CANVAS Weekly Update – October 29, 2021


October 29, 2021

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report! In this issue, we cover the latest updates on cyberattacks in Papua New Guinea and Iran, a coup attempt in Sudan, ongoing protests in Lebanon, and the increased presence of ISIS groups in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conflict Update:

In Papua New Guinea, the government has effectively been held hostage by a cyberattack. The hackers in question are demanding bitcoin payments. The hackers targeted the offices of Finance that handle financial aid from foreign countries, which the small country heavily depends on. The country will not report how much money has been demanded, but it does appear that foreign aid funds have been frozen by the attack. On Thursday, Israel approved the status of 3,000 new settler homes in the occupied West Bank. This action has been condemned by the Palestinian authority, 13 European states that call on Israel to abandon the project, and by the U.S. Increased settlements have slashed the idea o the two-state solution down, with Palestinian human rights activists Issa Amro saying “The purpose of Israeli settlement expansion is to fragment Palestinian land so there wouldn’t be the connection of Palestinian geography.” Many consider such annexation war crimes, in accordance with the Geneva Convention prohibiting the transfer of the protected population and the inability of an occupying power from applying its laws to occupied territory. Also in Palestine, the destruction of the al-Yusufiye cemetery for the purpose of building a themed garden has made headlines as a video of a Palestinian women resisting Israeli forces, clinging to her son’s grave as construction machines operate closeby went viral. The cemetery is in occupied East Jerusalem. Israel justifies this brutal action by claiming that the land was settled by Jews during ancient times. Also, it claims that “no work is being done in the cemetery [instead being] carried out on open public land,” adding that the grave sites affected by the work were illegally placed in the area. Despite multiple attempts to preserve the site, including going to Israeli courts, all measures were rejected in favor of building a allegedly apolitical mythical garden. Israeli researcherAviv Tatarsky has claimed that “The park in question is part of a series of government-funded projects which aim to link settler compounds in the Old City Basin.” This amounts to claiming that these alleged apolitical building projects surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem, were a concerted effort by Israel to form a protective ring of settlements around the Old City.  



This week, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on two Lebanese businessmen and a lawmaker for corruption. The US Treasury accused Lebanese tycoons Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury as well as lawmaker Jamil Sayyed of profiting from corruption and cronyism and thus, undermining the rule of law in Lebanon. The Treasury alleged that Khoury and Arab received state contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars due to their political connections. Additionally, Sayyed was accused of attempting  to “skirt domestic banking policies and regulations” and transfer USD$120 million abroad, according to a Treasury statement. As of now, the US has seized all property the three have under US jurisdiction and forbidden US individuals and businesses from carrying out transactions with the three. According to Reuters, this is “the first time that the United States has imposed sanctions on a close associate [Arab] of Hariri, a pro-Western figure, having previously focused on Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies.”  Meanwhile, supporters of the  Lebanese Forces party have staged protests against the summoning of party leader Samir Geagea to give testimony on the deadly Beirut clashes. The protestors closed off roads leading to Geagea’s residence in Maarab on Wednesday. Geagera, who was scheduled to give his testimony to Lebanon’s military intelligence on Wednesday morning, did not show up to court. His lawyer, Sam Saliba, maintained that the summons was illegal and that it was part of Iran-backed Hezbollah’s effort to scapegoat Geagea for the Beirut clashes, which was sparked by unidentified gunmen firing into a crowd of Hezbollah and Amal party supporters who were protesting the investigation into last year’s Beirut port explosion. Hezbollah has accused the Lebanese Forces of instigating the clashes, claiming that the Christian party was trying to stir sectarian conflict in Lebanon.  


