What’s happening in Myanmar?
The military of Myanmar overthrew the civilian government Monday, February 1st, arresting civilian leaders, shutting down the internet across large parts of the country, and canceling domestic and international flights. The stock market and many banks have also closed. Myawaddy TV, the military-owned television network, announced in a read statement that Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing would lead the country for one year during a state of emergency. Throngs of migrant workers from Myanmar living in neighboring Thailand protested in front of the Myanmar embassy Monday, many holding pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi and donned in red, the signature color of the National League for Democracy party.
Sources indicate that numerous arrests have taken place, potentially even extending to non-N.L.D. party members. After Myanmar’s slow march to democracy began in 2011, many citizens are concerned that new strife could prove to be detrimental to Myanmar’s sputtering economy, which has already been damaged by the Covid-19 Pandemic.
How did the coup unfold?
The coup d’etat came the morning that Myanmar’s new parliament, elected last November, was about to begin its first session and followed days of concern that the overthrow was imminent. The military maintains its actions are legally justified, citing a section of the constitution that allows the military to take control during times of national emergency. The military has said that the take over was necessary, because the civilian government had not acted upon claims that election fraud was widespread during the November election, and because the government allowed the election to take place amid the ongoing Covid-19 Pandemic. No major violence has been reported, but soldiers have blocked the main roads in the capital Nay Piy Taw, and the largest city, Yangon. The military has also announced that twenty-four deputies and ministers had been removed from their posts, and eleven replacements have been named, including positions in finance, health, the interior, and foreign affairs. A curfew is reportedly in effect from 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM local time.
Sources on the ground in Myanmar indicate that, despite chatter among the government and international actors, the coup d’etat came as a surprise to many ordinary people. According to the Constitution drawn up in 2008, only the President has the power to approve a state of emergency. However, in the early hours of the take over, the military announced that Vice President Myint Swe, a former general, would be elevated to acting President, giving the military the go ahead for declaring a state of emergency.
Why did it happen now?
Monday’s coup d’etat returns Myanmar to military rule after a brief stint of quasi-democracy between 2011 and 2021. Before the military government instituted parliamentary elections and other reforms in 2011, the military had single-handedly controlled the levers of power since 1962. In elections that took place on November 8, 2020, the National League for Democracy (N.L.D.), Myanmar’s leading civilian party, won a resounding victory, garnering approximately 83% of the parliamentary seats. The election was widely seen as a referendum on the popularity of Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the N.L.D. and the de facto leader of Myanmar’s civilian government since 2015. Tensions further intensified in the days before the overthrow, after the military had tried to argue in Myanmar’s Supreme Court that the November election results were fraudulent, and threatened to take action and surround the houses of Parliament with soldiers.
Who is in charge?
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the army chief who is now leading the country, was supposed to age out as army chief this summer. His ascension to Myanmar’s top political leader prolongs his career and cements military rule in the country. Under the former power-sharing agreement, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing retained significant influence in the quasi-civilian government, presiding over two business conglomerates and having the power to appoint cabinet members who oversee the police and border guards. While leading the army, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has overseen campaign’s against several ethnic minorities which reside in Myanmar, including the Rohingya, the Shan, and the Kokang.
The coup d’etat marks a significant fall from grace for Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who came to power as state counselor in 2016. The daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi spent fifteen years under house arrest, which made her an international icon. Since her release from detention, her reputation has been dimmed by her cooperation with the military and her defense of Myanmar’s campaign against the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group. In 2019, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi defended Myanmar at the International Criminal Court against accusations of ethnic cleansing. Her cooperation with the military may have been a pragmatic effort to move Myanmar along the path to democracy, but Monday’s events show that the military’s commitments to democratic values are nil.
How has Myanmar and the world reacted?
While many residents expected armed vehicles and protests in major cities, the situation on the ground in Myanmar has been eerily quiet. The most common reaction from ordinary citizens has been anger at the military for thwarting democratic rule in the country. The response in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, has been similarly subdued, with some supporters of the army waving flags in the streets. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the army’s actions a “serious blow to democratic reforms,” and the United Nations Security Council is preparing for an emergency meeting. The United States also condemned the coup, saying it “opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections.” European Union leaders have issued similar condemnations. China, which has been historically opposed to any outside intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides to “resolve differences.”
