October 22, 2021
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report! In this issue, we cover the protests in Sudan, asylum seekers in Belarus and introduce a new Lebanon section.
In Israel, six Palestinian human rights groups have been labeled terrorist organizations, claimed to be affiliated with left-wing militant action by the Palestinian Liberation Front. It is unclear how these groups will be affected by the announcement, and if they will still be able to function or receive funds. In Ethiopia, four airstrikes were carried out in the capital of Tigray. The government claims that the attacks are being leveled against rebel facilities, and that the latest attack was specifically targeting a military training facility of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The war began in November of 2020 between the government and the TPLF, in which thousands have been killed and two million have fled. More citizens in Tigray have reported having to flee due to the airstrikes this week. Tigrai television has reported that eleven citizens were wounded during the strike. On Thursday, 500 protesters gathered in central Athens to participate in a 24-hour protest. State hospital workers marched to protest staff shortages and compulsory COVID-19 vaccines. This comes as Greece experiences a spike in COVID-19 infections and widespread vaccine hesitancy. To encourage more people to get vaccinated, the Greek government has introduced incentives and penalties like compulsory vaccines for healthcare workers. Hospital workers unions said that the compulsory vaccinations would require hospitals to suspend unvaccinated health care workers, therefore increasing staff shortages and putting more stress on frontline workers. The Eswatini government told mobile operators to suspend access to social media platforms effective immediately following increased protests against King Mswati III online. Platforms included in the suspension include Facebook and Facebook messenger. Protests against King Mswati III mobilized on the streets this summer, in the months of June and July, which led to authorities using tear gas and water cannons to break up demonstrators. Activists say that the King is reluctant to implement calls for reform and policies which would lead the kingdom towards democracy. Themba Masuku, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced the suspension was put in place to protect the people of Eswatini.
On Tuesday, October 20, the judge in charge of Lebanon’s probe into the massive 2019 Beirut port explosion renewed his summonses of two former ministers for questioning. Judge Tarek Bitar’s decision was made despite intense criticism from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who has accused Bitar of being politically biased. Hezbollah’s opposition to the probe escalated last week during a violent protest which left seven dead throughout five hours of fighting between the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah and its ally Amal, another Shiite group.
Nevertheless, analysts claim that the backlash from Hezbollah and other political parties is actually to maintain their legitimacy in the face of accusations of government incompetence and corruption. Last year, independent media and rights groups revealed that the poorly stored fertilizer resulting in the port explosion–which left 215 dead, 6,000 injured, and vast parts of Beirut destroyed–was known to senior government officials, but that they had done nothing about it. Thus, according to Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank: “The ruling class in Lebanon is in agreement about wanting the port probe to be abandoned and they will use all available means to derail it.”
Meanwhile, this week, Lebanon’s parliament has voted to hold parliamentary elections on March 27 next year–its first election since the widespread anti-government protests in late 2019. Additionally, MPs also decided against adding a quota for women and six additional seats for the Lebanese diaspora, despite accusations of voter suppression from opposition groups and diaspora organizations. The elections, if they take place, will come amid an economic meltdown: the country is facing what the World Bank has called one of the deepest depressions of modern history, with three-quarters of its population having been propelled into poverty.
To reward Taliban supporters, the group has forcibly evicted Hazara minority members in several provinces. Such evictions have been promptly followed by the redistribution of their land to their supporters. The claims have been leveled by Human Rights Watch, who reported that others evicted included supporters of the previous government. Hundreds of Hazara in southern Helmand and northern Balkh have been evicted by Taliban and militia forces this month, adding to the already great number of those displaced. Such evictions are backed by threats of force and lack of legal process. Taliban officials claim the evictions are supported by court orders, contrary to the family claims of generational ownership.
There are also claims of organized discrimination and threats against the Sikh minority. Reports of being pressured or forced to convert to Islam are being reported. Reports of attacks against Sikh are not entirely uncommon, as earlier this month, 15 terrorists entered a Sikh temple and tied up guards. This attack occurred in the Kat-e-Parwan district of Kabul.
Myanmar’s junta has freed hundreds of political prisoners, according to the state media outlet Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday. The paper reported that 647 prisoners had been released from Yangon’s Insein Prison and 80 from a prison in Mandalay. Another 4,320 defendants currently before the courts will also be acquitted, said a notice in the paper. The release follows the junta’s announcement Monday that it would free more than 5,600 people arrested for protesting against the junta since February. The released prisoners would need to sign a document pledging not to commit any acts of violence against the country, the junta added. Since the coup, Myanmar’s security forces have arrested more than 9,000 people, of whom an estimated 7,355 are still in detention, according to the non-profit group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Earlier in the week, junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing blasted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which said last week it would exclude him from an upcoming meeting of the regional bloc. Instead, a “non-political” figure from Myanmar would be invited to the ASEAN summit next week, the group said.