In Afghanistan this week there were increasing reports of attacks from the Islamic State of Khorasan Province, an armed faction related to the larger Islamic State group, on the Shia minority in the region. The group has been bombing and attacking Afghan Shia groups. The group. Recently, the group has taken responsibility for multiple violent attacks on Hazara Shias. One such event was the October 8th suicide bombing at the Kunduz mosque that killed 72 people, and another attack on the Bibi Fatima mosque on the 15th killing 63. The group has released statements threatening to kill Shia in their homes. Other attacks by the group have targeted Hindu and Sikh minorities in the region, as well as journalists, activists, and girls schools. While the Taliban have claimed they would provide additional protection for Shia gathering areas, they too have a brutal history of human rights abuses against the Shia minority during their previous rule. Even though the new guard of the Taliban claim to discard the old practice targeting Shia, there have been reports of detention and abuse of Hazara journalists as well as forced evictions of those in the minority.  The US has increasingly pressured the new Taliban government into working with them to contain such extremist groups in the region. Western media has reported claims of increasing presence of ISIS related groups in the region, stating that the extremist group will be able to launch an attack on the US in the next year. The Taliban is very against cooperating with the Western power due to its previous damaging military presence within the country. However, they are reported to be seeking “normal relations” with the country, which would include the re-opening of the US embassy in Kabul, the removal of economic sanctions, and economic assistance. The significance of this is the billions of dollars of frozen assets in the U.S. Federal reserve and European central banks that were put there by previous President Ghani and now are unreachable to the Taliban.  


Win Htein, a senior aide to Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday on charges of high treason, media and one of his family members said. Win Htein, 79, is a stalwart supporter of Suu Kyi and a long-time political prisoner during decades campaigning to end army rule. Suu Kyi, who is also on trial, is charged with a litany of offenses, including breaking coronavirus protocols, illegally possessing two-way radios, accepting bribes of cash and gold, incitement to cause public alarm, and violating the Official Secrets Act. In her first court testimony on Tuesday, she denied a charge of incitement in connection with her party publishing a letter in February calling on international organizations not to cooperate with the ruling military junta. Myanmar’s state media has not reported developments in Suu Kyi’s multiple legal cases, and one of the only sources of public information on her trial – her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw – received a gagging order from the military authorities earlier this month. The Associated Press has published an article following months of research into the torture tactics done by the Myanmar military, which are described as methodical and systemic, citing interviews with detainees, photographic evidence, sketches, letters, and testimonies from three recently defected military officials. They say that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the police, have killed more than 1,200 people since February. The torture often begins on the street or in the detainees’ homes, and some die even before reaching an interrogation center. A former political prisoner says that they are first tortured “for revenge, then for information”.  The military has taken steps to hide evidence of its torture. An aide to the highest-ranking army official in western Myanmar’s Chin state told the AP that soldiers covered up the deaths of two tortured prisoners, forcing a military doctor to falsify their autopsy reports. Read the article for more information on this extensive exposé.  

The United States:

Five young climate activists are on a hunger strike outside the White House, to demand government action on climate to match the severity of the crisis. In a letter, the protesters said “We will continue to sit starving outside the White House everyday until you use your power as elected president of the United States to deliver your mandate for bold, and transformative climate action with justice and for jobs” as they continued with their seventh day of hunger strike. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is faced with a major challenge to reassert American credibility regarding UN climate talks as he departed to Europe on Thursday and arrived in Rome on Friday for a G20 summit, further headed to Glasgow with his domestic climate agenda. Climate activists are claiming that Biden’s actions have not matched with his words yet.Major Chinese state-owned telecommunications firms are being barred from operating in the United States over national security concerns amid the rising US-China tensions. The US Federal Communications Commission has ordered China Telecom to discontinue US services within 60 days. The United States is also trying to deepen its relationship with Taiwan; actively working on new areas of cooperation such as in cybersecurity and supply chains to tackle China’s global influence.  


