Weekly Report: May 4 2018

Photo: Demonstrators protest against the construction of a government housing project on the forested land around Doi Suthep mountain. Watcharapong Jingkaujai/AFP/Getty Images.


Following the primaries held on Sunday and Monday, ruling party ZANU-PF lost several major nominations. The elections faced irregularities and disorganization that resulted in delayed or annulled results in some parts of the country. President Mnangagwa has acknowledged complaints that police had been present in organizing the voting process, and he said that the practice is illegal. In a letter, the president’s special advisor Christopher Mutsvangwa, has claimed the elections had been rigged by senior party officials with the use of the Zimbabwe Republic Police.

In other news, Nelson Chamisa, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said that Chinese investors are stripping the country of its resources and that, should he win the July elections, any deals will be terminated. China is Zimbabwe’s largest source of investment and its fourth largest trading partner. Chamisa took over as a leader of MDC after deceased Morgan Tsvangirai in February this year.

Zimbabwe is now the second African country after Lesotho to have legalized the production of marijuana for medical and scientific use.

North & South Korea

The nations have together decided to compete as one team at the World Team Table Tennis Championships. Both countries had qualified and planned to play independently in the quarterfinal round, where they were matched against each other. On Thursday, however, they announced that they would both skip the quarterfinals and advance directly to the semifinal round together as one unified team. Earlier this week, there were some other symbolic steps taken toward unity, including the coordination of the countries’ time zones and the dismantling of the propaganda loudspeakers that line the DMZ.

In more pragmatic news, the deliberations over denuclearization have led to varying ideas about conditions. South Korea has recently announced that it plans to continue the presence of the approximately 29,000 US troops stationed there. The announcement is significant especially because North Korea has explicitly stated the troop removal as a condition of its cooperation. US president Trump, despite the South Korean announcement, is reportedly preparing various plans for the troop withdrawal anyway. This comes in advance of his upcoming talks with the leaders over an official end to the Korean War.


Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, stated that the country has onelast chance to reverse its slide into dictatorship with the July elections, saying “no election can be genuine if the main opposition party is barred from taking part.” On Monday, Hun Sen told a group of students that there was absolutely no chance that the Cambodian National Rescue Party, the main opposition party, would return for the elections, as it had been “cremated and buried.” He insists that the other, smaller parties registering will provide acceptable competition to the election. Deputy leader of the CNRP Mu Sochua said “No CNRP, no free and fair election, means that the next government will be illegitimate,” and head of the CNRP Sam Rainsy continues to call for the Cambodian people to boycott the elections. In April the National Election Committee (NEC) warned that those who “interfered” in the polls by encouraging the boycott could face criminal charges. The Candlelight Party has added its support to the election boycott, saying in a statement that it will not take part in the July 29 election.

The registration period for political parties began on Monday and will end on May 14. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Hun Sen’s party, was among the first to register as well as the little-known pro-government Cambodian Youth Party and the Cambodian Nationality Party. A spokesperson for the NEC said that over 15 parties have collected forms to fill in and expects all to send in their applications.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in Phnom Penh to demand better working conditions on May 1. This May Day march was forbidden from congregating in front of the National Assembly “to keep security, safety, and public order” per National Assembly instructions, according to Deputy Phnom Penh Governor Mean Chanyada. Chairman of the Cambodian Labor Confederation Ath Thorn has declared this limit a “step too far,” particularly when the march had followed proper legal channels to gain permission for the gathering. Instead, the protesters were restricted to a smaller area near the river, accompanied by a large number of security forces. The Cambodian government has expressed concerns that the march could turn violent, using this to justify what Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, has called “arbitrary” denials of the people’s basic rights. He goes on to say that “What this shows is the government is afraid that any sort of public assembly will immediately become anti-government. Even worse, it shows that the government is afraid to hear the real opinions of the Cambodian workers as expressed on the street.” Some workers are worried about the looming threat of sanctions from the US and EU. The sanctions are intended to encourage human rights in the country, but workers would suffer if Cambodian exports lost preferential treatment. Ath Thorn has urged both sides to compromise, so as not to make the workers the real victims of the sanctions.