Counselor of the U.S. State Department, Derek Chollet, has claimed that Singapore has the ability to wield its significant financial leverage over Myanmar’s military rulers to pressure them to return to a path of democracy amid a deteriorating humanitarian and economic crisis. Speaking in a teleconference from Jakarta, he said partnerships with countries in the region were critical to pressuring Myanmar as it risks becoming a “failed state in the heart of Asia”.
Noting U.S. measures to sanction individuals and entities associated with Myanmar’s military rulers who seized power in the February coup, Chollet said Singapore also possessed leverage. “Singapore has a very important role to play and we had a very good discussion with our partners there about the way it has and is going to continue to work together to bring whatever leverage we can over the regime to put Burma back on the course to democracy,” he said. Lately, thousands of Myanmar citizens have fled the country to go to India following increased crackdowns along the border.
Dozens of people and human rights activists protested on October 20 calling on the Pakistani government to work to end the continued imprisonment of Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in the United States. The protest was organized by a coalition of 20 organizations including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and similar protests have been planned in Boston and Washington, DC, in the coming weeks.
After examining tweets from elected officials in seven countries – the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and Japan, Twitter has admitted it amplified more tweets from rightwing politicians and news outlets than content from leftwing sources. The research found that in six out of seven countries, apart from Germany, tweets from right-wing politicians received more amplification from the algorithm than those from the left.
Joe Manchin, the leading opposition to Biden’s climate bill, is getting support from the oil, gas, and coal companies. Once passed, the climate legislation bill under Biden would steadily retire the coal industry that once formed the backbone of the West Virginia economy.
Human Rights Watch’s research indicates that the July demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful. It mentioned on 19th October that the Cuban government has systematically engaged in arbitrary detention, ill-treatment of detainees, and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions in response to overwhelmingly peaceful anti-government protests in July 2021. On October 21, the Cuban Attorney General’s Office issued a warning to the people of Havana, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Holguín and other provinces that protestors will be faced with serious consequences of demonstrating peacefully on November 15, or any day. After the July protests, the Biden administration tightened sanctions placed by Trump on Cuba. Despite promises early in Biden’s presidency that limits on remittances would be eased Cube has been left in deep freeze.
Cuba is postponing its annual debt payment to the Paris Club until next year. According to the diplomats from five of the governments involved, the latest sign the Communist-run country is suffering a grave foreign exchange crisis. In 2015, Paris Club forgave $8.5 billion of $11.1 billion in sovereign debt Cuba defaulted on in 1986, plus charges.
Government crackdowns within Nicaragua continue to widen ahead of the November 7th elections when incumbent President Daniel Ortega will run for his fourth consecutive term. This week two top executives of Nicaragua’s biggest business association were arrested by police. The president of Superior Council of Private Enterprise Michael Healy and vice president Alvaro Vargas were detained on October 21st. Authorities claim both men are under investigation for suspicion of money and assets laundering along with charges of attempting to overthrow Ortega’s government. Families of the many political, media and civil society leaders detained during the crackdowns have expressed their worries for the treatment of their loved ones. Family members say that detainees are isolated, face daily interrogations and do not receive proper care.
Many activist groups are working hard to prevent the election on November 7th. On October 19th, the National Coalition of political and social groups called for an election boycott and a US based organization released a statement demanding the release of all opposition figures in Nicaragua.
During a press conference on Monday, October 22, the Bolivian interior minister claimed to possess new evidence about the alleged 2020 failed assassination of Bolivian President Luis Arce. According to Eduardo del Castillo, the same Colombian group who killed Haitian President Jovenel Moise in July had conspired to kill Arce. Castillo has emails, audio recordings, immigration data, and hotel stays allegedly proving the conspiracy, some of which he has released to the media. As for the person leading the failed conspiracy, Del Castillo has maintained that Luis Fernando Lopez, the former defense minister under President Anez’s right-wing government, is the culprit. Since the announcement, Del Castillo has sent an extradition request for Lopez, who is currently residing in Brazil. Meanwhile, the Bolivian opposition has contested Del Castillo’s claims, particularly conservative figurehead Luis Fernando Camacho, governor of Santa Cruz, who believes that the government is seeking to portray Arce as a “victim.”
