CANVAS Weekly Update – March 10th, 2023


March 10, 2023

Dear Friends,

CANVAS is delighted to bring you another issue of our weekly report!

Conflict Update:

At least nine people have been killed and power at Europe’s largest nuclear plant has been lost after Russia launched airstrikes across Ukraine. The attacks hit cities all across the countryincluding Kharkiv, Odesa, Zhytomyr, and Kyiv, damaging buildings and infrastructure and inciting blackouts. After another blackout at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog has appealed for a protection zone around the plant.

Protesters have taken to the streets of Israeli cities for the ninth straight week to reject a government plan to overhaul the country’s court system. Joining them, fighter pilots in an elite Israeli Air Force squadron have vowed not to attend training, in an unprecedented protest against the government. Demonstrators launched a “day of resistance to dictatorship” and blocked main roads around Ben Gurion International Airport delaying a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. More demonstrations are planned with roads expected to be blocked and authorities warning of possible disruptions at the airport.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Greece and workers went on strike in the biggest show of public anger over the country’s deadliest train disaster that killed 57 people last week. In the largest street protests the government has faced since being elected in 2019, police estimated more than 60,000 people, among them transport workers, students, and teachers, took part in demonstrations in cities across Greece. Demonstrators marching to parliament in the center of the capital waved signs reading, “It’s not an accident, it’s a crime” and “It could have been any of us on that train”. Others chanted “Murderers!” and “We are all in the same carriage.

France’s nationwide strike against a plan to raise the pension age to 64, which disrupted train services, air traffic, shut schools, and halted fuel deliveries, has escalated as unions seek to force a government retreat on the deeply unpopular policy. Around 1.28 million people took to the streets on Tuesday in demonstrations across the country, making turnout for the protest day, the sixth against the reform this year, the highest so far. Notably, students and young people, including some who have not entered the job market, have joined the protests, shedding light on their anxiety over future economic prospects.



On Wednesday, during International Women’s Day, the head of the UN mission in Kabul stated that “Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights.” Despite the Taliban’s initial promise in 2021 to have a moderate stance on women’s rights, the Taliban has put strict bans on women’s education and NGO work.

On Thursday, the Taliban governor of the northern Balkh province, Muhammad Daud Muzamil, was killed in an explosion at his office. The blast was reported to be a result of a suicide bomber. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attack. However, The Islamic State group has been a key rival of the Taliban, and Muzamil is reported to have led the fight against IS militants in his previous posting.



Massive poisonings in girls’ schools in Iran have developed significantly since the end of the last week. President Raisi has blamed the poisonings on Iran’s enemies who are aiming to cause fear among the students and their parents, and he indirectly implied the US and Israel were responsible for these incidents. Iranian officials were criticized for their response to poisoning attacks in articles and protests in front of the Ministry of Education. Protests transcended to other cities, where there was a considerable number of teachers who participated. Authorities claimed that perpetrators should face the harshest punishments, and responded to the criticisms by arresting some protesters and journalists and announcing that the first suspects for the school poisonings have been arrested.

On International Women’s day, Iran’s government received a new set of sanctions imposed by the United States that are aimed at the state’s army, officials, firms, and all individuals who violate women’s rights. Meanwhile, in a joint campaign with Afghan women, prominent Iranian women are calling for the recognition of gender apartheid, which would recognize discrimination against women as a crime under international law.



Iraqi Prime Minister Al Sudani met with the Egyptian President in Cairo to hold talks about security ties, and economic and trade cooperation that would deepen ties and reinforce a regional alliance with Jordan. On Tuesday, Iraq welcomed the German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who accused Iran of brutally suppressing its own people while putting the whole region at risk by its missile attacks across the Iraqi border.

Considering that Iraq is no longer an enemy and is becoming a security partner of the US in defeating ISIS and preventing terrorist activity, the US Senate considers repealing two of the authorizations for past wars in Iraq. This comes a day after the Pentagon chief paid an unannounced visit to Baghdad, where he announced that the US will maintain its military in Iraq for the purpose of fighting ISIL (ISIS).

Christian politicians and members of the Iraqi parliament are working to remove a law that forbids the import and sale of alcohol. Customs agents received orders to enact the prohibition, which was passed last month despite opposition. A complaint was launched by the group alleging that it was undemocratic.



Lebanon’s financial crisis has continued to worsen this week, as the country’s banking association stated that Lebanon’s commercial banks do not have enough liquidity to pay back depositors. Due to the depreciation value of the Lebanese pound at a 98% loss, businesses have begun to demand payment in US dollars, a more reliable currency. This dollarization is meant to ease inflation during slow economic reforms. However, issues arise as there are few people in Lebanon with access to US dollars. Meanwhile, 38 countries condemned Lebanese lawmakers’ interference in the investigation of the 2020 Beirut blast, at the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.