The presidential campaigns continue on, both sides making promises before the election in less than 3 weeks, despite a subdued response from the country while citizens suffer under the economic crisis. Henri Falcon, the opposition candidate, has promised to raise the monthly minimum wage to $75 and criticised Maduro’s recent pay raise that “doesn’t even pay for a kilo of meat.” He also vows to immediately allow humanitarian aid into the country, and announced that state workers will not be fired or face “persecution” if he wins, referring to the fact that the government regularly coerces state workers into supporting it at rallies and polls. The opposition remains fractured, some insisting they boycott the elections and limiting Falcon’s possible support base. Maduro, for his part, has accused the pro-opposition businesses of leading an “economic war” against his government and blaming them for the economic crisis, instead of his policies. He also promised a “prize” to voters who show a government-issued “Fatherland Card.” He did not specify what this prize may be, but critics say that cash or other bonuses are essentially bribes.

Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Tareck William Saab has ordered the arrest of 11 top executives of Banesco Universal, the nation’s largest private bank. This is part of a wide-ranging probe into the affairs of business leaders who, Saab says, “have done a serious damage to the national economy.” Saab did not provide any evidence or take any questions during his televised announcement of the arrests. The government will take over operations of the bank for 90 days to “clean it” of financial crimes.

The IMF has issued a declaration of censure against Venezuela after an Executive Board meeting found that the country had failed to follow through on its obligation to provide the Fund with macroeconomic data.


An envoy from the UN Security Council arrived in Myanmar on Monday. Tuesday, they traveled to the northern Rakhine state, the center of the mass displacement of Rohingya. Before the visit to Myanmar, the delegation visited Bangladesh, where they spoke to the Prime Minister and listened to the testimony of some Rohingya refugees. They heard accounts of rape, murder, and torture committed by the Myanmar military and iterated that the international community was looking to work with Myanmar to resolve the crisis.

The visit to Myanmar marks the first high-level diplomatic mission to the country since the crackdown last summer that caused over 650,000 Rohingya to flee their homes. De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been making efforts to repair relations with both the Rohingya and the international community, much of which has declared the Burmese government’s actions tantamount to ethnic cleansing, verging on genocide. But human rights advocates warn that although the government says it wants to bring the refugees home, its actions have done little to support its words. Conditions for the return of the refugees remain unconducive, warns the UN, especially considering many of their homes were burned down and have yet to be rebuilt.

The two Reuters journalists who have been on trial for possession of state secrets since December received a significant ruling in their favor. A judge ruled a witness to be credible. Last week, the witness, a police officer, had said in his testimony that the two reporters were entrapped by the police, and the prosecution had asked to have him declared a hostile witness. Now, the judge has ruled he will accept evidence from the officer. Both sides were surprised by this ruling: the judiciary in Myanmar is not known for being independent, and the judge had already showed a preference for the prosecution with his decision to allow the case to go to trial. The witness has already suffered some consequences for his testimony, sentenced in secret to one year in prison for misconduct in a separate case against him. “I am revealing the truth because police of any rank must maintain their own integrity,” said the police officer after the hearing. The defense has not yet presented its case, but will hopefully be bolstered by this success. Hearings are expected to continue for another month.

A report released on Reliefweb conveys the calls of humanitarian NGOS for the protection of civilians in Kachin state and the immediate end of all hostilities in the area.

United States

Schools in Arizona have reopened after lawmakers and teachers reached a deal on education funding this week. The teachers will receive a 20% salary increase by 2020 and the state will restore $400 million worth of funding that had been cut from schools and educational programs during the height of the recession. There is also the promise that the rest of those cuts will be reversed within the next five years. Although these wins are significant, Democratic State Representative Reginald Bolding reminded other lawmakers not to congratulate themselves for easing the very crisis they created. “You can’t set a house on fire, call 911 and claim to be a hero. And that’s what this body has done.”

A report this week details the excessive force and violence used both at the US border with Mexico and elsewhere in the country against immigrants. The findings presented violence and extreme acts by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency that have killed at least 97 people, both citizens and non-citizens, since 2003.

In Iowa, state lawmakers have recently approved a ban on abortion in almost all cases. It prohibits abortion of the fetus from the time a heartbeat is detected, normally 6-7 weeks into a pregnancy. By contrast, the vast majority of US states allow abortion until at least 22 weeks into a pregnancy.


On April 29th, thousands of protesters demanded justice for the killings of anti-government protesters. This time, the march ‘Pilgrimage for Peace’, had been called for by the catholic church.

International civil rights organizations, protesters and the Nicaraguan population have called for the Inter-American Commision on Human Rights (IACHR / CIDH in Spanish) and the UN to investigate the killings, torture, violence, and repression by the national police as well as the lack of information provided surrounding the health conditions of protesters and journalists in custody and in hospitals. The Nicaraguan State refused to invite the IACHR, and responded in a letter sent on May 1, 2018, asking the IACHR to await progress in internal proceedings. Students from the ‘19th of April Student Movement’ have demanded the ‘total collaboration’ of the government and urged president Ortega to accept the invitation before May 8th, saying they will convene a national strike if he refuses to do so. The national strike has been set for May 9th.