In order to better understand the situation, Canvas has contacted an activist on the ground in Myanmar. Even though experiencing a dangerous and unstable situation, the activist was able to provide an insight into the events taking place in the country right now. The following interview is edited for clarity and brevity.
Q: How are you? How do you feel about the events that have been taking place in Myanmar?
A: It’s hard to describe the feeling. People who are not activists do not really know what is happening. I, along with many other people, feel lost. I know of someone who has been arrested who is not even a member of N.L.D. [National League for Democracy]. I don’t support the military or the N.L.D., but I am against the coup because I do not want Myanmar to return to military rule. We are surprised and we are lost and we are suffering.
Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of what has taken place since yesterday based on the information you have been able to access?
A: Everything beforehand was normal, most people did not expect that the coup would take place. The military is facing international pressure because of the genocide against the Rohingya, and no one expected them [the military] to have the authority to launch a coup because of this international pressure. I, along with everyone else, was caught by surprise. The military has talked about seizing more power, but nothing had happened up until now. My understanding is that the N.L.D. leaders are under house arrest. According to the 2008 Constitution, there should be a meeting of the security council first, and then the President can approve a state of emergency. However, the President was detained and the military made the Vice President the new interim President so they could approve the state of emergency.
Q: How are you currently speaking with us? There are reports that telephone and internet connections have been suspended across the country. How are people, including yourself, getting information?
A: It is true that some operators have made it so that you cannot access the internet. I am using one of the two telephone operators that are still working. After 8:00 PM tonight, the internet will be shut off entirely. Citizens in Myanmar already do not have access to many civil liberties, so I am worried that this will prove detrimental to our liberties in the future. I am worried that they will shut off the internet and social media entirely, so that people will not be able to communicate.
Q: What are your biggest concerns right now?
A: I am concerned that life will go back to what it was like after the 1962 coup, or what it was like in 1988. The military already ruled the country for fifty years, the younger generation doesn’t want this because it is bad for the economy and it takes a toll on individuals and their families.
Q: Do you think that the November election was fraudulent? Or do people think this is just an excuse for the military to return to power?
A: It is hard to say. Most activists know that the military already held the power because of the provisions outlined in the Constitution. Most of the public believes that the National League for Democracy holds power in the country, but it is actually the military who is in control. Most people are worried about the economy and what the return to military rule will mean for their families, but they are too afraid to go out into the streets.
Q: A large number of people supposedly voted for the National League for Democracy. Do you expect protests? Who do you think will be at these protests?
A: Most of the NLD leaders have been detained, so it will likely be new faces that will fight for democracy, but it will be difficult for people to accept a new leader. Maybe 100 or 200 people will join a protest, but they will likely be crushed by police.
Q: What do you think are the next steps for the country? What will you do next?
A: Only international pressure will help us. I am going to work with international organizations and the international networks we are in. I will help to pressure the solidarity movement, that is what I am currently doing.
Q: How do you think the Covid-19 Pandemic will affect the response to the coup, if at all?
A: People are not thinking about the Pandemic, only about the coup. I have no reason to believe that protests would be affected.
At this time, the situation on the ground is still unfolding. There have been no reports of major violence, but the situation is fluid. The military has declared a one-year state of emergency, so it is likely the army will retain their hold on power for at least the remainder of 2021.
Activists, such as the one interviewed by CANVAS, have highlighted the importance of international pressure as one of the crucial avenues for future progress towards democracy.
The high levels of fear, regarding the dominance of the military in Myanmar’s politics, will likely dampen any coordinated response by activists on the ground in the short-term.
Regimes that rule through fear are unfortunately common in today’s world, but the people of Myanmar should look to other nations which have experienced military coups to formulate a strategy for the future. Sudan is an example of a state that was able to overcome military rule through political action. Activists there relied on tactics of non-cooperation and an international social media campaign, #BlueForSudan. As a part of the #BlueForSudan campaign, activists changed their Instagram profile pictures to a blue background, memorializing a 26-year-old protestor named Mohamed Hashim Mattar who was killed during crackdowns on the protests in Sudan; his favorite color was blue. Activists in Myanmar could use similar tactics, possibly including the color red as a symbol of the National League for Democracy. The tactic seemed to work, spreading awareness about the violence not only across Sudan, but across the entire world. Celebrities and public figures changed their profile pictures to Mattar’s blue and posted messages about the conditions in Sudan to large audiences. However, because #BlueForSudan lacked specific demands, calling only for solidarity and awareness, it is difficult to assess the actual impact of the movement. Activists in Myanmar could draw inspiration from tactics used by organizers in Sudan, while also learning from their mistakes.
