CANVAS Weekly Update – July 30th, 2021


July 30, 2021

Dear friends,

CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers new legislation in Iran, persevering protests in Thailand, and continued coverage of Tigray.

Conflict Update:

This week UNICEF announced that more than 100,000 children in Tigray, Ethiopia, could suffer from life-threatening malnutrition in the next twelve months. Tigray remains extremely dangerous and riddled in conflict, creating a significant challenge for aid organizations to operate within the region. The World Food Programme (WFP) announced that a convoy of more than 200 trucks are on their way to Tigray, but its impact is small in scale. Conditions are expected to worsen as Ethiopia’s Amhara regional president Agegnehu Teshager called on armed residents to mobilize for battle in a “survival campaign” against rebels in Tigray. Mobilization continues across the country as thousands of Ethiopian army recruits paraded farewell in Addis Ababaon Tuesday.

The Afghan government has imposed a month-long curfew across the country on Sunday. Conflict between the Taliban and Afghan government have increased dramatically over the past two months as international troops have begun to withdraw. The Taliban have been making rapid territorial gains across rural areas, leading to clashes outside the city of Kandahar. In response, the United States launched airstrikes in the region on Thursday. While the Taliban have not captured any major cities, the Afghan government and international figures are concerned over what the next few months will hold.

Following a period of unrest that left over 300 people dead in South Africa, soldiers have continued patrolling neighborhoods and streets. As tensions continue to simmer, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has begun to shift his attention abroad. On Wednesday, Ramaphoa authorized the use of 1,495 members of the military to help Mozambique fight a rising jihadist insurgency. Attacks have been steadily escalating in the Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Recent violence has disrupted major gas exploration projects and civilian life in the town of Palma. South Africa’s forces will be in Mozambique for three months as part of a deal agreed in June by the 16 nations of the Southern African Development Community.

Coronavirus Update:

With rising Covid cases in the United States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Tuesday that vaccinated people should resume wearing masks in public indoor spaces. The Delta variant has been the center of concern for health officials and are calling for universal masking for teachers, staff, and students in schools, regardless of vaccination status. However, actual re-enforcement of mask mandates in the country will likely meet resistance among states and Americans.

Meanwhile, the European Union has passed the U.S in Covid-19 vaccinations, giving at least one shot to 58.3% of the total population of its member countries as of Thursday. However, the Delta variant is a worldwide concern, causing some European governments seeking approval for restrictions on those who don’t get vaccinated. France and Italy have seen small protests opposing tightening restrictions, however wide-scale opposition has not spread.

This week, COVAX reported nearly 4 million doses arriving in Africa. With only 245,000 doses shipped through the month of June, this move is a promising start to COVAX’s goal of shipping 520 million doses to the continent by the end of 2021. The African Union’s Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) is in charge of distribution and with only 1.6% of the continent’s population vaccinated, AVAT will be busy for the next few months. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, announced that this is a delicate light at the end of the tunnel situation and further urged “all countries with surplus doses to urgently share more in the spirit of life-saving solidarity and enlightened self-interest, because no country is safe until all countries are safe.”


Myanmar’s military government officially annulled the results of the 2020 general election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide victory. The annulment is based on the military-run election commission’s determination that a third of the ballots were invalid and that Suu Kyi’s party had abused administrative power. However, the International community continues to assert that Myanmar’s 2020 election was credible. Following the annulment, the junta officially declared a national state of emergency, promising to hold elections after an interim period of 2 years.

State media reports that 600 inmates of Myanmar’s largest prison were vaccinated against covid on Thursday, the first mass vaccination of prisoners since the coup d’état in February. The vaccinations follow a prison protest last week against the rampant spread of covid due to terrible living conditions and the junta’s mismanagement of the pandemic. Since February the junta have forced many doctors underground and failed to contain massive covid outbreaks. Even after this series of vaccinations was announced, Britain’s UN ambassador asserted his belief that half of Myanmar’s population will be infected with Covid in just two weeks if cases continue to spread at their current rate.

Over 72 hours of heavy rains caused flooding in three states this week. The ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) estimates that over 48,500 people have been affected or displaced by the flooding.

The United States

On Monday, President Biden reached a formal agreement with Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi to end the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021. Biden hosted Kadhimi in the Oval Office for the talks. The 2,500 American troops stationed in Iraq will now take on the role of supporting and training local Iraqi forces in their fight against the Islamic State. In practice, the role of US forces in Iraq is unlikely to change as training efforts are already underway. The agreement comes at a time when the Iraqi Prime Minister faces enormous domestic pressure from Iran-backed groups to call for the total withdrawal of all US forces. In a statement following the meeting, Kadhmini expressed his gratitude for US support.
The Biden Administration’s bipartisan infrastructure bill is moving forward through the US Senate. The $1 trillion deal would include federal funding for roads, bridges, water systems and other physical infrastructure projects. Although the bill would be one of the most significant investments in American infrastructure in decades, many progressives remain unhappy because of the laundry list of spending items that were cut from the bill. An earlier proposal of the bill included funding for clean energy, childcare, housing, and education, all of which have been eliminated.
In a decision that drew widespread media attention this week, American star gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the Tokyo Olympics individual all-around competition for mental health reasons. However, Biles’ teammate Sunisa “Suni” Lee went on to win gold in the competition, becoming the first Asian-American woman to win the all-around in gymnastics.