Around 10,000 women marched peacefully in Beni in eastern DRC on Friday, calling on UN peacekeepers and the army to stop deadly rebel attacks in the region. The women handed over a petition to the mayor and the UN mission, asking them to find and stop the Allied Democratic Forces rebels.

Lieutenant Colonel Maro Ntumwa, know as “The Moroccan”, has been convicted of several crimes committed in the DRC’s restive South Kivu province between 2005 and 2007. The NGO Trial International said he was sentenced to 20 years in prison “of war crimes including sexual slavery, pillaging and attacks against civilians, and crimes against humanity including rape.”

On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor arrived in the capital Kinshasa to investigate deadly violence and crimes against humanity in Kasai. On the same day, a group of opposition activists were released by police. The group of 27 people from the nonviolent Struggle for Change (Lucha), had been detained for attempting to hold a rally and for disturbing public order in Goma, where all kinds of demonstrations are banned. Public rallies have been banned in DRC since September 2016, when dozens of demonstrators were killed. Last year at least 47 were killed. Earlier this year, the Congolese citizen movement Debout (Arise) had asked the ICC to investigate the crackdown on peaceful protests.


On Wednesday, hundreds of Thai citizens gathered near the UN headquarters in Bangkok, and two other locations around the city district to demand an end to “the intimidation of community activists by authorities” by the military government and express displeasure over the junta’s repeated delays of the election. The protest was one of the largest since the military coup in 2014, and disregarded the ban on public gatherings imposed by the government. Three hundred police officers were posted to oversee the crowds. Some of the protesters laid out mats, and plan to stay camped outside the government buildings for two weeks. A group called People’s Movement for Just Society, or P-Move, organized the protest despite a history of members being intimidated by Thai military and police officers, some forcibly evicted from their homes.

On Sunday April 30 1,250 people gathered in protest of a proposed luxury housing development in the forested land at the foothills of a sacred mountain. Officials and judges were the intended residents of the development. Again, the protest flouted the ban on public gatherings, but Police Colonel Paisan said they were permitted to assemble as they had correctly requested permission from the bureaucracy. Colonel Paisan, deputy commander of Chiang Mai Police, reported that the protesters were focused more on the environmental impact of the construction than on politics, and even cleaned up the streets after the protest ended. Others have said the debate is just one facet of a longer struggle against the government giving preferential treatment to its officials, often trampling the public in the process. The protesters wore green poncho-like clothing items, or waved green flags or ribbons. They gave the government seven days to change the development plans or face more mass gatherings.

A magazine editor, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, had been released from prison. He was arrested in 2011 for insulting the monarchy, and after two years held in prison without bail for the trial, was given a sentence of 11 years. He had been organizing a campaign to reform the lese majeste laws, which limit critical speech about the royal family members. In 2017, the Supreme Court reduced his sentence. After his release, this Monday, Somyot promised to keep calling for democracy. He particularly highlights the need for elections, as the Thai military government continues to push back the date, last delaying the election until February of 2019.


A poll shows Ricardo Anaya, candidate for the left-right coalition “For Mexico in Front”, still in second place but gaining on leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador even as Lopez Obrador gains another percentage point. Anaya is finally getting out from under the corruption allegations that have been plaguing him for months and rising in the polls. Meade, ruling party candidate, still holds third place but has dropped two points, and the two independent candidates dropped as well. If the trend continues, experts predict a much closer race, although Anaya may still not have enough time to catch up before the July 1 elections.

Lopez Obrador claimed on Tuesday that business leaders have tried to convince the ruling PRI to switch allegiances from its own flagging candidate, Meade, to the pro-business Anaya in a late-campaign alliance. Government spokesperson Eduardo Sanchez has denied this claim, calling it “fake news.” Anaya himself has called on all those put off by Lopez Obrador’s more leftist views to rally behind him.

Concerns over fake news and foreign influence over the Mexican elections were highlighted this week when a message that many Mexican voters would have to re-register within the next few days to be able to participate in the July election circulated social media platforms— but it was false. This was not the first example of fake news spreading across Mexican media: a claim that Pope Francis himself had criticised Lopez Obrador’s political views was also circulated, but again proved to be fabricated. Mexican authorities have reached agreements with social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to fight fake news as the election draws nearer, and many fact-checking organizations, some newly established, are on the lookout.

