February 17, 2023
CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!
Following a devastating earthquake that has killed more than 36,000 people, the Syrian government has allowed for two new crossings for aid from Turkey to the rebel-held Idlib province of northwest Syria. The increased aid not only comes after the earthquake, but a brutal siege of Idlib that has left many people dead or without homes. As the earthquake has further limited access to vital healthcare and a lack of reliable infrastructure has led to a cholera outbreak, the aid could be a genuine lifeline for those living in Idlib.
According to Kyiv, Russia attacked Ukraine’s largest oil refinery on Thursday and rained missiles throughout the country as the leader of the Wagner mercenary group declared Bakhmut, which has been under siege for years, would fall within a few months. Russia launched 36 missiles early on, according to the Ukrainian Air Force, following a meeting of NATO alliance leaders the day before to plan more support for Kyiv, continuing a pattern of heavy bombardments after Ukrainian victories on the battlefield or in international relations. About 16 were shot down, it added, a lower rate than normal.
Since the Taliban seized power in 2021, the government has faced international criticism for violations of women’s rights in an order to ban women from work and all educational institutes. Notably, China and Iran, both countries that face criticism for human rights and women’s rights abuses, have urged the Taliban government to end the bans on women’s work and education.
Recently, a speech made by the Taliban’s interior minister for the first time implied there are divisions between the government and the Supreme Leader Haibatullah Akhundzada. Minister Haqqani stated that “power monopolization and defamation of the entire system have become common” and “the situation cannot be tolerated any longer,” he added. The speech did not name the Supreme Leader directly, but many believe this is a public show of division among the Taliban factions. The Kabul government’s chief spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said in an apparent response to Haqqani’s statements, without identifying him, that criticism is better expressed privately. “If someone criticizes the emir, minister, or any other official, it is better — and Islamic ethics also say — that he should express his criticism directly and secretly to him,” not in public, Mujahed stated.
On the ceremony on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the 1979 Iranian revolution that was held last weekend, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi claimed that the enemies, by which he meant the West, are responsible for sparking unrest in the country and in the region. Recalling the protest that had started in September 2022, Raisi said that the West and its allies projected chaos in Iran because they failed to stop its progress accusing them, and especially the United States for wanting to “take away independence and the tranquil life of the Iranian nation.”
On Monday Iranian President arrived in Beijing with his team for a three-day visit to China for the purpose of expanding bilateral and economic ties by signing new agreements. The main goal of this visit is to “finalize operational mechanisms” of the 25-year plan Iran signed with China in 2021. During the visit, Iranian and Chinese officials released a joint statement in which they urged Afghanistan rulers to “form an inclusive government” for women and other vulnerable groups. This news came at the same time BBC published that female journalists continue to be arrested during the protests in Iran.
Meanwhile, American defense officials publicly claimed to be certain Iran is supplying drones for Russia’s actions against Ukraine, providing photos and analysis of aircraft to point to the Teheran’s involvement. While Iran denies it sent any more drones to Russia after February last year and that the drones were used for deadly attacks, the US Defense Intelligence Agency analysts claim Iran is emerging into a global leader in the production of both cheap and effective drones.
In Iraq, concerns had been raised about the realization of Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani’s agenda to end corruption and poverty, reform the economy, and improve public services. Strained relations between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdish Democratic Party, which takes 31% of seats in the Iraqi parliament, will make it difficult for Sudani to advance his agenda. The KDP supported Sudani’s government appointment but asked that Sudani should fix the disputes regarding economic and oil issues between Baghdad and Erbil – the capital of the semi-autonomous region in Iraq in return. Currently, it is unclear where such a situation will lead.
Shiite worshipers in Iraq gathered and walked across the country on Thursday to make the pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim. Some of the pilgrims explained that taking part in this annual procession is essential for identity in the midst of problems Iraq is facing, from corruption to the increase in the price of food. Three Iraqi troops were killed by a suspected Islamic State militant who detonated an explosive vest. Iraqi intelligence raided the IS cell after receiving information that the militant group was planning to target Shiite Muslims during the annual pilgrimage.
The financial crisis in Lebanon has worsened in the last week as the country continues to face extremely high inflation, a currency devalued by more than 90%. Last Friday, Lebanon’s current long-time central bank chief, Riad Salameh, announced that he would not seek a new term in office after thirty years as the head of Banque du Liban. Salameh, accused of money laundering and embezzlement, will end his tenure this July.
The World Bank has expressed concern over Lebanon’s high public debt. Word Bank vice president of the Middle East and North Africa, Ferid Belhaj, said that the “people are feeling the brunt of the almost-collapse of the financial sector.” On Thursday, dozens of protesters attacked banks in Beirut during roadblocks to protest against restrictions on cash withdrawals and worsening economic conditions that the government has struggled to address.