Fear of reprisal for speaking up is one of the main tactics the military has relied on in the past, to squash dissent and cement army control over the levers of power. However, activists have at hand a number of strategies to combat the fear instilled by the military government. Fear is an effective method of control because it relies on peoples’ anxiety about the future and what is to come. Thus, a remedy for counteracting a strategy of fear is a strategy of information. Pro-democracy movements should make their goals clear and identifiable, so that ordinary people understand the things for which activists are campaigning.
Pro-democracy campaigns should be truly grassroots in nature, as the people who witness oppression every day are the ones who know best what needs to be changed. It can also be productive to provide information about the tactics being used by the government, so that people can recognize that the goal of those in power is to terrify them into submission. The imprisonment of the National League for Democracy’s top leaders could be catastrophic for the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar if leaders cannot find a way to communicate with the people, or if no new leaders arise from the chaos. The cultivation of a sense of trust and confidence in the leaders of a pro-democracy movement is essential to the cause. One way to instill this confidence is to place emphasis on preparation; if grassroots leaders are prepared and knowledgeable about the situation they face, then people will place more trust in them and feel more equipped to take on their fears.
Nonetheless, Monday’s coup is a significant step backwards on Myanmar’s journey towards becoming a functioning democracy. Overcoming fear should be the first step on the path to restoring democratic values in the country.
The article has been originally published here .
If you have watched the recent footage from postelection protests in Little Rock or Los Angeles, in Dallas or Detroit, the images are by now familiar. Angry crowds chanting with hatred, huge “Black Lives Matter” signs torn and then burnt in front of an ecstatic mob, violent attacks on people who disagree, police forces under siege or using force to arrest protesters.
This Wednesday, as Congress meets to certify the results of the Electoral College, crowds of alt-right protesters will once again descend on D.C. President Donald Trump, in his ongoing denial of the reality of his election loss, has called for a “wild rally” to take place. Violence is likely.
At the core of this situation is a thorny problem: How best to effectively respond to hate speech, xenophobia, racism, and political extremism? The level of delusion and aggression among “Proud Boys”-style protesters logically triggers a response. In many cases, though, counterprotesters have met the alt-right’s anger with anti-alt-right anger, or even violence. The results have been predictably disastrous.
While it’s completely reasonable to feel angry at these marches and the odious ideas they represent, it isn’t a good political strategy for the simple reason that it doesn’t help advance your goals and may actually strengthen the alt-right. It may be tempting to combat the extremism of the alt-right with righteous anger, and for many, it sounds like a logical response; but our research shows that it is a terrible tactical one. Meeting anger with anger not only increases violence; it tends to diminish support for your movement and distract media coverage so that it centers on the violence rather than the core issues at stake.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, anger, while a useful rallying cry for a political movement, is generally not as effective in achieving a movement’s goals and often backfires during demonstrations. In the case of neo-Nazi and alt-right groups, it is an even worse tactic. As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Tina Rosenberg noted in a 2017 New York Times article on how best to counterprotest Nazis following that year’s deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, alt-right rallies have six core goals: legitimize their views, strengthen their self-image as part of the downtrodden, unite their squabbling factions, attract new people to the movement, control media coverage, and feel powerful and heroic.
In her piece, she explains that aggressively counterprotesting the alt-right is exactly what they want. It allows them to build on the narrative of themselves as victims. In fact, she points out that when antifa protesters angrily respond, it helps alt-right groups accomplish all of the above goals. Since Charlottesville, examples of far-right violence have only been on the rise.
This means that if we want to meaningfully counter the far right, we need to choose a tactic different than anger. In our new study, Pranksters vs. Autocrats: Why Dilemma Actions Advance Democracy, we came up with a surprising answer: The best counter to the aggressive and delusional anger of the right is creative, playful, often humorous counterprotests. Strange as it may seem, there is a lot of evidence that proves that the lighthearted, fun-loving, ironic challenges to Nazis are more effective than anger.
One especially strong example of effective laughtivism is the case of clowns versus Nazis.
Clowns have been a successful way to counterprotest Nazis in a range of nations from Finland to Germany to the United States. In one brilliant example, Sarah Freeman-Woolpert describes a Nazi rally in Whitefish, Montana, where counterprotesters showed up in bright blue wigs with signs that read “Trolls Against Trolls” and “Fascists Fear Fun.” When the Nazi rally fizzled out, the counterprotesters gleefully deemed it a “Sieg Fail.”