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing for urgent action to save lives and prevent further suffering at the border areas between Belarus and the European Union (Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) after eight deaths have been reported so far in the border region. They’ve also taken note of several groups of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who have been stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions. Belarus is also facing diplomatic criticism after it failed to follow the UN Aarhus Convention on access to justice in environmental matters.
Poland has now doubled the number of soldiers deployed to guard its border with Belarus, meanwhile a Polish lawyer Kamil Syller is appealing to locals living near the border to switch on a green light to signal that they can provide migrants with food and shelter as an action plan to help suffering migrants.
On 20th October police in Minsk raided the office of the independent weekly online newspaper Novy Chas and the home of at least one of its journalists, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists is urging the Belarusian authorities to stop harassing independent journalists.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has signed an agreement to continue American support for Georgia’s military for six years amid continuing Russian threats for the county’s security. The current agreement for such support is to expire at the end of the year, but Austin and Georgian Defense Minister Junasher Burchuladze signed the replacement agreement Monday during Austin’s visit to the country. Austin said the U.S. support will help the former Soviet republic on the Black Sea build “effective deterrence and defense”. U.S. support has included participating in military exercises with Georgian forces. Georgia and Russia fought a short war in 2008 that ended with Russia gaining control of two separatist republics that account for about 20% of Georgia’s territory.
The European Parliament will send one more mission to Georgia to observe municipal election run-offs in the country on October 30, EU Ambassador to Georgia Carl Hartzell has announced. Ambassador Hartzell stated that four more MEPs will monitor the second round of local elections in Georgia. The April 19 EU-mediated agreement proposed by European Council President Charles Michel in April resolved the political crisis in Georgia caused by the 2020 parliamentary elections and put forward large-scale electoral and judiciary reforms. The ruling party Georgian Dream in late July decided to withdraw from the agreement due to the refusal of the United National Movement (UNM), the largest opposition party, to sign the document. However, the UNM eventually did so after four months of refusal in early September.
43 Western countries have signed a statement stating their concern about the existence of “re-education camps” and have criticized China at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uighurs and other religious and ethnic minorities in Xinjiang on Thursday.
During a review at the World Trade Organization (WTO), which happens once in two years for China, Australia and the USA have criticized china’s trade practices. While Australia said the country’s behavior was “inconsistent” with its WTO commitments, USA accused China of “skewing the playing field” by using “unfair trade practices”.
On Friday the central bank of China said that the risks were “controllable” and lenders should keep credit to the real estate sector “stable and orderly” about the debt crisis at China Evergrande Group. Stability and order will be higher on a very defined political agenda and the Party cannot afford to have anything like Evergrande or inflation go off the rails according to experts. Any economic downturn that leads to social unrest risks weakening Xi Jinping’s grip on power ahead of next month’s plenum and next year’s Party Congress.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a whitelist for social media and mobile apps on Wednesday comprised 1,358 sanctioned online news providers. This list is nearly four times longer than the previous list released in 2016 but experts and media insiders say nothing much will change after.
Hong Kong courts have allowed the city’s authorities to use national security powers to deploy tough colonial-era laws in a crackdown against opposition groups, alarming activists and lawyers in the city. Police have launched investigations into acts that took place before the imposition of the law a year ago, despite assurances by Beijing and Hong Kong that the financial hub’s legislation would not be retroactive. These recent probes have left pro-democracy campaigners in the city in fear of the prosecution they could face for acts they believed to be legal at the time. Several groups, including veteran protest organizer Civil Human Rights Front, are under investigation for acts that pre-date the security law, according to statements by senior police and reports in pro-Beijing media.
The Hong Kong mother whose daughter was killed in Taiwan in 2018 on Wednesday lambasted authorities in the Chinese city for letting the man who confessed to the crime walk free, while Hong Kong blamed Taiwan for “political manipulation” in the case. As Hong Kong lacks an extradition agreement with Taiwan, the offender could not be sent to stand trial and was instead prosecuted and sentenced on money-laundering offenses, serving a 29-month prison sentence in Hong Kong, but the case could not proceed because of a lack of cooperation between Hong Kong and Taiwan. The case led Hong Kong authorities to propose an extradition bill in 2019, which would allow Hong Kong to extradite suspects to places with which it does not have extradition agreements including Taiwan and mainland China. But the proposal sparked mass protests and political strife in 2019. The proposed extradition bill was eventually withdrawn, and the CCP clamped down on the protests and silenced opposition in Hong Kong.
