bases in northern Iraq and have used the territory for attacks against Turkey. This week’s offensive marks the first Turkish incursion into the region since February of this year, when thirteen Turkish citizens, who had been abducted by Kurdish insurgents, were found dead in a cave complex in an apparently botched operation to rescue them. The PKK has described the latest incursion as a “genocidal attack” and called on “world democracies” to take a stand against Turkey. In other news, Iraq announced plans to import natural gas from Syria, according to the state-run Iraqi News agency and citing Iraqi oil minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar. “There is an imminent agreement to import Syrian gas into Iraq,” Abdul Jabbar said Thursday, without providing additional details.



The 12 opposition MP’s who were signatories of the April 19th agreement designed to end Georgia’s political crisis entered Parliament this week, triggering President Zurabishvili’s pardoning of ‘political prisoner’ Giorgi Rurua. The detained chairperson of the main opposition party, whose release mechanism was not included in the agreement, announced this week that he will accept the EU-proposed bail solution if the 12 opposition MPs do not agree to the upcoming amnesty bill. The proposed bill will pardon all people facing charges relating to the events of June 20th and 21st of 2019, including officials responsible for dispersing protests and police officers. Also regarding the April 19th agreement, Speaker Archil Talakvadze resigned due his involvement in the document, stating that Kakhaber Kuchava would be able to lead the parliament “from a more neutral position.” In other news, amendments adopted to the Code of Administrative Offenses have been criticized by civil society organizations and the opposition, who claim that the changes suppress the right to protest and freedom of speech. Watchdogs in Georgia have argued that the new amendments will “tighten the ‘repressive aspect’ of the code” and “will have a detrimental effect on human rights” because they will allow the police to use oppressive measures with arbitrary justification.



Uganda has suspended flights from India beginning May 1 until further notice after detecting the Covid-19 variant first detected in South Asia. “All travelers who may have been in India or traveled through India in the last 14 days regardless of route taken shall not be allowed into Uganda,” the Ministry of Health said on Twitter. So far, Uganda has experienced only a relatively minor outbreak of Covid-19. However, the arrival of the new variant from India has reignited fears that the country could face a resurgence of cases just as the outbreak has waned, according to a senior health official. In other news, Uganda says it has introduced a 12% tax on internet data, potentially hiking prices for online access in the country where consumers are already paying some of the world’s highest internet costs. According to digital advocacy group World Wide Web Foundation, data costs in African countries are already high relative to other regions, a fact blamed for slow internet penetration and limited use even for those who are connected. The levy is among an array of other new taxes the government is introducing in the financial year due to start in July to help boost revenues and pay a ballooning public debt. Many Ugandans have criticized the move, saying it will further impede access to the internet at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has made online services even more crucial for sections of the economy, such as education. In a further bid to stabilize the country’s finances, Uganda announced this week that it may approach its major creditors, including China and the World Bank, to negotiate a possible suspension of loan repayments amid a growing default risk after the country’s debt load skyrocketed to 35% in a single year. The large credit lines absorbed from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other lenders in 2020 to meet funding pressures triggered by the economic crisis induced by Covid-19 have vastly swelled an already fast-rising debt pile or the country that had long worried some observers, including the Ugandan central bank and the IMF. Uganda’s total public debt grew to $18 billion USD by December 2020, a 35% increase from a year earlier. External creditors hold two thirds of the country’s debt, data from Uganda’s finance ministry shows.



Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian national has been handed another year in prison after being found guilty of “propaganda”. Zaghari-Ratcliffe had already served her five-year prison sentence, with four years in Tehran before being released into house arrest last March 2020. According to her lawyer, her charges are related to supposed propaganda against the Islamic Republic, specifically her alleged participation in a protest in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009. They are set to appeal the sentence within 21 days, as stipulated under Iranian law. Moreover, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has expressed his concerns, calling the court ruling “inhumane and wholly unjustified”, and continued to call on Iran to release her immediately so she can return to her family in the UK.