A raid on the headquarters of a police force in central Mexico revealed that 113 of the 185 officers were not registered police officers at all. The fake officers will be facing charges equivalent to impersonation of a police officer, according to the Public Safety Department in Puebla state. The state’s interior secretary cited several cases where bodies had been found in the streets of the town, saying this was proof that the town’s government had “lost control.” Puebla has the largest amount of illegal oil pipeline taps, usually by criminal gangs looking to steal the petrol.

Around half of the individuals who made up the “migrant caravan” that arrived at the US-Mexico border last week have been allowed to apply for asylum in the US. Lawyers and state officials have swarmed the area, some warning the immigrants to not attempt to cross the border illegally, others arguing that applying for asylum was within the immigrants’ human rights. The “caravan” has drawn international attention since Trump took to Twitter to criticize the group.


Rebels have agreed to surrender their last enclave outside Homs, the third-largest city in the country. This decision came after “intense government bombardment and a debilitating siege,” rendering them unable to go on. The Russian-brokered deal includes the ability for government institutions to re-establish themselves in this enclave at the evacuation of the rebels, and also their subsequent exile to northern Syria. In further developments, rebel groups have been surrendering their heavy weapons, including machine guns and artillery, to the government.

Despite this decline in besieged areas, a UN report this week detailed the persistently critical conditions for Syrian civilians. Beyond the civilians caught directly in the besieged zones, those being evacuated find also completely insufficient and potentially very dangerous conditions. Evacuees have typically been getting shuttled to Idlib, which a UN humanitarian advisor has called “full to the brim” with displaced civilians. The camps are unsuited for decent living, open and congested or with people crammed into collective centers.

South Africa

This week, thousands of South African miners who contracted fatal lung disease reached a $400m settlement with six gold production companies. It’s the country’s largest-ever class action suit and a historic settlement for exploited miners, although it remains to be approved by a high court before being implemented. Only hours after the announcement, 13 miners were reportedly trapped in the Masakhane mine, following an earth tremor. 10 have now been rescued, but 4 died from their injuries.
On May 3rd President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the Japan-Africa trade forum in Johannesburg that a mining charter including new rules governing black ownership of South Africa’s mining industry will soon be finalized.

Other news:

Armenia – Protests have reignited in the capital after the national parliament rejected opposition movement leader Nikol Pashinyan’s bid for prime minister. – OC Media

Israel – The national parliament passed a new law giving the prime minister and the defense minister authority to decide when and whether the country will go to war. The move has drawn sharp criticism, both in Israel and abroad, for the potential drastic and hasty decisions that could result. – NYTimes

Iran – Activists have covered thousands of banknotes with drawings and handwritten messages that express and encourage dissent in the country. This inventive protest gained traction recently over social media, with users spreading images of the bills to promote the movement further. – Business Insider The execution of Iranian prisoner Ramin Hossein-Panahi, sentenced to death in January for “taking up arms against the state”, has been delayed. It was due to take place on Thursday but is believed to have been helped by the widespread protests on social media, with his name shared in tweets almost 230,000 times in 48 hours. – BBC

Laos – The minimum wage has been increased from 900,000 kip (some 108 U.S. dollars) to 1.1 million kip (some 133 U.S. dollars) a month, as of May 1. – Xinhuanet

Mali – The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali MINUSMA says extremists linked to the Islamic State group in Mali killed at least 47 Tuareg civilians in the Menaka region on April 26 and 27. – Washington Post

Weekly Report: April 13 2018

Photo: Women at the memorial of Winnie Madikizela Mandela. The Guardian.


Russia reports that Syrian forces have retaken Eastern Ghouta, the heavily besieged suburb of Damascus. This means that now, Assad’s power is the most secure it has been since the start of the Syrian civil war. Furthermore, while this is a victory against extreme rebel groups that have held the territory for years, it comes at an immensely high cost. The UN refugee agency reported this week that more than 133,000 have fled Eastern Ghouta since the escalation of this siege. Moreover, the Assad government is again accused of using chemical weapons in its attempts to retake this area. While the use is thus far unconfirmed officially, it is strongly substantiated. 500 people in Eastern Ghouta have demonstrated symptoms consistent with chemical attacks; residents reported hearing things falling from the sky, leaving strange smells; videos coming out show people sprawled on the floors of their homes, killed by apparent suffocation; of 70 killed while taking shelter in basements, 43 showed signs of “highly toxic chemicals” according to the World Health Organization. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an international watchdog, is on its way to Syria to investigate and uncover whether chemical weapons were used, and if so, to find out what was the nature of the attack.

