February 10, 2023
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stated that Ukraine will not give up on the beleaguered town of Bakhmut in the country’s east despite Moscow’s soldiers continuing their assault against a town the Ukrainian leader referred to as a “fortress.” At a conference with EU leaders in Kyiv on Friday, Zelenskyy promised that Ukrainian forces would maintain control of the fiercely contested town in the Donetsk region for as long as possible. The town has been at the epicenter of combat for months. At the conclusion of a two-day visit to Kyiv by many high-ranking European Union officials, Zelenskyy made the defiant remarks about the conflict for Bakhmut and called for Ukraine to join the EU eminently.
Protests continued in Israel for the fifth consecutive week, with tens of thousands of people protesting in Tel Aviv, and similar demonstrations taking place in 20 cities across the country. The protests have become a regular aspect of Israeli life on Saturday evenings, with scheduled and unscheduled protests becoming a weekly pattern as Israeli lawmakers consider a law which would limit the judiciary’s authority.
The Taliban administration’s foreign minister met with an envoy for Qatar’s foreign affairs minister after Qatar found the Taliban’s decision to put restrictions on women’s education and NGOs deeply concerning. The two were discussing, “political coordination, the strength of the relationship, and humanitarian aid.” The day after, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders and 14 French media outlets made a joint statement calling on Taliban authorities in Afghanistan to release Mortaza Behboudi, a 28-year-old journalist of French and Afghan citizenship. Behboundi, an award-winning journalist, was arrested in January, being accused of spying. Since there were no further procedures on Behboudi’s case, joint media representatives had decided to make this case public in order to end “this senseless situation”.
On Wednesday, Feb 8th, a Pakistani Taliban insurgent hideout was raided near the Afghanistan border and killed 12 militants. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan’s Taliban announced that its administration will send financial aid of about $165,000 to Syria and Turkey to help them after they have been struck by a devastating earthquake that occurred at the beginning of this week. The Taliban’s decision to send aid, despite being one of the most troubled economies that receives humanitarian aid itself, was based on “shared humanity and Islamic brotherhood”.
On Sunday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei released a decree for amnesty or a reduced prison sentence for thousands of prisoners detained during anti-government protests. The decree is part of the supreme leader’s annual pardoning before the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The deputy judicial chief, Sadeq Rahimi, stated detainees who are eligible for pardons must vow in writing that they regret what they have done; otherwise, they would not be released. This week, Amnesty International released a report that confirm allegations of rape, violence, and “extreme torture” of protesters in detention.
Meanwhile, economic relations between Iran and East Asia have grown since the release of sanctions by Western nations. As Washington escalates pressure on Tehran, the US imposed sanctions on entities accused of having a major role in the production, sale, and shipment of Iranian petrochemicals and petroleum to Asian consumers.
An Iraqi Youtube star, Tiba al-Ali, was strangled by her father in a so-called “honor killing”. The incident has sparked nationwide outrage and protests. Demonstrators, politicians, and human rights groups are demanding justice for Ali and laws against domestic violence. On Sunday, authorities prevented dozens of people from demonstrating outside the country’s Supreme Judicial Council, and they gathered instead at a road leading to the building. Some held placards saying “Stop killing women” and “Tiba’s killer must be held accountable”.
Qatari-Lebanese relations have continued to strengthen in 2023, with the state-owned Qatar Energy replacing a Russian firm in an international consortium searching for natural gas on Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast. Qatar will also be joining a meeting in Paris this February with France, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., focusing on discussions related to Lebanon’s political and economic crises.
Lebanon’s commercial banks closed following a court ruling which forced a large Lebanese bank to pay out two of its depositors in cash after restricting cash withdrawals from accounts due to the country’s continued financial crisis. The Lebanese Banks Association called the move an open-ended strike and will keep ATMs operating for basic services.
The United Nations human rights office’s mandate in Uganda will not be renewed, according to Uganda, which cites the development of its own adequate capacity to monitor rights compliance. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) received a letter from Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs explaining its decision, citing the country’s progress in building domestic capacity to monitor rights. The Ugandan government’s plan to close the nation’s UN human rights office has been denounced as “shameful” by rights advocates and campaigners.