The United States, Britain, and the European Union accused the Hong Kong government of stripping the democratic rights of their civilians on Thursday, following further disqualifications of opposition district councilors for allegedly insufficient loyalty to the city. Hong Kong’s home affairs chief announced that 16 district councilors would be ousted from their positions because of invalid oaths, bringing the total number of recently unseated municipal-level politicians to 55.
“These retroactive and targeted disqualifications, based on the Hong Kong authorities’ arbitrary determination that these district councilors’ loyalty oaths are invalid, prevent people in Hong Kong from participating meaningfully in their own governance,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said. On Wednesday, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency unveiled broad eligibility for a “safe haven” program that will allow Hongkongers in the US to remain for 18 months even if their current visas expire. That follows a move by Britain to create a new five-year visa for people from Hong Kong who hold a British National (Overseas) passport, a nationality document granted to some Hongkongers prior to the 1997 handover.
This week, a video of police violence against protestors in Tangerang regency (in Banten) went viral on social media, intensifying calls for police reform among the general public. The protest, which was carried out by Tangerang students, occurred last week on Wednesday. The students were demonstrating in front of the regent’s office demanding that the government address city pollution, damaged roads, the unfair treatment of COVID-19 volunteers, and other issues. In the video that went viral, a police officer is shown slamming a protester onto the ground, at which point the latter of whom appeared to have a seizure.
Novel Baswedan, one of the 58 employees fired by the Corruption Eradication Committee (KPK), has started a YouTube channel which quickly gained more than 8,500 subscribers within two days. Baswedan was fired in September after failing the highly contentious National Insight Test (TWK), which has been criticized by civil society groups as well as the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) and the Indonesian Ombudsman for unfairly targeting certain investigators. Prior to being fired, Baswedan was the lead investigator in a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. His status is suspected to be the cause of a famous incident four years ago, when he was victim to an acid attack which left him blind in one eye. In an interview with Tempo.co, Baswedan stated the goal of his channel is to educate the Indonesian people about “anti-corruption, conducting investigations, and integrity,” as well as what the future of anti-corruption in Indonesia could look like. He also added that he was planning to invite to his channel the other fired KPK employees, anti-corruption activists, students, academics, and prominent figures who “have a reputation for honesty, bravery, and consistency.”
The Harvard Political Review posted a thorough article examining “Why Thailand’s Young People Are Angry”, looking at Thai protest history stemming from university movements up to present-day unrest.
Thailand will let vaccinated visitors from 46 countries forgo COVID-19 quarantine from next month, up from 10 previously announced, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said on Thursday.
The Southeast Asian country is poised to introduce the new quarantine-free travel arrangements on Nov. 1 as it seeks to revive its vital tourism industry. The 46 countries include Britain, the United States, China, Singapore, Germany, and Australia, according to the ministry of foreign affairs. Prayuth said the visitors could skip mandatory quarantine as long as they arrive via air, have been fully vaccinated, and have a document to show they are virus-free. Thailand will stop using the COVID-19 vaccine of China’s Sinovac when its current stock finishes, a senior official said on Monday, having used the shot extensively in combination with Western-developed vaccines. Thailand used over 31.5 million Sinovac doses since February, starting with two doses to frontline workers, high-risk groups, and residents of Phuket, a holiday island that reopened to tourists early in a pilot scheme.
For the first time in ten years, Iran’s National Coronavirus Taskforce has authorized the resumption of Friday prayers in Tehran. This comes after Iran has ramped up it’s vaccination program. Since August, an additional 20 million Iranians have been fully vaccinated. Combined with the previous total, it brings the count to 27.6 million vaccinated out of the population of 80 million.
On Thursday, the country practiced an annual air force drill. This news comes just after reports of a large air defense exercise. During the drill, various drones including attack and surveillance, as well as bombers and jet fighters. They also seemed to be using laser guided missiles and heavy weapons. The demonstration also showcased US plane’s bought before the banning of sales, and Russian fighters. Over 10 bases took part in the ceremony, out of the estimated 12 existing. Such drills reportedly are participated in by the Army and Revolutionary Guard.
Reports of human rights abuses related to Iraq’s most recent election have been leveled by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. Included in these claims are reports of harassment of civil society activists. Additionally, potential censorship of journalists and media has been claimed. More worrying are reports of the torture of citizens. The Gulf Centre has amassed 77 claims of human rights violations during the elections in multiple cities and regions. Some election centers were host to attacks on observers, and attempted to intimidate or entrap voters during the election process.