On Thursday, Cuba’s National Assembly approved a raft of laws broadening citizens’ legal rights in efforts to modernize Cuba’s judicial and penal codes. These address legal voids identified by activists, who alleged authorities flaunted due process in the aftermath of protests in July. The new laws promise to increase transparency in the judicial process and protection for those accused of a crime. For example, it provides detainees with a right to an attorney within 24 hours, adhering to international standards than the regulations currently in force. Meanwhile, Cuban authorities have started threatening organizers of a pro-democracy march which is scheduled in November with legal charges. They are also conducting a vast security operation to intimidate ordinary Cubans to generate fear about supporting the upcoming protests. Yunior García, the country’s leading opposition leader, said “we are already living them”, that terrible things are happening already before the protests and vowed that he and others are moving forward with national protests planned for Nov. 15. Workers posing with sticks in their hands, a man proudly displaying a stone, neighbours caught on camera test firing with rifles are some of the photos making rounds online with caption messages against “the mercenaries” and “the provocateurs” ahead of the civic protests.


The United States is working with other international partners on imposing new sanctions as a response to the election on November 7th as well as reviewing Nicaragua’s participation in the Central America Free Trade Agreement. In a statement, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, (the US were) “preparing a sham election devoid of credibility, by silencing and arresting opponents.” Five satellite parties, nicknamed zancudos, of President Daniel Ortega’s will be presented on the ballot on November 7th. These parties will have no intension of disputing the election on only serve as façade of a multiparty electoral system. These five parties will be the only parities present on the ballot as Ortega changed the legal status of all other opposition parties including the Conservative Party (PC), the Democratic Restoration Party (PRD), and Citizens for Liberty (CxL). This is not the first-time satellite parties have been used in Nicaraguan politics. Their role is just to cooperate with the governing party and as a reward will receive reimbursements. On May 4th, President Ortega’s regime changed the electoral guidelines to allow for a reward for satellite parities. He eliminated the requirement of obtaining the minimum of 4% of votes to access reimbursements for campaign expenses. One satellite party is the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), the wealthiest satellite party, will run for election under an unlisted candidate. The late leader of the PLC former President Arnoldo Alemán made a pact with the President Ortega that they would share powers of the state. In 2016, the PLC had 15% of votes as Ortega was reelected and received 72.44%.


Bolivia’s Prosecutor’s Office has charged former high-ranking military officials for participating in the alleged November 2019 coup which led to former President Añez’s rise to power. The defendants include Flavio Gustavo Arce, former chief of the general staff, Pastor Mendieta, former commander of the army, Gonzalo Terceros, former commander of the air force, and Palmiro Jarjury, former commander of the navy. The defendants are currently undergoing investigation. Also this week, a number of civil society groups have announced they will go on strike on Monday, November 8, in protest of Law 1386. This strike is a continuation of the ones held on the 21st and 22nd of October. The groups involved include unions in the transportation, medical, agriculture, and other sectors, as well as opposition parties, the Medical College, and the XI Indigenous March. The controversial Law 1386 is argued to be the “mother bill” of bill 218 against the legitimization of illicit profits, the latter of which was withdrawn by the Plurinational Legislative Assembly on October 15. According to the National Committee for the Defense of Democracy (Conade), Law 1386 is essentially “a package of authoritarian economic norms.”


On Tuesday the United Nations released an article under its Human Rights section about the condition of women in Belarus which mentions how female political activists are subjected to enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment and exile. On October 29th, the US embassy in Belarus said in a statement that authorities informed it of new measures “designed to impede the functioning” of its humanitarian and outreach programs that have benefited thousands of people. Meanwhile, The Ministry of Information also confirmed blocking multiple channels of information including social media such as Telegram, and news channels such as the Deutsche Welle website which is a German news channel, as reported by the Belarusian Journalist Union on Thursday. Belarusian oil refineries have lost $80 million due to European Union sanctions amid the issue of the migrant influx. A makeshift warehouse inside the Polish town of Michalowo’s fire station has become a beacon of light for many migrants. Hundreds of volunteers, doctors, lawyers, and local residents have been working together to help migrants trapped between Belarus and Poland.