Many governments in the West have expressed abhorrence over the chemical attacks, generally agreeing on the need for action, and in some cases threatening a military response. Assad has, however, both denied the use of chemical weapons and warned these governments against intervention of any kind. “Any possible action will only cause more instability in the region and threaten international security and peace.” Russia has warned also of the risks of escalation, calling them a grave threat to the growing prospect of an end to the Syrian conflict and to peace between itself and the United States.


The “anti-fake news” bill has officially been passed, and as of Wednesday April 11 is now enforceable. It was fast-tracked through Parliament and includes provisions of harsh punishments of up to six years in prison and a maximum fine of $170,000. Activists, opposition groups, and rights advocates worry this bill will be used to restrict freedoms of speech and expression, despite government reassurances that it is purely to limit fake news.

Prime Minister Najib Razak is seeking a third term, despite accusations of corruption and embezzlement marring him and his administration, and recently the government engaged in gerrymandering just before announcing the elections.

Malaysians were surprised when the Election Commission declared May 9 would be polling day for the 14th general election, making this year the first time voting will take place on a weekday since 1999 and creating a shorter campaign period than in the past. Low voter turnout is expected to stifle the opposition support. Malaysian citizens are organizing massively across the country and internationally. A petition to make the day of the election, May 9, a national holiday was posted on Change.org by a university student and has gained over 100,000 signatures. Connecting over social media, many citizens are working together to help each other return home to vote. Over Twitter and Facebook they made plans for carpools and arranging free rides, some individuals even offering financial aid to their fellow countrymen. Private companies have joined the effort as well, some promising paid leave or offering to cover travel expenses. Political parties have made arrangements to ferry Malaysians home from Singapore for the election, while others in Singapore have chartered buses to bring them home. The hashtag “PulangMengundi” (“Go home to vote,” in English) trended on Twitter. These efforts yielded results when PM Najib’s office said May 9 will be a public holiday so that “Malaysians can fulfil their duties as voters.”


Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced this week that he will not run for re-election in November. He plans instead to step down in January, at the end of this cycle. This news has shaken the US Capitol and upended the Republican party, who already fear a significant victory for the Democrats in the upcoming elections. Many feel that his intent is to leave of his own accord, before being eventually forced out by the nation’s shifting political tides. At only 48, however, the prospect of an eventual political re-entry remains great.

President Donald Trump has expressed a desire to re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This comes in response to complaints from his constituents that when Trump withdrew from the agreement just days after taking office, their businesses and industries were hurt. The TPP did and would again facilitate international trade with some of the world’s largest economies, especially China, if enacted. Trump’s announcement nevertheless shocked his cabinet and advisers, as he has previously called the TPP a “rape of our country” and made his pledge to leave it and NAFTA “bedrock promises of his populist campaign.” Members of the TPP have welcomed the rejoining, but warn that the terms of the agreement will not change from what was presented to Obama. In a wider reaction, stock markets saw growth after news broke of the prospect. This has the potential also to affect US foreign policy, especially in regard to the complicated state of present affairs between the nation and China.

The US news was filled with developments of Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony regarding both the privacy and security of users after more than 87 million had data taken and utilized by the firm Cambridge Analytica, and also the platform’s involvement in the scandalous fake news and foreign involvement in the 2016 US election. Before the testimony began, Creative protesters assembled a small army of cardboard figures to greet Zuckerberg at the Capitol. The activist organization Avaaz set up these Zuckerbergs, wearing shirts reading “fix fakebook”, in an awareness campaign about the danger of fake news and Facebook’s role in propagating it.


The head of Venezuela’s National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, has warned that “encouraging people not to vote is prohibited by law.” This warning was issued after the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the main opposition coalition, called for a boycott of the upcoming election to avoid legitimizing what it has deemed to be a sham election. The UN has continued to refuse to send election observers, despite pleas from both Maduro and the opposition to do so. Former Prime Minister of Spain, Zapatero, who mediated talks between Maduro and the opposition for the past two years, has agreed to participate as an observer.

Henri Falco?n, running against Maduro, has been hitting the streets to drum up support and encourage citizens to participate in the election, in contrast with the main opposition’s stance. Recent polls show Falco?n as leading Maduro by 10 points, but also show many of his supporters do not plan to vote and that overall turnout is expected to be lower than in any other presidential vote since Chávez’s election two decades ago. While campaigning at a market, shaking hands with citizens, he was quoted saying “Let’s get the dirty men out of power. Please, if we vote, we win!” and that “Abstaining neutralizes people. Participating mobilizes them.”