Sudan demanded that the U.N. Security Council lift multiple sanctions that were imposed on the country during violence in Darfur in 2005. Sudan’s U.N. ambassador, Al-Harith Idriss Mohamed, argued in a letter to the council that the conditions in Darfur today have vastly improved since 2005. Mohamed stated that the sanctions, including an arms embargo, deter investors and “encourage the rogue armed transboundary bands to disrupt peace and order in Darfur, owing to the imbalance of hard power.”
Zimbabwe’s Deputy Energy Minister announced on Wednesday that a new unit at the country’s sole coal-fired power plant will begin functioning by March, bringing comfort to the millions of residents who have recently been shaken by regular power outages. The Hwange power plant’s new unit will increase the country of Africa’s installed capacity by more than 14% to 2400 megawatts. Magna Mudyiwa predicted that the following unit would be commissioned shortly after, but did not provide a time frame.
The US Border Patrol said that 114 Haitian migrants arrived in the Florida Keys early on Thursday, making them the most recent sizable group to arrive in the state by boat in recent months from Haiti and Cuba. Chief Patrol Agent Walter N. Slosar tweeted that border patrol and law enforcement came to the scene near Tavernier, south of Key Largo in the island chain, early on Thursday. According to him, emergency personnel were assisting the migrants at the spot.
Elián González, a citizen of Cuba, is preparing to join the communist nation’s parliament after sparking a global custody dispute after he was discovered floating by himself in the Florida Straits in 1999. González, an industrial engineer who is currently 29 years old, is one of 470 local officials who have been proposed for election to the National Assembly of the nation. Elections have not yet occurred; they are scheduled for March 26; however, his nomination is anticipated to pass.
A Nicaraguan judge sentenced four Catholic priests and two Catholic seminarians to ten years in jail for “treason” and “spreading false news,” amid an escalating crackdown on critics of President Daniel Ortega. President Ortega has been accused of targeting and persecuting Catholic Church leaders since national protests in 2018. European bishops responded to arrests, demanding Nicaragua to release detained clergy. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, president of the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Union, stated that European bishops would do “everything in their power” to push EU institutions to assist in the liberation of detainees.
On Thursday, the government announced that 222 prisoners would be released and deported to the United States. The released prisoners have been stripped of their citizenship and deemed traitors. The US will welcome the prisoners and U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, called the release “a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses” in Nicaragua, and the move “opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua”.
On Saturday, the US military shot down an alleged Chinese spy balloon after it crossed sensitive military sites. China insists that the balloon was a civilian aircraft and that the United State’s actions were excessive. China’s Vice Foreign Minister accused the US of indiscriminate use of force on unmanned civilian aircraft. After the incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled a high-stakes Beijing trip. The US Coast Guard to set up a temporary security zone to find and inspect the remnants of the balloon. Biden addressed US-China relations in his State of the Union speech, saying he is “committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world,” but in reference to the balloon incident, “if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country.” The FBI is analyzing the balloon remnants to investigate any connection between the manufacturer and the People’s Liberation Army, and the State Department may take action against Chinese entities related to the incident.
China’s hope to ease tensions with the United States in the following months became disputable as its high-altitude balloon was spotted in US air space this week. After the balloon was shut down, the US said that the balloon had surveillance equipment and thus blamed China for spying. The accusation China faces are based on concerns related to the public Chinese documents that point to its interest in using ballon technology for military purposes. While China tries to defend itself by claiming the ballon is of civilian nature and used for flight tests and meteorological research, the US claims that this was a serious violation of its sovereignty and consequently postponed Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to China. Nevertheless, even after the scandal with the balloon, China’s officials claimed that despite China’s readiness to compete with the US, it is opposed to defining the entire China-US relationship based on competition. Instead, they highlighted that China will defend its interests and work with the US in order to build and promote their bilateral relations that should eventually be set on the track of sound and stable development.