As Mikheil Saakashvili’s hunger strike in a Georgian prison nears the one-month mark, authorities are unsure of what to do with the defiant ex-president as his health deteriorates. A public tug-of-war has broken out between doctors and government officials over this dilemma as he begins needing hospitalization, and Saakashvili has warned that he is “ready to die” if he is not released. A team of physicians and other medical experts, including Saakashvili’s personal doctor, emerged from an examination on October 19 warning of potentially irreversible damage to his health and urging authorities to relocate him to a fully equipped hospital. Georgia’s justice minister responded by saying a prison infirmary could provide adequate care. According to his lawyers, Saakashvili, who is not eating food but drinking water, has refused to be moved to a prison hospital. Georgia’s ruling party and the opposition on Wednesday staged rival rallies ahead of local elections with the Caucasus country’s primary government critic Mikheil Saakashvili on hunger strike in jail. Second round runoffs on Saturday will see candidates from the majority Georgian Dream party and the opposition United National Movement (UNM) compete for mayoral posts in major cities. Georgian Dream said it had bussed supporters from across the country for its rally on Freedom square in the capital Tbilisi. Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili urged voters to back Georgian Dream Saturday, calling opposition leader Saakashvili’s UNM an “anti-state and anti-national force”. UNM later held its own campaign rally in the western city of Zugdidi, where a party leader, Ana Tsitlidze, told several thousand supporters they would “prevail in our struggle for a truly democratic, European Georgia.  


Beijing has promised to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions and sent a revised climate pledge saying its carbon dioxide emissions would peak before 2030, and that it would aim for “carbon neutrality” – or no net emissions of CO2 – before the year 2060, three days ahead of the COP26 summit in Glasgow. But critics say for a country that produces 27% of global emissions, China would need to demonstrate leadership at a critical moment for the planet. On the other hand, global activists and legislators from around the world have gathered on the fringes of the G20 summit in Rome to protest against the presence of the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, and urge leaders not to let China off the hook over human rights abuses in return for Beijing’s cooperation on the climate crisis. China’s ban on private media has pushed non-partisan and liberal news organisations go out of service in a stride against private investments in media including social media platforms. The “Market Access Negative List 2021” seeks to impose a ban on the funding from private players for newsgathering, broadcasting and distribution. Amid an increase in COVID-19 infections, China has tightened its regulations. Doubling down on Covid-zero strategy,  lockdown is being imposed on the spread of 11 provinces and a new 5,000 room quarantine facility has been built in Guangzhou.  

Hong Kong:

Amnesty International will close its two offices in Hong Kong by the end of the year, the human rights group has announced, with its local chapter ceasing operations on Sunday. Amnesty, which has its head office in London, said it would continue its research, advocacy, and campaigning work from its other offices in the Asia Pacific. Amnesty joins some of Hong Kong’s most prominent civil society groups and trade unions in winding up its operations as a result of the national security law, which was imposed by China in June 2020 to tackle any act deemed subversion, secession, “terrorism” and collusion with foreign forces. Critics say the broadly-worded national security law has been used arbitrarily to restrict the freedom of expression, assembly, and association. Hong Kong’s health minister has rebuked a leading public health expert for criticizing the government’s decision to impose an extra two weeks of quarantine on recovered Covid-19 patients, insisting the tough strategy “has the community’s overall interest at heart”. In a letter to the SCMP on Friday, Sophia Chan Siu-chee said University of Hong Kong epidemiologist Professor Benjamin Cowling was wrong to call the measure “unethical”, as he was going against the government’s zero-Covid goal, which was “in line with the aspirations of our community”. The dispute underscores a growing rift between some experts citing science-based arguments to suggest a “living with the virus” approach and the local government’s increasingly strict measures as it adopts a strategy more in line with mainland China’s zero-infection policy. At stake is Hong Kong’s primary goal to reopen its border with the mainland, which is essential to the city’s economic development.  


Ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, a number of the Gerindra Party’s regional boards have declared their support for Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Subianto, a former military general, has lost two elections to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, but remains strong in electability polls. “[Gerindra’s] cadres and campaign team are readying themselves for war in pushing for Prabowo to win the 2024 elections. Whether he will actually run, that’s a matter to be settled later. What’s important now is that the party’s political system is well oiled,” said Adi Prayitno, executive director of Parameter Politik Indonesia. Regardless, Prabowo is expected to face stiff competition from the governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo and the governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan, whose electability ratings–unlike Prabowo’s–are rising. Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the draft Capital City Bill has elicited strong criticism over an article which would give President Jokowi sole control over appointing the capital’s new authorities. The Capital City Bill is part of Jokowi’s US$32.7 billion plan to relocate the capital to East Kalimantan with the aim of a less Java-centered development. However, some have voiced concern over Article 9 and Article 10 of the draft bill, the first of which contains a provision giving Jokowi sole authority to designate the head and deputy head of the new capital, without any election process, and the second giving the new authority full governance of the administrative capital, including the power over national defense, monetary policy, and international affairs.


After more than a year of anti-government rallies, where protesters’ calls for democracy and the reform of the powerful monarchy appear to have fallen largely on deaf ears, protestors are stepping up the pressure on the administration of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. For about three months a new group of protesters who call themselves Thalugas (breaking through the gas/tear gas) have been skirmishing with police and the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has given their struggle new momentum. The violence has subsided to some degree since July, but every night, young protesters taunt police with middle fingers, screaming insults from their motorcycles. Eventually, tensions escalate into violence as demonstrators aim fireworks at groups of police officers who occupy the area. Police then respond with sweeping and often violent arrests. The young demonstrators have set fire to traffic lights and massive portraits of the Thai King Vajiralongkorn in the city. The protesters target police with slingshots, small explosives called “ping pong bombs”, firebombs, and more. In response, police have unleashed rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas on them.  


On Tuesday in Iran, President Raisi claimed that a cyberattack by anti-Iranian forces froze all gas stations in the country, creating perilously long lines to incite fear and disruption. Many Irnians use state-issued cards to purchase subsidized fuel at gas stations, and these cards were unusable during the cyberattack. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the cyberattack, but a cybersecurity official from the state has connected this event and a previous attack that targeted Iran’s rail system in July. The government claims both attacks were orchestrated from abroad. By Wednesday, the government announced that 80% of stations were resuming business normally. While no country specifically has been blamed, the US and Israel are often suspected of such attacks after the 2010 Stuxnet Virus attack infected Iran’s nuclear program, and was attributed to the two nations. When people tried to use their subsidized gas cards, the machine showed the message “cyberattack 64411”. This number is both associated with a hotline through Khamenei’s office that answers questions about Islamic Law, and was used in the previous railway cyberattack. When the media agency ISNA reported on this, it quickly removed the post, claiming to have been hacked. However, many news sites claim that the claim of hacking is commonplace to cover up government censorship of media.


After this month’s parliamentary elections were plagued by cries of corruption and miscounting, Iraq is set to soon release official results after a recount. The manual recount began this Wednesday, recounting 234 contested electoral stations. More than 1,300 appeals about the elections were filed by the Shia Cooperation Framework claiming fraud. It is significant that this group, which contains many Shia groups that lost big in this month’s election, have rejected the results. The group blames the electoral commission for ignoring major violations in counting. The majority of the complaints were dismissed on the grounds of a lack of evidence, while the rest of the appeals will be submitted to the Supreme Court. The Sadrist party is the biggest winner of the elections, followed by the Taqadum party led by Sunni Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Habousi. This Tuesday, an attack on an Eastern Iraqi village, Al-Rashad in Diyala Province, was attributed to the Islamic State group by security sources. A source within the village claims that 11 were killed, and 13 sustained injuries. Other sources claim that the civilians were killed in a small arms fire in the village. Currently, the village is locked down in order to find the perpetrators. It is claimed by the UN that 10,000 IS fighters are still active in Iraq and Syria.  