Following weeks of intense protests, Cuba has started mass trials for anyone involved in the demonstrations. Convictions are coming quickly as trials are done without lawyers and fair proceedings. According to exile group Cubalex, about 700 Cubans have been arrested since the start of the protests.“ The families of some protesters, who did not want to be identified, told CNN their relatives were arrested merely for being in the street while the protests took place or simply for filming the demonstrations. Many young people in Cuba had not seen protests on such a scale in their lifetime.” The Cuban government claims that all trials are being “conducted lawfully,” prosecuting people who broke laws only. According to one official, “Having different opinions, including political ones, doesn’t constitute a crime,” yet, in practice, challenges to the single party communist government are threats and many human rights groups are reporting otherwise.
Cuba continues to have the highest caseload in the Americas, struggling to contain its outbreak amidst mass protests. Covid is surging on the island, with almost 8,000 cases a day; for comparison, the daily case number was 1,000 earlier this month. This outbreak is allegedly linked to the mysterious deaths of five prominent generals. The sudden deaths from such prominent officials caught the eye of US Senator Marco Rubio, who tweeted ““Nine days. Five dead generals in #Cuba. Very strange.”  Additionally, Iran has started producing Cuban-made vaccines on an industrial-scale, the first country outside of Cuba to do so.


On Wednesday the Citizens Alliance for Liverty’s (CXL) named former right-wing fighter Oscar Sobalvarro and beauty queen Berenice Quezada as their presidential candidate. Sobalvarro is a former member of the Contras, a US backed rebel group that opposed the Sandinista government in the 1980s. Following the announcement, hundreds of supporters in the capital Managua chanted their support. CXL will be the main opposition to current President Daniel Ortega, who represents the Sandinista National Liberation Front.
As the November elections draw closer, President Daniel Ortega has been under a microscope for the arrests and detainment of presidential candidates Cristina Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, and Noel Vidaurre. Other current prisoners include civic leaders, two former NGO employees and a journalist. The Public Prosecutor’s Office, the national police and the court have issued an official statement confirming the detention of 28 people but have not responded to criticisms over the prisoners’ treatment and access to legal protection. Human rights organizations across the world have called on Nicaragua to immediately free opposition figures, however no new action has been taken.


Indigenous Bolivians in the Uru Chipaya are raising concerns over lack of Covid-19 vaccine access. A mass vaccination campaign was planned after the government confirmed it would  deliver a batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, the batch never arrived and most residents left disappointed and unvaccinated. Indigenous leaders, including Cecilia Moyoviri and local activist Alex Villca, have criticized the government’s lack of support to Bolivia’s Indigenous communities and promised to investigate the issue. The Ministry of Health has yet to explain why the promised vaccine doses never arrived in Uru Chipaya.
In other news, on Monday, Rosatom broke ground for Bolivia’s first nuclear reactor. Located in the city of El Alto, the reactor is part of a $350 million USD plan to build a Centre for Nuclear Technology Research and Development. This project is projected to “greatly contribute to the development of science, medicine, agriculture and education in Bolivia,” while providing jobs for residents.


Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya met with American President Biden in Washington this week. At the White House on Wednesday, Biden and Tikhanovskaya discussed democracy and human rights issues in Belarus, which has suffered under President Alexander Lukashenko’s repressive rule. Following the meeting, President Biden reiterated American support for the people of Belarus and their efforts to preserve democracy. Tikhanovskaya’s visit comes as part of her two-week effort to convince American diplomats to increase international pressure on Lukashenko’s regime. Tikhanovskaya met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security advisor Jake Sullivan and members of Congress last week to advocate for targeted sanctions against Belarus.
On Thursday, the Belarusian Association of Journalists demanded that jailed journalist Andrei Skurko be transferred to a civilian hospital to receive medical care. Skurko worked as the head of advertising at the popular Nasha Niva newspaper before his arrest three weeks ago. He is reported to have been infected with COVID-19 while in detention and is feared to be severely ill with coronavirus-induced pneumonia.