Not only were the counterprotesters successful at defusing the energy at the right-wing rally; they defused each of the six core goals of alt-right rallies. They made the Nazis look like idiots and in so doing made anyone wanting to join them seem stupid too.
The reason why clowns work better than angry protesters is because they put the alt-right in a dilemma they can’t win. Either they ignore the clowns and look weak or they attack the clowns and look violent and stupid. Violent clashes between the alt-right and clowns will only backfire for the right and strengthen the left. In contrast, violent clashes where both sides are angry tend to increase polarization and alienate moderate observers.
This doesn’t always require literal clowns. There are a range of creative, playful tactics that are at the disposal of counterprotesters. Feminists have been known to sling used panties at toxic males in Burma, environmental activists have superglued their butts to Parliament in the United Kingdom, democratic activists have silent-clapped at an autocrat’s speech in Belarus, and more. The key is crafting the right dilemma—one that brings to light the internal hypocrisies that define your opponent.
Looking into a range of nonviolent movements in different contexts teaches us that not only is it the case that nonviolence is more effective when you are facing violence and oppression, but that using a strategic approach and dilemma tactics tends to make your opponent’s violence backfire.
For instance, take the recent “involuntary walk-a-thon” organized in response to an annual neo-Nazi march in the German town of Wunsiedel. The organizers used chalk markers to draw lines along the planned parade route marking the starting point, halfway point, and finish line. Then they enlisted local residents and businesses to pledge to donate 10 euros for every meter the white supremacists marched to a group called Exit Deutschland, which is dedicated to helping people leave right-wing extremist groups.
Rather than attempt to block the neo-Nazi marchers, counterprotesters chose the tactic of ironic encouragement. They came out to cheer the marchers on the day of the event, flanking the route with signs that read, “If only the Fuhrer knew!” and “Mein Mamph!” (or “My Munch”) by a table of bananas offered to the walkers. This turned the marchers into involuntary resistors of their own cause and brought the community together in unity to counter the messages of white supremacy.
These examples of creative resistance are especially helpful in the current context. With the extreme right losing its “mainstream ground” in the United States and the majority of European countries after four years of a “populist wave,” and as the topics of race, environment, and gender equality continue to become more central in social debates across the globe, it is likely that alt-right anger and aggression are only going to grow.
If we want to effectively resist the increasingly angry alt-right, progressive activists should consider confronting political divisions by using the examples of creative pranksters. Because the last thing an angry right-wing protester wants to deal with is a counterprotester making fun of them and getting all the attention. In other words: Before you hit the streets to protest the alt-right, leave your anger hanging in your closet and instead pull out your creativity, humor, or even a clown nose.
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers the indictment of 12 Hong Kong protesters, internet crackdowns in Thailand, escalating protests in Kurdistan, and EU sanctions on Belarus.
Two weeks ahead of the official transition period ending, Brexit negotiations between Britain and the EU fail to make a breakthrough. South Korea introduces a ban on flying leaflets to North Korea, despite criticism that the government is prioritising close ties over freedom.
The United States has begun to distribute the first doses of the newly-approved Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers across the country. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization as early as this weekend in the country, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. The first cases of community transmission were recorded in Sydney, Australia this week since December 3rd, authorities sending a public health alert. Local authorities responded by canceling visits to elderly care homes and encouraging increased testing. Brazil announced a coronavirus vaccination rollout plan set to start in early 2021.
The United States
The House of Representatives has yet again passed a stopgap 2-day spending bill to avert a government shutdown. On Sunday night the government must vote on a proposed $900 billion Covid relief package. Meanwhile, the Texas lawsuit filed with the Supreme Court seeking to overturn the election results has been rejected, including by the judges selected by Trump. In other news, the Department of Homeland Security announced findings that extensive Russian hacking campaigns are targeting the government and private companies.
A Shenzhen court indicted all but two of the twelve Hong Kongers who were arrested months ago for attempting an illegal sea crossing to Taiwan. These twelve citizens were the subject of the #Save12HKYouth campaign which gained widespread support after reports that they were “denied access to lawyers and abused while in Chinese custody.” Further opposition figures have been targeted by the legal system this week: Adam Ma was denied bail again while facing charges of secession for multiple counts of chanting independence slogans, and the Bank of China closed the account of one of the twelve Hong Kongers being held in Shenzhen for “administrative reasons.”