Venezuelans abroad in Peru are using the Summit of the Americas as a platform to protest against the Maduro. Many opposition members, having fled the crisis, settled in Peru. Now, they are demanding the opportunity to return to a Venezuela free of the the “tyrant” Maduro, asking Latin America to take a harder stance against the regime. Some are handing out CD’s titled “Rock Against Dictatorship,” produced by Venezuelan rock bands, which are filled with songs that criticize human rights abuses and corruption within the Socialist Party.


On Wednesday, April 11, a Myanmar official visited a of Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, the first visit made since the military crackdown last year. There, he told around 50 refugees that beginning the repatriation process was a top priority for the government. He also reportedly told them that upon their return, they must accept national verification cards and announce they are migrants from Bangladesh, angering the refugees who say that they belong to Myanmar. The Rohingya have issued a list of 13 demands that must be met before they will return, including the official recognition of their citizenship, of Rohingya as an ethnicity, and the release of all Rohingya who have been unjustly imprisoned. The UNHCR maintains that conditions in Myanmar are not yet acceptable for the voluntary “safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees” and that the responsibility for making these conditions a reality is with the Myanmar government. Additionally, the UNHCR again requests full and unfettered access to Rakhine state, to assess and monitor the situation and the return of the Rohingya, if and when they voluntarily return.

The same day, a Myanmar court refused to dismiss the case against the two Reuters journalists. They had been arrested in December for violating the Official Secrets Act during their investigation of the massacre of 10 Rohingya in Rakhine state. The government is prosecuting them over documents, handed over by police at the time, that it now insists contain secret and sensitive government information. The judge decided there was enough evidence for a trial, despite the arguments made by the journalists’ lawyers, and the next hearing is set for April 20. The journalists will face up to 14 years in prison if convicted. The court decision came just hours after an announcement from the military saying that four army officers and three soldiers had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for their roles in a massacre — the very same one the journalists were investigating.

Civil rights advocates lauded Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to increase efforts to block hate speech on Facebook. They maintained, however, that more efforts would be necessary to block hate speech. Activists said they had found examples of Facebook “being used to incite real harm” and violence against Rohingya.


President Joko Widodo’s chief of staff Moeldoko said regional elections this year, followed by a presidential and parliamentary vote in 2019, should not deter foreign investment in the country. According to Moeldoko, the government is focusing on ensuring political and economic stability through the election period, which he called a “festival of democracy.”

Former special forces commander Prabowo Subianto has accepted his party’s, the Gerindra (Great Indonesia Movement Party), nomination to run for president in next year’s elections. The controversial Prabowo has been connected to several alleged human rights abuses during bloody military operations in Timor-Leste, formerly known as East Timor, and Papua as well as in Jakarta in 1998, although he has denied all allegations. Prabowo ran as a presidential candidate in the 2014 elections, but lost to Joko Widodo. The Gerinda party and Prabowo are both closely affiliated with conservative religious groups, gaining increasing influence in the country.


Independent candidate Jaime Rodriguez Calderon has been added back onto the presidential ballot following a review by the National Electoral Institute (INE). He had been excluded from the race for failing to gain sufficient signatures in order to run as an independent when over half of his signatures were declared invalid. However, Mexico’s electoral tribunal ordered the INE to reinstate Rodriguez on the ballot because of a failure to double-check the invalidated signatures: a failure they contend constitutes a violation of Rodriguez’s due process rights. This has worried Margarita Zavala, the other independent candidate.

An electoral court ruled this week that the attorney-general’s office illegally used public funds to influence the election when they released a surveillance video depicting opposition Ricardo Anaya swearing. If Anaya were to lose popularity, it could allow ruling party PRI candidate Meade to replace him in second place during the elections, leaving Meade to directly contend with Lopez Obrador.

Mexico’s Green Candidate Maribel Barajas Cortes was reportedly found dead yards from her car. The cause of the homicide is yet unknown. This murder is the latest in a series of over 25 killings committed ahead of the elections. Most of the victims are local candidates, but have ranged across political alignments and movements. Many of the murders remain unsolved, despite police promises to fully investigate the crimes.