Human Rights Watch has said in a newly released report that Lebanese authorities have failed to uphold the right to electricity by mismanaging the sector for decades. Many middle and working-class families are forced to spend most of their income on electricity bills, and many go without it for almost half the day. HRW said that the situation threatens to deepen poverty in the country, and that electricity must be seen as a protected right required for an adequate standard of living.



Last week marked 20 years of conflict in the Darfur region. The UN responded by renewing the arms embargo and sanctions on individuals in Sudan, but both Russia and China abstained. Last month, Sudan demanded they be lifted immediately, but the Security Council refused based on the lack of the government implementing a civilian protection plan or transitional security agreement in Darfur.

Monday, a court acquitted eight activists who were among the two dozen arrested at a pro-democracy protest last year for the killing of an intelligence agent. The protesters were members of Resistance Committees who have been active since 2019.



The Ugandan parliament debated a bill that would criminalize identifying as LGBTQ and threatens them with 10 years in jail. The anti-LGBTQ sentiment is deeply ingrained in the highly religious country. Currently, same-sex relations in Uganda are punishable by up to life in prison, but lawmakers say the current law is not severe enough. According to Human Rights Watch, More than 30 African countries ban same-sex relations, but Uganda’s law, if passed, would appear to be the first to criminalize merely identifying as LGBTQ.



Last month the government announced a plan to speed up the land rights reconciliation policy for former white farmers. These lands primarily grow tobacco and are a staple of the economy but a male-dominated space. Wednesday, an article for international women’s day addressed the prevalence of gender-based violence in surrounding settlements. Zimbabwe’s tobacco production is expected to rise 8.5% year-on-year to 230 million kg in 2023 following good rains and as more farmers planted the crop.



Bolivia’s government is trying to quell worries among citizens and businesses about a shortage of dollars in the country, which has caused long lines outside banks, rattled local bonds, and increased the price of greenbacks in informal markets. Global inflation, falling gas exports, and government spending to prop up the economy, have led some currency exchanges to run out of dollars, sparking panic and exacerbating concern.



Cuba’s president met with Russian oil firm Rosneft’s CEO Igor Sechin, where he addressed the acute fuel shortage, and spoke with Sechin about mutual collaboration with a focus on the energy sector. The further details of this meeting remain unknown.

Focusing on possible economic relief, overall Cuba’s tobacco infrastructure seems to recoverafter facing a devastating hurricane that destroyed 80% of the tobacco plants six months ago. Farmers are optimistic that, despite the fact they will plant less than in the previous seasons, there is the ability to harvest the leaves for premium cigars.


On Monday, the largest business association in Nicaragua was shut down by government officials. The Superior Council of Private Business (COSEP), a former supporter of Ortega, has recently become a target of the administration during crackdowns on dissent since the 2018 anti-government protests. In resolutions that were blamed on bureaucratic inefficiencies, the government removed COSEP’s legal standing.


The United States:

A judge in Atlanta, Georgia, has ordered 22 people charged with “domestic terrorism” to be held without bail amid ongoing protests against a proposed police training facility, dubbed “Cop City”. The charges come as protesters hold a “week of action” against the planned facility. The site has become the flashpoint of the ongoing conflict between authorities and protesters and spurred a nationwide debate over free speech, protest, and punishment.

Five women denied abortions in Texas, along with two doctors, have sued the state after they were refused abortion care despite experiencing complications with their pregnancies. Doctors are refusing the procedure even in extreme cases out of fear of prosecution. Texas bars abortions except for medical emergencies, with doctors facing a punishment of up to 99 years in jail.

The U.S. Senate voted to overturn changes to Washington DC’s laws that lowered penalties for some crimes. The 81-to-14 vote marks the fourth time that Congress has overturned a lawpassed by DC. The measure has already passed the House of Representatives, and President Biden is expected to sign it.



The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) announced that China is highly likely to become “the world’s top technology superpower”, overtaking the West. However, the Netherlands joined the US in blocking Chinese access to processor chips due to security and human rights reasons. China opposed this decision by claiming the Netherlands is preventing their right to technological development.

At an annual meeting of China’s parliament, Chinese officials addressed the issue of Taiwan while pledging “peaceful reunification” that would prevent Taiwan’s independence, without mentioning military action. Taipei responded by saying, “Beijing should respect Taiwanese people’s commitment to democracy and freedom.” Nevertheless, evidence surfaced that China is scrutinizing US weapons and technology in Ukraine to estimate the force used in possible future conflicts, most likely over Taiwan.