A day after images of a victim with obvious signs of torture on his chest surfaced, Uganda’s military denied charges that it kidnapped and tortured an opposition activist. A military official denied Eric Mwesigwa’s claims that security officers tortured him in a statement saying that the man “was not in the hands of any security agency.” Mwesigwa, a supporter of the opposition figure known as Bobi Wine, said earlier this week that hot metal objects were placed on his body, leaving two raw wounds on his chest.
Two legislators allied to Uganda’s pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine, the main opponent to President Yoweri Museveni, were granted bail on Monday after spending 17 months in jail on murder charges the opposition says are politically motivated. Both legislators, Muhammad Ssegirinya and Allan Ssewanyana, are members of the oppositionNational Unity Platform (NUP) led by Wine, who was the main challenger to Museveni in the last election in 2021.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Sudanese leaders to discuss economic, diplomatic, and infrastructure coordination between the two countries. Following the meeting, the Sudanese military finished reviewing a deal that would construct a Russian naval base on Sudan’s Red Sea coastline, and stated that it was waiting for the formation of a civilian government that would then ratify the military deal. The base agreement would allow for the construction of a naval base staffed by 300 Russians, coupled with a ten-year extension of Russian arms imports into Sudan.
Three Sudanese men who were convicted of stealing gas cylinders in the Sudanese city of Omdurman have been sentenced to hand amputation, a verdict that has not been handed down in the country for nearly a decade. Many human rights organizations, including the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, condemned authorities for not giving the men adequate legal representation and condemned the violent verdict.
Zimbabwean Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube announced that Zimbabwe’s creditors will meet next in an attempt to clear more than $6 billion of the country’s debt. The meeting will feature approximately 17 countries from the creditor Paris Club, as well as the World Bank, African Development Bank, and European Investment Bank. Zimbabwe’s hyperinflation and $14 billion in total debt has made global creditors wary of giving the government new loans, and the meeting is hoped to spur new solutions to alleviate the country of its debt.
Over the last weekend, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Mexico where he received Mexico’s highest medal, being awarded the “Order of the Aztec Eagle” – recognition of the highest honor for foreigners. Mexico’s president, who decided on awarding the Díaz-Canel president with this medal, praised Cuba for sending doctors to serve in the most dangerous and remote areas of Mexico.
On Monday, it was reported that internet services have become too slow and now affects residents work and pleasure. The increase of new internet users in 2022 has slowed down internet speeds and made it near impossible for people to access online platforms.
Spain has offered citizenship to the 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners that lost Nicaraguan citizenship after being freed and sent to the United States on humanitarian visas. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada last Friday to discuss the incoming prisoners. The US criticized the Nicaraguan government for sentencing Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez to 26 years in prison after he refused to leave and join the other exiled political prisoners. Human rights violations escalated on Thursday after 94 political opponents were stripped of their citizenship. Most of the writers, activists, and journalists on the list have fled Nicaragua and have been declared “fugitives, but the repercussions for those still in the country are unknown.
At Michigan State University on Monday night, a shooter opened fire, leaving three people dead and five more injured. After an hours-long manhunt that drove terrified students to shelter in the dark, the shooter then shot himself dead miles away. Authorities said the gunman had a history of mental illness and carried a note in his pocket indicating a threat to two New Jersey schools.
The former governor of South Carolina and ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared her candidacy for president on Tuesday, making her the first significant contender to President Donald Trump for the Republican nomination in 2024. In her announcement video posted on Twitter, Haley stated, “it’s time for a new generation of leadership,” hinting at her competitor’s age, 76. She stressed that she was the first female governor of South Carolina and the daughter of Indian immigrants. Haley said she will engage in social and cultural debates that the GOP has fueled, such as those centered on racial issues and “wokeism.”
At the very beginning of this week, China has been accused of making a violation of Philippine sovereign rights on February 6, by shining a military-grade laser light twice on the Philippines’ coast and blinding the Filipino coast guard crew, forcing them to retreat. According to Philippine authorities, the incident that occurred in the disputed area of the South China Sea was followed by dangerous maneuvers that a Chinese ship made 137m from the Filipino ship’s starboard side. This news was found disturbing and disappointing, especially after the Chinese visit to Manila where the purpose was to implement an agreement on how they are going to manage maritime differences at sea.
On Tuesday, February 14th Xi Ji Ping welcomed the Iranian president for signing 20 cooperation agreements as a part of their 25-year strategy for development in the oil industry, tourism, and trade. Xi expressed his support for Iran in safeguarding national sovereignty, and criticized the US, calling for Iran sanctions to be lifted. Later, China responded to the US military’s examination of balloon debris, claiming that U.S. balloons flew illegally over the world and entered China’s airspaces, among other relevant countries, at least ten times since May 2022. On Wednesday, China said that the US flew balloons over Tibet and Xinjiang, and that it will take countermeasures.