A draft law on minimum wage has been produced and is now being sent to the relevant ministries, including the Labour Ministry, for review. After it has been reviewed, it will be sent to the National Assembly for approval. The law was written by unions, employers, and the government, and applies only to the garment and footwear sectors. The garment sector will serve as an experiment and an example. The law is intended to benefit all workers and the state across sectors, since it will “promote a decent living, create job opportunities, increase worker productivity, and push for increased investment opportunities.” Labour Minister Samheng says he hopes to have the law approved by the end of June.

Sam Rainsy, former head of the dissolved opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has called for a boycott of the general election in July if the CNRP is not allowed to take part. It is unclear if he was speaking on behalf of the party. In response, a spokesperson for the ruling CPP proclaimed that the Cambodian people have lost faith in Rainsy and will be participating in the elections regardless of his plea. Cambodian expats added their voices to the boycott call during the World Khmer Conference in Australia. CNRP Vice President Mu Sochua, who attended the conference, stated that an opposition party presence is necessary, but did not clarify the CNRP’s position. The National Election Committee warned that anyone who urged for a boycott, or otherwise interfered with the election, could be subject to fines and criminal charges  

The CPP also announced that it is considering a “fake news” bill, adding to a concerning trend of tightening spaces for media and civil society. Media and activists worry the law will be used to limit critical speech rather than target the spread of false information, particularly since the exact scope of “fake news” has not been detailed and is often used as a scapegoat to silence dissenting opinions.

In a statement to the Cambodian people, to wish them a happy new years, Prime Minister Hun Sen took the opportunity to congratulate the government for its prevention of a “color revolution.” He also accused the opposition of colluding with foreign powers to orchestrate the color revolution in an attempt to topple the government. Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker, said the attempt to associate the opposition with color revolution was intended to plant “confusion.” “The CNRP stands on principles of nonviolence . . . We have never thought of competing for power by using the colour revolution,” he said.


U.S. Senators Christopher Coons and Jeff Flake from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with president Mnangagwa over the weekend in an effort to strengthen the bilateral relationships between the countries, and to discuss the conditions for U.S. financial sanctions imposed in 2001 to be lifted, namely the holding of free and fair elections. Coons stated that the gradual lifting of the sanctions will depend on progress made during the next following months, such as non-interference in elections by the military, transparency, and the following of guidelines. Mnangagwa has stated that he is committed to holding free elections, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has released a statement explaining their intention to invite 46 countries, 15 organizations, and 2 eminent persons to observe the forthcoming elections. All former African Liberation Movements are also proposed to be invited. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Secretary Ambassador Joey Bimha said that the government has decided to “re-engage with the West and the rest of the international community.”

The National Patriotic Front (NPF) linked to ex-president Mugabe and his wife, Grace, has said it will defeat the ruling party if polls are free and fair in the forthcoming elections.  According to NPF acting chairperson Eunice Sandi Moyo, Zanu FB commissars have already started collecting BVR (Biometric Voter Registration) slips in villages, an action that has been deemed illegal by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and the government.

In line with president Mnangagwa’s efforts to open up the country to foreign investors, the government is planning to set up a one-stop investment promotion agency, which will be a replica of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) model. Visits from the chief executive and CEO of RDB took place this week together with Mnangagwa.


A donor conference seeking to raise $1.7 billion to support humanitarian activities in DRC is being held in Geneva today, but without the presence of representatives from the country. Léonard She Okitundu, the DRC’s foreign minister had already said that they will not participate in the conference, denying there is a humanitarian crisis in the country.
The Electoral Commission Ceni has begun to test voting machines as part of a new system during the elections expected on December 23. The system was used during elections in Namibia 2014, although country has 1.2 million voters compared to DRC’s 46 million. Spokesperson of Civil-society group Agir pour les Elections Transparentes Gerard Bisambu said at a conference in Johannesburg that the system will allow for fraud, although the Electoral Commission has argued for the opposite. Civil society groups, as well as the Congo Research Group also expressed its concerns, “The way in which the Ceni introduced voting machines has undermined public trust in an already controversial electoral process,” saying that “The use of voting machines could foment chaos on election day.”

Five rangers and a driver were killed in an ambush in Virunga national park, and a sixth ranger was injured. The park, sometimes referred to as one of the most dangerous conservation projects in the world, has seen more than 170 rangers die over the last 20 years. The area, important to ecological diversity and natural resources, is also home to armed rebel groups, and “Mai Mai” militia, local bandits and poachers. A catholic priest was shot dead on Sunday, reportedly by Mai Mai Nyatura fighters.