This week China kept on recalling peaceful, calm, rational, and thoughtful actions that would lead to a practical approach to resolving the Russian-Ukraine war. The United States and its Western allies were represented as the greatest obstacles to war resolution, as they are creating turbulent circumstances in the international arena, due to which China must advance its relations with Russia.


Hong Kong:

On Thursday, former union leader Elizabeth Tang was detained by Hong Kong police after she visited her husband in prison, a pro-democracy activist. Tang was the former CEO of the now-disbanded Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions and the General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation (CTU). Tang was detained by the city’s national security police for allegedly “colluding with foreign forces” and “endangering national security”.



President Joko Widodo said that the government will relocate residents living near a fuel-storage fire that killed more than 19 people or move the depot to a safer location. Days later, a landslide killed more than 30 people. Authorities have deployed nearly 700 rescuers to search for 24 people still missing.

A district court ordered the national poll body to halt all election preparations due to a complaint. Widodo responded saying he supports the commission in its appeal against a court ruling that calls for the 2024 elections to be delayed. The decision has reignited a debateabout extending the president’s terms.

A football club organizer and security officer have been jailed over the Indonesia stadium crush last October which killed 135 people. The organizing committee chairman of the hosting club was found guilty of negligence causing loss of life and has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. The club’s security officer was sentenced to one year in prison.



Last week, martial law was extended by the military junta as the conflict begins its third year since their takeover. Soldiers continue committing human rights abuses, including raping, dismembering, and beheading civilians. 17 bodies were found in two raided villages this week. The UN continues to call for an end to the violence by the military, including the unjustifiable actions of “indiscriminate air strikes, mass burnings of villages to displace civilian populations, and denial of humanitarian access.’’ In the most recent UN report Myanmar’s condition was called a “perpetual human rights crisis,” and lacks dialogue.

Military defections have slowed, according to the co-founder of defector collective People’s Embrace (PE), “most of the roughly 3,000 soldiers and 7,000 police officers who deserted the military did so in 2021.” In part, this is because of pay, fear of relation for defecting, or public assassination for military ties and indoctrination.

Monday, in neighboring Bangladesh, the housing of an estimated 12,000 people, most of whom escaped violence in Myanmar, was burned to the ground in a fire. There is little international hope to see a quick decline in the conflict or discrimination against the Rohingya.



Since pro-democracy protests led by students occurred in 2020, more than 230 people have been charged with the lese-majeste, defamation of the monarchy, law. Wednesday, 26-year-old Narathorn Chotmankongsin became one of them, sentenced to two years in prison for mocking the king. He was guilty of producing and selling satirical calendars on Facebook featuring a rubber duck. The duck is symbolic of the pro-democracy movement after giant inflatable rubber ducks were used in 2020 protests to deflect water cannon blasts. Human Rights Watch continues to speak against restrictions on freedom of expression within Thailand and trial procedures with calls for the immediate release of Chotmankongsin. Meanwhile, other young Thais wait in pretrial detention for similar crimes of defamation or sedition.



A Belarussian Court sentenced exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiring to overthrow the government. Tsikhanouskaya rejected the court’s findings and took the opportunity to shed light on “thousands of innocents” jailed in Belarus for expressing their political beliefs. The decision comes days after a court in Belarus sentenced Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski to 10 years in prison for smuggling and financing “actions grossly violating public order”. The sentences demonstrate a continued effort to restrict democratic freedoms in Belarus.

President Alexander Lukashenko said that an alleged “terrorist” and more than 20 accomplices were detained for an attack on a Russian warplane near Minsk. A Belarusian anti-government activist group took responsibility for the attack last month, a claim disputed by Moscow and Minsk. Lukashenko’s statement is the first acknowledgment of the attack since it occurred weeks ago.



The steps of Georgia’s parliament filled with thousands of protesters this week in response to the proceeding foreign agent law. This Russian-style bill would require non-government and media organizations to be declared as foreign agents if they receive more than 20% of their funds from abroad. Over the past month, it has received international condemnation, as the bill would restrict the freedom of the press and civil society. It prompted a physical brawl between PMs on Monday when it advanced. Tuesday, the protests escalated, and police detained at least 66 people. The protesters were pushed back with teargas, pepper spray, and water cannons, with some reported injuries. The bill signals a rise in authoritarianism in Georgia and threatens the country’s EU application which the overwhelming majority of the population supports.

Wednesday, opposition leaders called for demonstrators to prevent the return of parliament members to the building until the bill is withdrawn. Thursday morning, Georgia’s ruling party, the Georgian Dream, said they would withdraw the bill citing, “the need to reduce confrontation in society.” Opposition leaders responded by saying that a rally was still planned for Thursday night to continue to place pressure on the parliament to provide less vague statements and pursue policies that align with the EU. Protest resumed at 7 pm that night, calling for the release of detainees and for the government to formally denounce the bill.