On Wednesday, the ruling Georgia Dream (GD) party announced its decision to annul the “April 19 Agreement”, an EU-brokered deal that put an end to the protracted political crisis earlier this year. The agreement, originally seen as a positive turning point in Georgia’s democratic development, called on signatories to engage in judicial and electoral reform and continue working together until the next parliamentary elections. Departure from the deal highlights the ongoing challenges Georgia’s democracy faces. Leaders of the GD cite the fact that the biggest opposition party (the Uniten National Movement) is not a signatory as their explanation for the annulment. Irakli Kobakhidze, the head of the party, also stated that the agreement “had completed its mission” and that the opposition is at fault for not fulfilling their end.

The decision to annul the agreement has received international condemnation, and political leaders are calling on Georgia’s parties to work together to strengthen democracy in the nation. The U.K. has urged the parties “to abide by the spirit of the 19 April agreement, and refocus efforts to deliver the series of judicial, electoral and constitutional reforms envisaged by the agreement.” The U.S. state department warned of the risk of a return to the political crisis.


A second nuclear missile site has been spotted in a Chinese desert this week, 1,200 miles west of Beijing. As the superpower vies to match the powerful arsenals of Russia and the United States, it could signify a large expansion of nuclear weapons in China. It may also be a costly negotiating ploy. The site was identified by nuclear experts at the Federation of American Scientists using Planet Fleet satellite images. Historically, China has held back in the nuclear arms race, only building a fifth of the nuclear weapons of the United States and Russia. That precedent is shifting under President Xi Jinping, who is more focused on asserting dominance on the world stage, which is contributing to increased nuclear stockpiles. According to a study, “the silo construction at Yumen and Hami constitutes the most significant expansion of the Chinese nuclear arsenal ever.” Many republican members of US congress are concerned about this development.
China is fighting the worst covid outbreak in many months. 170 people have been diagnosed with the delta variant, centered in Nanjing Province. However, the outbreak has not been contained, as the cluster has spread to 15 Chinese Cities, including Beijing. China’s zero-tolerance approach to covid has been largely successful, but this week is showing weaknesses in the strict pandemic approach, with “senior officials admitting to the need to ‘deeply reflect’ on lessons learned and improve their political judgment and understanding of epidemic control.” Meanwhile, the mass vaccination program is one of the best in the world, with 1.5 billion doses having been administered thus far.

Hong Kong:

On Tuesday, Tong Ying-Kit became the first person to be charged under Hong Kong’s national security law. Tong was found guilty of terrorism and inciting secession. The trial mainly presided over the contested slogan, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” and judges ruled that Tong was aware of the slogan’s meaning and intended to advance a political agenda. On Friday it was announced that Tong will serve nine years in jail. Tong’s lawyers are contemplating whether to file an appeal and Amnesty International condemned the outcomes, calling it, “the beginning of the end for freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
In other news, Chow Hang-Tung did not apply for bail as she appeared in court on Friday. Chow is Vice Chairperson of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movement of China and was arrested in connection to the banned Tiananmen Square memorial service. During court Chow stated, “mourning is not a crime, I plead not guilty.” Her trial is set to begin on October 5th 2021.


Indonesia remains the epicenter of the global COVID-19 pandemic. As the Delta variant of the virus rages across Indonesia’s islands, new infections surged this week and the country recorded 2,069 coronavirus deaths in only 24 hours. COVID-19’s brutal sweep through Indonesia has triggered an exodus as foreign nationals escape to their home countries. Even as the situation remains grim, some stores, restaurants, mosques, and shopping malls were allowed to reopen this week. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been criticized for catering his policies to business interests instead of following epidemiological evidence.
On Wednesday, Sumatra’s Mount Sinabung erupted. The volcano spewed an enormous column of gas and ash into the sky over the course of the 12-minute eruption. Although ash from the volcano coated buildings and streets in nearby towns, no casualties were reported. Residents were advised to stay at least three miles away from the mouth of the crater in case of further volcanic activity.


On Monday, peaceful protestors gathered in Bangkok for pro-democracy demonstrations and a Buddhist Lent ceremony. Organized by Taloo-Fah and their leader Jatupat “Pai Dao Din” Boonpattararaksa, protestors participated in the candle making ceremony and later walked to Victory Monument. There, the candles served as a symbol for the core demands of the protest, including the resignation of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha. Protests remained peaceful and ended without any incident.
While demonstrations steadily continue, PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has been focusing his attention elsewhere this week. On Wednesday, there was an announcement of a restriction order to be signed, banning the media from spreading fake or ‘distorted’ news around COVID. Thai media organizations have issued joint statements calling on the government to discard the tightening restrictions on freedom of expression. However, on Friday, Prayut Chan-o-cha signed it into order. Now every media is barred from publishing information that, “foments fear or has the intention of distorting information and causes confusion.” People who are found guilty can have their IP address traced and have their internet access revoked by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.
In other news, more than 200,000 prison inmates and convicts on house arrest were pardoned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn on his 69th birthday. 35,000 of them will be released on parole, expected to participate in the agricultural training program, Khkok Nong Na. Others will have their sentences reduced. One of the notable activist names included in this pardon is Chairman of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, Jatuporn Prompan.