This week, the Chief Security Minister announced that Papuan seperatist were formally designated terrorists, after an intelligence officer was fatally shot by rebels. Activists claim the legal declaration could mean “long detentions without charge” and remain adamant that their seperatist claims are legitimate. In other news, several unidentified individuals damaged journalist Victor Mambor’s car last week in Jayapura. Press associations and human rights have weighed in on the incident, condemning the vandalization and intimidation of Papuan journalists. It is presumed that the attack may be in response to the work he had published in the local newspaper Jubi. Finally, a crew of 53 have been declared dead after a wreckage was found after a submarine went missing.



The opposition has been deeply concerned over Thailand’s Prime Minister’s new COVID powers as immigration, health and procurement, areas of cyber security and defense controls were handed over to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. One of the concerns is that the range of powers have not been given an end date, worrying the opposition given Thailand’s history of former generals staying in charge for an extended period of time. Moreover, tensions only continue to build with the drafted law concerning NGOs and activism groups. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have voiced out their concerns as the law gives the government overreaching power which may restrict activities and funding, as well as investigate groups with little to no oversight and harsh punishments. Another concern is the vague language of the law then leaves the government with broad enforcement. Moreover, activist groups continue to pressure legislators to halt this bill from being passed.



After a year in detention on charges of obstructing official duties and kidnapping officer Noel Reyes, 5 political prisoners were released this week and returned home to Ometepe; Celia Cruz, a transgender activists among the 5, claim the charges are fabricated and she is innocent. Approximately 120 political prisoners still remain behind bars currently. In other news, following a memorial mass for Álvaro Gómez who was murdered during the protests 3 years ago, the Nicaraguan Church has spoken out against the Ortega regime. Father Edwin Román condemned the police presence and the violence towards media representatives. Finally, media representatives condemn the “siege” and “war” on free media and journalism, which is crucial now with the election in November.



In an interview this week with Euronews, Belarusian foreign minister Vladimir Makei defended the actions of police during the crackdown on anti-Lukashenko protesters last year after a disputed presidential election. Makei conceded that security forces may have “sometimes acted in an excessive way,” but asserted that there “was an adequate reaction to all the non-peaceful violent protests that took place.” Makei claimed that the protest movement represented an attempted coup d’état, thereby justifying the actions of law enforcement. Further, Makei alleged that Belarus has “stabilized” and denied that the arrests of protesters were politically motivated. In the face of tightening U.S. sanctions targeting Belarus, Russian oil exporters may suspend supplies to Belarus’s Naftan refinery. Last week, Washington revoked authorization for certain U.S. with nine sanctioned Belarusian state-owned enterprises, including Naftan and its owner Belneftekhim. While not directly affected by the move, Russian companies are concerned they could be penalized if they continue dealing with Belarusian businesses. According to sources, Russia’s Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz do not plan to supply oil to Naftan in May. Naftan is one of two Belarusian oil refineries and is capable of producing 200,000 barrels per day. In other news, the Belarusian Defense Ministry says it has identified two air intrusions from Poland this month. Officials say a Polish Mi-24 helicopter was spotted by Air Force and Air Defense radars in the vicinity of Kozlovichi at 2:00am local time on April 29. In connection with the incident, Poland’s military attache was summoned to the Belarusian Defence Ministry Friday.



Sudan claims that Ethiopia denied their invitation to continue the discussion over the fate of the GERD which runs on the Blue Nile River. Despite there being agreements in over 90% of issues in previous talks, the progress for the remaining decisions is now doubtful. Ethiopia has denied the interference of the EU, US, and UN in the talks, many believe that the solution will be for the three countries to engage in conversation with the African Union again in a matter of weeks, while hoping that no impulse decisions are made. In other news, this week Sudan has changed their restrictions surrounding currency as they are now allowing commercial banks more flexibility when it comes to selling dollars. This will allow for an easier flow in foreign currency around Sudan but there has not yet been many changes to restrictions on goods.



This week, President Arce and other COB leaders have agreed to the raising of the national minimum wage in Bolivia. There will be an increase from .65% to 2.0% which is less than the 5% that many workers hoped for but was denied by employers due to the current economic crisis. Dina Chuquimia has been appointed by President Luis Arce as the new titular member of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), a position that opened up when the former president and member resigned. The TSE is called the guardian of sovereignty, justice and democracy and Chuquimia has promised to uphold the honor that has been given in this position.