Within China’s borders, retired citizens of Wuhan and Dalian engaged in protests against cuts in medical benefits, demanding to get their health insurance money back.
Hong Kong’s administration announced Thursday that the territory’s population fell for the third year in a row as pandemic deaths increased and anti-virus measures cut the number of arriving employees but did not mention an exodus of people prompted by a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement. The population decline has been exacerbated by the number of young people fleeing the territory in response to the implementation of harsh National Security laws and the repression of dissidents. Since the pandemic, Hong Kong has also faced issues with poverty and homelessness as the wealth gap increases. The Social Welfare Department reported that there were 1500 people registered as “street sleepers” in 2021 and 2022.
On Thursday, after a rule modified during heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing, the US consul general no longer needs to obtain China’s approval before meeting officials in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong. The regulation change would make it simpler for the consul general to hold direct exchanges with Hong Kong officials.
Last week a New Zealand pilot was taken hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB). This Wednesday the separatist group published images showing him in good health while reaffirming they would not release him until Indonesia recognized the region’s independence. On Thursday, an Indonesian military commander said a military operation was being prepared in case negotiations fail with approval from New Zealand’s embassy. Meanwhile, in a military court, four Indonesian soldiers were sentenced to prison for the killing and bodily mutilation of four Papuans last year in a failed arms-buying deal.
Monday, in a high-profile case, former two-star general Ferdy Sambo was sentenced with the death penalty for the killing of his aide-de-camp Nofriansyah Yosua Hutabarat. His wife, Putri Candrawathi, charged alongside three others, received a 20-year sentence for premeditated murder. This case captured public attention in an usual demonstration of accountability against the police force. Distrust of the police has been prominent since October of last year when 135 people were killed at a football game where police indiscriminately used tear gas against children. Three officers currently stand trial for that event.
The U.S. oil corporation Chevron Corp agreed to sell its Myanmar assets to the Canadian company MTI after condemning the country’s military for its human rights abuses, abandoning its financial stake in Myanmar’s offshore Yadana gas fields.
Myanmar’s military plans on allowing civilians who are “loyal to the state” to apply for firearms licenses. Experts worry that the law, which authorizes licenses for Myanmar citizens over the age of 18 who are “loyal to the nation” and “of good moral character,” could further escalate pro-junta violence in a country already rife with repression. Recipients of the licenses must also comply when ordered by authorities to take part in “security, law enforcement, and stability,” as well as “crime prevention measures.”
Thai activists speak out against haircutting as a shameful discipline measure in schools. After student protests last month, the Ministry of Education removed haircut regulations but activists are calling for it to be enforced at a school level. Wednesday, a teacher was accused of cutting over 100 students’ hair which renewed calls to change regulations.
Tuesday, the Thai government voted to postpone enforcing articles of the Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance. Human Rights Watch responded on Thursday, calling for a reversal saying, “torture and other ill-treatment in police custody have long been a problem in Thailand.” Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of police and military personnel torturing ethnic Malay Muslims. Meanwhile, visiting Malaysian Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, committed to renewing efforts with the Thai government in negotiating between the Muslim separatist insurgency in the South. Violence between the separatists and the state has been intermittent since 2004.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto visited Belarus to keep “channels of communication open” and represent Hungary’s interests in ending the war in Ukraine. On social media, Szijjarto stated that “many will attack me for this visit, but our stance is clear: channels of communication must be kept open… If we had not done this, I would not be able to convey the message of a call for peace.”
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced that he would only order his military to fight alongside Russia if another country launches an attack against Belarus. Lukashenko also said he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.
Raman Pratasevich, the journalist who ran the anti-Lukashenko messaging app channel Nexta, was put on trial after two years of imprisonment. Pratasevich was arrested by Belarusian security forces after his plane from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk due to a falsely reported bomb threat. The grounding of the plane and his subsequent arrest is the cause behind several international sanctions levied against the Belarusian government.
As the flow of Ukrainians into Georgia continues, the WHO and other international groups launched a project to improve service access for refugees with disabilities who face barriers to healthcare. Meanwhile, the health of former President Mikheil Saakashvili is under renewed scrutiny after appearing in a video court hearing on Wednesday. Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year sentence after being convicted of abuse of power in 2021, is seeking release or deferral due to his health. The European Parliament voted on a resolution saying his treatment “poses a threat to Georgia’s ambitions to join the European Union” and demonstrates a lack of commitment to European values. Georgia’s population has strongly supported joining the EU, but it has not been granted membership after its March 2022 application.