The EU Commission approved a 24 million euro assistance package for Belarusian “civil society and independent media, students…youth professionals…small and medium-sized enterprises…[and] health capacities to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” Around the same time, the EU also implemented new sanctions on Belarusians involved in the ongoing crackdown on protesters, which continues to result in hundreds of civilian arrests every week. Meanwhile, the government continues to target human rights watchdogs: the courts added another two months to the pretrial detention of a coordinator for the Vyasna Human Rights Center, and police summoned the chairman of the Belarusian Journalists’ Association for questioning about “causing damage to national security.”
The US President-elect, Joe Biden, is set to begin normalizing US-Cuban relations by lifting certain sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, such as travel restriction and remittances. However, sanctions relating to Cuban Human Rights abuses are set to remain. In other news, dialogue between the San Isidro protesters and the government have fallen through, however, the unprecedented protest staged a few weeks ago continues to have its impact through its size and cross-cleavage support. The Cuban Catholic Church has waded in to call for dialogue while the protesters’ presence is stirring debate in the US surrounding the efficacy of sanctions.
On Saturday, the police arrested 35 members of the opposition MDC Alliance Youth which assembled to launch their 1 million programmes. The Secretary-General of the alliance claims the mass arrests are in aid of the ruling political party, the police claim they arrested the youths for an unsanctioned gathering. Meanwhile, reports claim authorities are evicting families amidst the ongoing health and economic crises, and a UN World Food Program is requesting $204 to assist as food insecurity impacts 4 million Zimbabweans.
Indonesian police have announced the capture of a senior member of the al-Qaeda militant group Jemaah Islamiah on Thursday. The detainee, Zulkarnaen, is one of the alleged masterminds of a series of bombings in Bali in 2002 which are known to have killed more than 202 people. In other news, the country has pledged free COVID-19 vaccines to its citizens, the president first in line to receive the vaccine. Unrelatedly, the country has lifted a ban on the use of seine and trawl nets, which marine conservationists have blamed for coral reef damage and overfishing. Critics of the new policy claim it will only benefit large-scale fisheries and contribute to depleting fish stocks in Indonesian waters.
The use of Uighur forced labour hits headlines as the European Union condemns the government’s use of arbitrary detainment. Meanwhile, software by Alibaba reportedly included facial recognition AI which had an algorithm identifying Uighurs., the company has since removed any ethnic tags. In other news, the US has blacklisted a series of Chinese companies while the US Navy sets out to be ‘more assertive’ against China.
This week, the Diplomat reported on a recent Thai crackdown on the use of the internet as an organizing tool. An important instrument in organizing under repressive governments, activists in Thailand have turned to the internet in the face of severe COVID-19 restrictions that limit activism. In other news, Thailand has relaxed travel restrictions for tourists from 56 countries in order to help stimulate the economy.
Protests driven by economic frustration in the Sulaymaniyah province of Iraqi Kurdistan continue to escalate. Security forces fired tear gas on protesters while the government blocked internet access and prevented journalists from reporting on the demonstrations. Meanwhile in Baghdad, prominent activist Salah al-Iraqi was shot and died before making it to the hospital. The killers of this major figure in the 2019 anti-government protest movement remain unknown.
Iranian and world leaders met virtually this week to discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. US President-Elect Joe Biden has expressed interest in rejoining the deal, following the country’s leaving in 2018 by current president Donald Trump. Iranian President Rouhani claimed the country would return to compliance with the JCPoA within an hour of the United States returning to the deal, given the US lifts the crippling sanctions on the country. However, relations between the two countries remain fraught, as Iran came under fire on Monday for the death of an ex- FBI agent in 2007.
Prominent US political figures, including Senator Rubio, have come forward with an open letter responding to the Ortegas regime recent codification of press censorship. The letter criticises political harassment, restrictions on free speech and civil society, specifically calling for respect of independent media. In other news, a new report by the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress has claimed 31% of Nicaraguan exiles in Costa Rica are accompanied by children in need of psychological support.