After two years in prison on national security-related charges, dozens of pro-democracy legislators, activists, and legal scholars have been put on trial in Hong Kong for government subversion. The 47 people on trial compose much of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leadership and are expected to be on trial for 90 days for charges that also include secession, collusion with foreign forces, and terrorism accusations that could lead to life imprisonment.
Following the first full opening of border crossings between Hong Kong and mainland China in three years, tens of thousands of people have commuted between the two regions. The opening signals a continued shift in how China is relaxing its COVID travel restrictions and will allow countless Chinese people to reunite with friends and family on both sides of the border.
The Supreme Court of Hong Kong ruled that sex reassignment surgery is not a prerequisite for transgender people to have their gender changed on their official identity forms. The decision was made after two transgender men went to court challenging an existing law allowing trans men to change their official gender only if they have their uteruses and ovaries removed, and have surgically transitioned to having male body parts.
On Tuesday, separatist fighters from the West Papua Liberation Army took a New Zealand pilot hostage after setting fire to the plane. A rebel spokesperson said the five passengers were released since they were indigenous Papuans and that they would continue to hold the pilot hostage until Indonesia recognized Paupa’s colonization and independence. This is part of an increase of attacks since 2018 by the Free Papua Organization (OPM).
Over the past weekend, Myanmar’s Military leadership imposed a new martial law under which high treason and speaking false news will be considered a crime. The new law that expanded its previous scope is enacted in 37 townships in Myanmar and is aimed at the members of anti-coup resistance. It is assumed that this law is a new means through which resistance to rule can be crashed, and there will be no appeals allowed for judgments made by military tribunals, except for death penalty charges. Myanmar Military controlled media published that the actual purpose of this expanded law is „ensuring security, the rule of law and local peace and tranquility.“
Myanmar’s Military led government met with the General Director of the Russian atomic energy corporation Rosatom at the junta’s Nuclear Technology Information center in Yangon. The two parties met to sign the new International Governmental Agreement on nuclear energy use, which is supposed to foster Myanmar’s and Russian cooperation on Myanmar’s nuclear energy structure development. Despite the joint statement issued by both states’ representatives claiming that the planned development of Atomic energy in Myanmar is for peaceful purposes, this will possibly raise concerns about Myanmar’s military wanting to develop a nuclear weapons capability.
Concern rises for two hospitalized Thai activists on hunger strike speaking out in favor of political and judicial reforms. They are among the over 228 Thai charged with Article 112 crimes, or defaming the monarchy, since pro-democracy protests in 2020. Last week, an activist was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the same offense based on his Facebook posts. The opposition party, Move Forward, has called to amend the lese majeste law which typically is used to silence political dissent and has a three to fifteen-year prison sentence per violation.
Amnesty International released a statement against the ‘severe repercussions’ under 18-year-old protesters face and the limitations on the right to peaceful assembly. Students called for systematic reforms, along with LBGTI, Indigenous and ethnic minority voices. In response, Thai authorities used rubber bullets, physical force, surveillance, and intimidation against the protesters. They charged seventeen of these children with violating Article 112. It is the first time pressing Article 112 charges against children.
On Wednesday, a Belarusian court sentenced journalist Andrzej Poczobut, a prominent member of the country’s significant Polish minority, to eight years in prison. The sentence is part of a pattern of autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko’s continuous crackdown on dissidents. Poczobut was found guilty of “endangering Belarus’ national security and inciting strife.” Poczobut, a journalist for the influential Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and a member of Belarus’ Union of Poles, notably reported on the nationwide 2020 protests in Belarus against the allegedly fraudulent election victory for Lukashenko. In response, Poland’s interior minister announced that it will close down a key Poland-Belarus border crossing as strained relations between the countries grow.
A Georgian court rejected former President Mikheil Saakashvili’s appeal to be released from prison on health grounds. Saakashvili, who served as President from 2004 to 2013 and helped lead the Rose Revolution that ended Soviet-era rule in Georgia, was arrested in 2021 on charges of abuse of power. Since going through several hunger strikes, Saakashvili’s health has considerably worsened as has requested to be released multiple times.