Specifically in the region of Dyala, voters allegedly were intimidated to vote for a specific candidate. In an undisclosed region before the elections, armed men attacked a citizen who had refused to hang advertising for an election candidate, following other reports of such actions.
Also reported were attacks of activists and candidates, including armed attacks of Sadir Al-Khafaji, who was a candidate in Karrada. Another report detailed an assassination attempt carried out on a judge. Another such attempt was leveled against Azhar Hatem, prominent activist in Dhi Qar Governorate.
Thursday, October 21st protesters around Sudan gathered to protest against the authoritarian rule of the military branch of the government. A majority of the protesters were strong supporters of the civilian government, which was promised to receive full power from the military under the current power sharing agreement. At the same time, there were small groups of pro-military supporters who held sit-ins outside the presidential palace in the capital of Khartoum. Both pro-military and pro-civilian government activists voiced their wishes for the protests to remain peaceful.
The Forces for Freedom and Change (hereinafter:FFC), a civilian umbrella coalition, organized the protests for the pro-civilian government side. This was not the first major protest started by FFC; they were responsible for organizing the demonstrations that led to the removal of the previous president, President Omar al-Bashir. Hajooj Kuka a member of Girifna, an active non-violent resistance movement, stated his reason for participating in the march on Thursday was because, “that the goal of Thursday’s pro-civilian march was not to stop the formation of a more representative government but “to stop the military from taking power”. There is evidence of divisions among activists within the FFC. The sit-in held in Khartoum claimed to be a splintering division of the FFC and they are calling themselves The National Charter Alliance. While soldiers provided protections to protesters at the sit-in many protesters called for the end of the civilian government. Their pro-military sit-in at the palace called for the military to dissolve the civilian government because they blame the power sharing agreement for the deterioration of economic conditions and rising poverty in the country. One protester at the sit-in stated, “I was in the revolution (to overthrow al-Bashir), I was supposed to be represented in this government but I don’t see anything that represents me. A few parties took over the revolution and stole it.” Members of the FFC claim that the sit-ins were not a part of the post-revolutionary movement; instead it was a pro-military protest led by military and security forces and allies.
On Tuesday, October 21st, a group of elderly women clanswomen staged a nude protest in the city of Lira City to protest remarks made by gender minister, Betty Amongi. The demonstrations came after a meeting led by Betty Amongi on Wednesday at Lira University when 118 clan leaders from Lango denounced the administration of the paramount chief of Tekwaro, a Lango cultural institution. The women carried signs with slogans calling on President Museveni to intervene and criticizing Betty Amongi’s leadership.
Many Ugandan writers are using their platform to express their discontent with the current President. Ugandan blogger Fred Lumbuye was released from Turkish authorities on Wednesday after being held in the Kocaeli Foreigners Detention Center in Turkey since the beginning of August. Lumbuye is an opposition supporter based in Turkey. He was arrested over immigration issues and accusations of inciting violence; including one account of spreading rumors that President Museveni had died in early 2021. Poet Ashaba Annah wrote an erotic poem dedicated to President Museveni on Facebook called “I want to be Museveni’s side chic.” Annah said she wrote the poem as a way to show that the government does not care about the thoughts and concerns of its citizens. She referenced how on October 12th when teachers demanded they receive a pay increase, Museveni insisted that only science teachers should receive higher pay, not teachers instructing the arts and humanities.
The toll company Zimborders has now implemented a toll on the Beitbridge border post which sits on a popular route for truck drivers. The company was awarded a contract with the Zimbabwean government in an effort to upgrade the country’s border posts. With the new tolls issued, the company predicts it will make around $1 billion USD over the course of 17 years. After the company makes $1 billion it will then be transferred over control of the toll stations to the government. In recent days, Since the toll was implemented, drivers have been in line for 10 days consecutively. Truck driver Simbisai Nyoni was stuck in line and he said, “It’s hell, I tell you. One of us [truckers] was even robbed in the queue last week. We have nowhere to bathe, no toilets. Can you imagine 10 days in a queue stretching more than 10km?” Right now the tolls can only be paid in cash; Zimborders says they will start rolling out card readers at the end of October.
On October 22nd, Director-General Taguma Mahonde of the Zimbabwe National Statistics agency released the dates of the 2022 census. Ahead of the official count they announced they will be running a pilot project November 18 and 27, 2021 to test the new electronic counting system. If successful the 2022 census will be held in April completed paperless; the data will then be released within the six months following the last day of data collection.