After months of talks, Sudan was officially removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism on Monday. Soon after, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund announced that the completion of this key step meant that the two organizations were ready to provide long-awaited financial assistance to Sudan. The country continues to face an influx of refugees from neighboring Ethiopia, prompting Prime Minister Abdalla to visit Ethiopia to discuss the conflict in Tigray and offer to “broker a ceasefire.” The latter offer was rejected. Days later, Abdalla confirmed that an unspecified number of Sudanese soldiers were killed by Ethiopian forces while conducting a security patrol near the border.
Bolivia has approved the first same-sex civil union following a two year battle. While the Bolivian constitution does not recognize same-sex marriages, the couple successfully managed to argue that the denial of a marriage license was a violation of international human rights standards. LGBTQA+ activists hope that this case will be the first in a series of steps to overhaul the country’s marriage laws. At a MAS political event this week, it has been reported on Twitter that a chair was thrown at the head of former president Evo Morales. The party has blamed right-wing instigators for the aggression.
CANVAS is pleased to bring you another weekly report! This week covers new casualties in Iraqi protests, investigations into opposition figures in Hong Kong, new international pressure on Belarus, and more.
Albanians have taken to the streets to protest the killing of a 25-year-old man who violated a curfew intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.Protesters have blocked the streets of Armenia’s capital in an effort to pressure Prime Minister Pashinian to resign, chanting slogans such as “Nikol, traitor!” and “Armenia without Nikol!” The opposition largely steps from dissatisfaction with Pashinian’s ceasefire deal over the contested Nagorno-Karabakh region.French President Macron has responded to weeks-long demonstrations over police violence by stating “there is an ‘urgent need’ to reform the security forces.” He will hold a summit next month to review a draft security law.Over 20,000 Moldovans have joined protests demanding a snap election of Parliament. President-elect Sandu, elected two weeks ago, has echoed these calls.Tens of thousands of Indian farmers have converged on New Delhi with the intent to “camp out for weeks to protest new agricultural laws that they say could destroy their livelihoods.”
The Pfizer vaccine was the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved as the UK began rolling out their vaccination program this week. The vaccines are being given across 70 locations to patients over 80, health workers are expected to be next. In the US, the White House is pressuring the FDA to approve the Pfizer vaccine within the week as cases in the US bring 200 hospitals to full capacity following a Thanksgiving surge. The coronavirus has now taken 1.5 million lives globally. Issues of global inequality are surfacing as rich states buy up the majority of vaccinations, leaving poorer nations with the prospect of only vaccinating 1 in 10 by the end of next year. Vaccine development is still ongoing, as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is trialling combinations with Russia’s Sputnik V for improved efficiency, and Australian vaccine trials are on hold due to false HIV positive readings.
The San Isidro movement remains active following the sit-ins, hunger strikes and arrests of the previous weeks. The government first agreed to meet with the protesters but has since U-turned, now defaming the movement as a US plot. The Cuban government has responded with repressive measures, including arbitrary house arrests, like that of Tania Bruguera. Human Rights Watch claims that Covid-19 restrictions are being misused to repress protesters, including arrests and fines for “spreading an epidemic.”
The United States
Prisoner Brandon Bernard was executed in Indiana Thursday night after a last-minute supreme court appeal was rejected. The execution has prompted new waves of criticism calling to abolish the death penalty in the US, an aim supported by President-elect Joe Biden. The post-election lawsuits continue with a Texas lawsuit claiming election fraud filed with the Supreme Court. Over 100 Republican House members have publicly supported the lawsuit, although figures from both parties have condemned the “baseless’”lawsuit. In other news, the Senate avoided a government shutdown by passing the stopgap funding bill, which allows the government an additional week to agree on COVID-19 relief.
Minister of Economy Marcelo Montenegro discussed the extent of Bolivia’s sharp economic downturn during a televised interview this week. He claimed that the prior presidential administration had “stopped public investment” and “paralyzed employment” amidst the already negative conditions of the COVID-19 outbreak. Separately, the Cuban government announced that it was open to discussions about resuming the deployment of medical brigades to Bolivia, an initiative that was halted due to soured relations between Bolivia’s previous administration and the island.
A Chinese journalist named Zhang Zhan has been in detention since May for reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak and is now on hunger strike, raising concerns about her survival. Human Rights Watch revealed a leaked prisoner list that showed how authorities detain Muslim Uighur’s for ‘being young’ or speaking to siblings abroad. The Chinese authorities allegedly use databases by the Integrated Joint Operations Platform (IJOP) to flag individuals and detain them as ‘predictive policing’. In other news, China has signed a deal with Papua New Guinea for a fishery worth US$200 million. which, given the lack of fish in the area, raises suspicions regarding its proximity to Australia, with which they have a deteriorating relationship.