Iran’s parliament moved forward with a controversial internet censorship bill this week. The bill, entitled ‘Legislation to Protect Cyberspace Users’ Rights’, would require foreign social media and messaging companies to adhere to Iranian laws and regulations and appoint an Iranian representative. Since 2000, Iran has blocked thousands of websites, including YouTube and Facebook; it is unlikely that Instagram, which is currently available in Iran, will comply if the bill is passed. Communications Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari-Jahromi criticized the bill, warning it will be unpopular with the Iranian people and will restrict, rather than establish, “cyber-sovereignty”.
Since July 15th, protesters in the region of Khuzestan have taken to the streets, calling for better living conditions and government resolution of the severe water shortage. This week the protests spread to other regions; in Baharestan on Wednesday, protesters blocked roads and burned a banner of Supreme Leader Ali Khameni while chanting “Death to Khamenei”.  The protests have been met with tear gas and firearms, and four men have been officially reported dead. Human Rights Watch called for the release of detained protesters and an independent investigation into the security agencies’ use of force.


This week U.S. President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi announced an agreement to formally end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021. The two met at the White House on Monday after a series of conversations regarding the future of U.S. presence in Iraq. The agreement entails a withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops, with the remaining U.S. forces serving in an advisory and training capacity. In 2014, President Obama sent forces to Iraq to fight ISIS; there are currently 2,500 U.S. troops still there, fighting the remnants of the Islamic State. It is unlikely that this change will have a great effect on the situation on the ground, but is seen as an important political step for PM Kadhimi who is looking to appease the Iran-backed militia and politicians that have been calling for U.S. withdrawal.
Days later, the Green Zone, which hosts foreign embassies and government buildings, was hit by rockets launched from eastern Baghdad. Although no groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, analysts believe they were carried out by Iran-backed militias, who have been implicated in similar attacks against U.S. officials this month. No casualties were reported.


A police brutality trial against former NISS agents began on Monday in Khartoum Central Court. The agents are accused of murdering a student who participated in free speech protests against the al-Bashir regime in 2019. The second-year college student, Mahjoub El Taj Mahjoub, allegedly died from torture after being detained for protesting. The charges against the NISS agents include premeditated murder, crimes against humanity, and criminal complicity.
In other news, Sudan’s refugee camps are struggling under the influx of incoming refugees fleeing the fighting in neighboring Ethiopia. Authorities estimate that just over this past week at least 3,000 refugees entered Sudan, putting a substantial strain on the camps’ resources. Those managing the refugee camps made pleas this week to aid groups and the Sudanese government for increased support. Compounding the issue, hepatitis E has infected hundreds of the refugees. The camps are ill equipped to treat all the cases and the infections pose a risk to neighboring Sudanese communities. The spread is likely due to unsanitary living conditions in the camps.


This week opposition activists and human rights watchers criticized President Museveni’s plan to install digital trackers on every car in Uganda. Museveni promoted the tracker program as a solution to crime, but critics claim the trackers violate privacy laws and can be misused for political gain. With Museveni being Afica’s fourth longest-ruling leader, many rights groups fear that the proposed trackers are a way for him to suppress the opposition.
Julius Ssekitoleko, the Ugandan weightlifter who attempted to escape into Japan after his loss at the Olympic trials, has returned to Uganda against his will. He is currently detained without charges and officials claim they are waiting to determine if any of his actions were criminal. Ssekitoleko’s lawyer filed a petition for his release and shared with the media that unjustified extended detentions are common in Uganda. Some Ugandans have labeled Ssekitoleko as a traitor for his attempts to leave the country; others believe his actions represent the desperation for improved living conditions that many Ugandans feel.


Zimbabwe plans to send 300 military personel to Mozambique to comabat an ongoing islamist insurgency. These troops plan to train Mozambique’s forces to better fight domestic terrorism. Mozambique, which shares Zimbabwe’s eastern border, has been destabilized by the violence from Islamic State-linked militants since 2017, with recent attacks on the port city of Palma in March of this year. Zimbabwe, along with other countries such as Botswana and South Africa, are sending thousands of troops collectively in response to recent attacks on oil refineries, which threatens the stability of the entire region, including neighboring Tanzania.
Zimbabwe approved of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use on Wednesday, the first vaccine from the United States and Europe to be approved by the government. The third wave continues to spread throughout the country, but it seems that the daily caseload has peaked: on July 28th, daily new cases reached1,856, down from 2,705 a week prior.
On Thursday morning, Janet banana, widow of former president Canaan Banana, passed away at the age of 83.