On October 25th, the Sudanese military took over the civilian branch of the government and dissolved the ruling council. The military declared a state of emergency and civilian leaders were subsequently arrested. Among the arrested was Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his wife. According to the military, the PM and his wife were detained on Monday but released to their home on Tuesday. It is unclear if they are allowed to move freely around their residency or if the military is monitoring their movements. General Abdel Fattah Burhan, the leader of the coup, is now the de facto leader. There is mass discontent from the Sudanese people and they have taken to the streets. Protests have been increasingly violent as security forces clash with demonstrators. The latest tragedy was the death of one protester on Thursday after a violent clash between security forces and protesters. Security forces have used aggressive methods to try and suppress protesters. During a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, witnesses report watching security forces fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The death count since the coup on Monday is now eight people with 170 reported to be injured. All around the capital city of Khartoum roads have been barricaded, cars are burning in the streets and buildings around the city have been damaged. International community response was quick to condemn the military takeover. The World Bank suspended aid, the African Union has suspended Sudan and the United States froze £508 in aid. The UN Security Council called on the military specifically General Burhan to restore the Sovereign Council. The General did not respond directly to the international criticism, instead he fired six Sudanese ambassadors to countries critical of his actions: the United States, China, and France.


President Museveni has announced that schools will officially reopen in January 2022. This will be the first time schools have been reopened since shutting down in March 2020 due to COVID-19. Museveni explained that vaccinations will be the key to reopen the whole Ugandan economy. The President in a statement explained his forecast reopening by stating, “By the end of December 2021, 12 million people should have been vaccinated.” Among the people he mentions included health and education workers will need to be vaccinated. The reopening of schools will be significant for many children around the country as many children have fallen behind in their education. Some children have even taken up side jobs working in hard labor industries. In an interview, one 17-year-old student reported working in gold mines in Eastern Uganda making just $2.80 USD. In a report released by FAWE-Uganda, they found shocking statistics showing refugee parents and caregivers were trading school-aged girls for sex in exchange for supplies such as money and food. The surveys were conducted in three refugee settlements and 25 districts around Uganda. Among the settlements surveyed was Alere and Palabek which the conditions for young girls at the camps remains critical. The statistics show that compared to non-refugee population young refugee women have experienced an increase of sexual violence in consequence of their working and living condiditions. At the Alere refugee settlement, 15% of girls were reported to be involved with activities such as bartending. These statistics increased even more as the pandemic enforced lockdown heightened the risk for young girls to be exposed to sexual engagement and abuse. In another refugee settlement the number of girls who reported to be engaged in sexual intercourse increased from 11.5% prior to lockdown to 13.1% during the lockdown.


The UN Rapporteur, Alena Douhan, announced on October 28th that the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe were only exacerbating corruption in the country. Before the announcement protesters marched peacefully outside the US Embassy in the capital city of Harare calling for the country to end sanctions have been in place for two decades. The European Union imposed sanction of late President Robert Mugabe in 2002 for alleged election rigging and human rights abuses. Then in 2003 the United States imposed the same sanctions. President Mnangagwa’s government has been arguing for a long time that if the sanctions were lifted it would significanly help the country recovery economically. Douhan was in Zimbabwe for two weeks and will report all her findings in the full report to the Human Rights Council next year. The Shangaan indigenous group face the threat of massive eviction due to an irrigation place that will run right through their land. The blueprint for the irrigation project will raze 31,975 acres of land with resources such as mopane and baobab trees. If evicted this would leave 12,500 villagers without a home. According to Zimbabwe’s Communal Land Rights Act, communal land is owned by the President of Zimbabwe; he has the power to decide how the land can be used. This allows the President to evict anyone on the land for commercial use and does not require the government to consult people it will affect. The indigenous group has been responsible for conserving the biodiversity in the area. Their methods of sustainable agricultural practices have managed to keep the area healthy and bountiful.