Several bank accounts associated with the Good Neighbour North District Church, whose volunteers acted as mediators between protesters and police in 2019, have been frozen amidst a money laundering investigation that the church’s leaders have termed an “act of political retaliation.” 36 social welfare organizations have called for the government to release the church’s funds so it can continue to provide services to the homeless population. In a similar move, former opposition lawmaker Ted Hui’s assets have been frozen as the government investigates embezzlement claims against him that Hui fervently denies. Just last week, Hui fled to Copenhagen and declared his intent to resettle in the UK as criminal investigations against him continue back in Hong Kong.
Six alleged supporters of the Islam Defenders Front (FPI) leader Rizieq Shihab were killed in clashes with the police. Authorities say that the incident took place on the highway just outside of Jakarta, where a police car tailing a group of men was attacked. Meanwhile, the acting U.S. Secretary of Defense has met with his counterpart in Indonesia as part of his Asia Tour for promoting open Indo-Pacific policy. Finally, Indonesia received its first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from China this week. In a statement, Indonesia’s Bio Farma said that it has yet to determine the efficiency of the Sinovac vaccine but is expected to release its first report in January.
Opposition MDC Alliance Vice President, Biti, has been released on bail following assault charges and his trial is set for January. Harare’s mayor, Mafume, was released on bail this week following his arrest in November on corruption charges. The MDC Alliance claim the charges are politically motivated, especially as Harare’s previous mayor, Gomba, was arrested and barred from mayoral duties in July. Anti-government journalist and anti-corruption activist Chin’ono continues his legal battles against charges of inciting public violence. Finally, the police have announced a crackdown on ‘cyberbullying’ of officials, stating arrests are ‘imminent’, rights groups call this a crackdown on freedom.
The International Olympic Committee suspended President Lukashenko from all Olympic activities after last month’s investigation into “claims made by local athletes…that they [were] being taken off national teams and excluded from competitions due to their disagreement with the results of the presidential election.” The IOC’s President said that Belarus’ National Olympic Committee, which Lukashenko leads, had not “appropriately protected Belarus athletes from political discrimination” during the past few months of unrest. Russia’s IOC spokesperson expressed disagreement with the decision, as has Lukashenko. Separately, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights demanded that Belarus investigate torture allegations against its security forces and release all unlawfully detained protesters.
At least six protesters have died in the Sulaymaniyah governorate of Iraqi Kurdistan amidst increasingly tense demonstrations over economic woes such as delayed salaries, a lack of public services, and rising unemployment. There have been reports of “angry crowds setting ablaze political parties’ headquarters and local government buildings,” drawing criticism from UN bodies and national leaders alike: President Salih released a statement on Tuesday calling “for an end to ‘corruption, looting, plundering and smuggling’” in Sulaymaniyah. Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court has stopped a probe into “alleged war crimes by British troops in Iraq” after determining that the UK was already taking genuine independent steps to investigate the allegations.
Tensions between the United States and Iran continue to escalate. American military forces are on “high alert” in the Middle East as top security agencies watch “‘troubling indicators of potential attack preparations’ from Iranian militias in Iraq.” The general fear is that Iran could take advantage of the impending tumultuous U.S. presidential transition and current drawdowns of troops in the region to launch an attack on American interests. Additionally, the U.S. added Iran to its list of “violators of religious freedoms” on Monday. Iran, meanwhile, blacklisted the U.S. ambassador to Yemen in response to the U.S. imposing similar sanctions on Iran’s equivalent envoy. Finally, President Rouhani blamed U.S. sanctions for making it difficult for Iran to purchase vaccines and needed medicine to contain its COVID-19 outbreak, the worst in the Middle East.
According to a report by the Permanent Commission on Human Rights of Nicaragua (CPDH), the Nicaraguan police have committed 1,622 human rights abuses this year. The overwhelming majority of complaints were by women, 70% were against the National Police and 70% reported political persecution and threats. The police have responded claiming they are being victimized. In other news, a mine in La Esperanza collapsed, trapping 10 people.
An anonymous U.S. government official has told members of the Sudanese government that Sudan will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism by December 14. Meanwhile, the U.S. removed Sudan from its list of “violators of religious freedoms” following lengthy efforts to restore freedoms lost during former President al-Bashir’s regime. In other news, a spokesman for the transitional government run by Prime Minister Hamdok publicly disapproved of last week’s decree by General al-Burhan to form a new body tasked with overseeing Sudan’s transition to civilian rule, arguing that such a move violates constitutional agreements.
Democracy works because citizens are willing to engage with the government and create grassroots change. In our experience from working in more than 50 countries, building a nonviolent movement in your country is a crucial part of ensuring a successful transition to a democracy or to defend pillars of democracy in the situations where it may be under threat.
Building a movement to defend democracy may sound like “tough work” but here are CANVAS basics in how to do it – and you can learn those basics in less than an hour – meanwhile also having fun by watching amusing animating cartoons.
Subtitles in: Khmer, Arabic, French, Hebrew, Spanish and English
Step 1: Create Your Vision of Tomorrow
Every journey starts with the same step – by building a roadmap to decide where it is that you want to go. The first step in launching a successful movement for change is answering a single question: “How would society be different if we win?” Remember that your Vision should work not only for you or your friends but also cater to a larger spectrum of constituencies you want to mobilize and recruit for your movement!
Step 2: Build Unity
After you’ve cultivated a Vision of Tomorrow, it is important to use it to unite the different groups that you seek to mobilize. Building unity within the movement is vital to ensuring that those who oppose your movement cannot utilize a “divide and conquer” strategy. Learn how to foster a sense of community and cultivate group identity to ensure that your nonviolent movement can become a force to be reckoned with in this video!
Step 3: Understanding Power in Society and Pillars of Support
In order to create political and social change in a society, you must understand how to gain power and authority. Change is achieved by swaying institutions and organizations that we call “pillars of support.” These are organizations that are currently supporting the “status quo,” but can be swayed through societal pressure into becoming vehicles for change. Remember: no matter how “hopeless” a situation may seem, people can always learn how to wield social pressure to meet their goals – and change a society.
Step 4: Fight Fear and Apathy by Breaking its Core Engine
Two factors fuel the maintenance of the status quo: apathy of the population and the weaponization of fear in authoritarian environments. In both cases, there are large reasons why people obey – and learning how to break these obedience patterns can turn a large number of your fellow citizens into brave and committed activists.
Step 5: Plan your strategy and tactics
There are only two types of movements in history: those that are “spontaneous” – and those that are successful. Success means that you need plan, plan, and plan on various strategic and tactical points of your activities. So get serious and start planning how to address the right pillars in the right order to create effective nonviolent action.
Step 6: Communicate Effectively and Defeat Your Opponent’s Propaganda
Successful movements know how to communicate their messages to both people who they aim to turn into supporters and people who are supporting their opponent. Successful movements also know that once they start becoming successful their opponents will use propaganda against them. Learning how to communicate clearly and discredit your opponent’s propaganda is a “make-or-break” principle of nonviolent movement.
Step 7: Make Your Movement Cool, Witty and Funny
Humor and political satire are at the core of successful social change movements. Not only can you make creativity and humor part of your movement’s identity, but you can also use it to force your opponent into looking stupid or weak. Remember: you want your movement to be cool. Everybody wants to hang around cool people and cool activities.
Step 8: Understand and Use Social Media
In this day and age, new media has become vital for any activists seeking to grow their movement. Learn about how you can use new media for the benefit of your movement, as well as the potential negatives and dangers of its use.
Step 9: Prepare for Oppression – and Make It Backfire
Not all the societies in the world are made democratic. If you are fighting for democracy from within an autocracy, get prepared for your opponents to act oppressively. Successful movements know not only how to defeat fear and oppression, but also how to turn their opponents’ use of oppression against them. Learning to make oppression backfire makes you a jiu-jitsu master of social change.
Step 10: Always Finish What You Start
From the Arab Spring to human rights and anti-corruption campaigns, history is full of examples where movements successful initiated change – but haven’t been able to turn it into a long-lasting new normal. Your vision becomes reality only if your change becomes part of the institutions and culture. So it’s not only about winning – it’s also about how to facilitate transition after that victory.
Srdja Popovic uses stories about activists in Serbia, the US and Syria to illustrate the power of laughtivism: using humour in nonviolent action and activism.
Bringing Down a Dictator:This film by Steve York presents the story of OTPOR!, the movement that, through nonviolent action and protest, brought down Serbia’s dictator, Slobodan Milosevic. Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of OTPOR, founded CANVAS.