Uganda and the DRC have agreed to remove non-tariff trade barriers in a bid to boost trade between the two African countries. The meeting took place on Wednesday.


On April 5th, six human rights activists were sentenced to lengthy imprisonment following accusations of advocating a multiparty democracy and attempting to overthrow the government. Among the activists were Human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison and five years under house arrest whereas his fellow activists were sentenced to seven to 12 years. The activists were also charged for affiliation with the outlawed group ‘Brotherhood for Democracy’, advocating for a multiparty system.

On Tuesday activist Nguyen Van Tuc was convicted to a 13-year prison sentence on the same charges. A third trial for activists Nguyen Viet Dung and Tran Th? Xuan on April 12th resulted in both being jailed and given nine- and seven-year sentences respectively, convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda and attempting to overthrow the government. Dung, accused of and confessing to distorting government policies and defaming leaders of the country in blog posts and on his Facebook page, was also sentenced to five years of house arrest upon completing his seven-year prison sentence. Xuan was sentenced to nine years in prison and five years of house arrest for instigating protests to pollution, affiliating with the Brotherhood of Democracy, and for attempting to overthrow the government. International organizations Amnesty International and Human rights Watch have called for Dung’s release. According to new research by Amnesty, there are at least 97 prisoners of conscience in the country, facing deploring conditions and torture.

Papua New Guinea

On April 7, an aftershock 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the highlands of Papua New Guinea, killing 132 people and injuring 500. The region is still struggling to recover from a 7.5 quake only two months ago, leading to the death of 125 people and leaving hundreds of people homeless, as well as damaging mining and power infrastructure in the region. The United Nations had estimated that around 270,000 people were in need of immediate assistance and 43,116 people had been displaced in 44 locations and care centers, but nevertheless decided to withdraw its aid workers just two days before the last quake due to outbreaks of violence from residents. On Thursday, the UN aid was still blocked as the relief has been stalled due to landslides and the remoteness of affected areas, and ongoing violence. A military officer working to coordinate relief has said that mediators from the authorities are establishing dialogues for peace between warring tribes in the Hela Province.

Other news:

Maldives – The hearings of Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and top-court judge Ali Hameed, both arrested during the recent state of emergency, are proceeding discreetly in Malé. A reason for such strong secrecy around the trials has not been given, but bodes poorly for both facing very serious anti-constitutional and terrorism charges. – AVAS

Cuba – A travel ban was applied recently to two more outspoken opponents to the regime. Ileana Alvarez, director of the feminist magazine Alas Tensas, and Pedro Manuel Gonzalez Reinoso of CubaNet, which is censored on the island, were forbidden from leaving the country. They join recently banned activists Adonis Milian, Gorki Avila, and Berta Soler. – Havana Times

Hungary – Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has won another term in office after sweeping the election with his right-wing, populist party Fidesz. International observers have expressed concern that the election and campaigning were not fair, heavily manipulating voters and in some ways abusing the electoral system. – NYTimes  

Russia – The city of Yekaterinburg has canceled its mayoral elections after the current mayor, a vocal social activist, expressed opposition to the re-election of Vladimir Putin. An appointee system will replace the direct elections in this fourth-largest Russian city. – The Guardian

South Africa – The memorial service for Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was attended by thousands of mourners. – Al Jazeera

Uganda – Uganda plans to introduce a new tax on social media users from July, which human rights activists have denounced as another attempt by President Yoweri Museveni to limit freedom of expression and quash dissent to his 32-year-rule. The proposal, which will charge each mobile phone subscriber using platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook with a tax of 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.027) per day, has been sent to parliament for approval. – Reuters

Thailand – A group called the Future Forward Party is in the process of applying to be a political party. It was created by a billionaire and former student activist named Thanathorn Juangroong-ruangkit who aims to install a stable civilian government and “send the military back to the barracks” and has been seen as a champion for the advancement of women’s and LGBTQ issues. It is one of only 15 parties that have been approved out of the 98 parties that requested to be registered as a political party. It dropped its campaign to reform the lese majeste law, which prohibits critical speech against the royal family, in an attempt to gain a political foothold and perhaps earning it a spot among the 15. – Khao Sod | Nation

Thousands of Pashtuns Rally for the Right to Live Without Fear

Approximately 60,000 Pashtun and Pakistani activists rallied recently in the city of Peshawar, demanding an end to decades of political mistreatment, the removal of military checkpoints in tribal areas, and the release of their friends and relatives who have been taken as political prisoners by the Pakistani government.

Bead Portrait Raises Awareness of Violence Against Indigenous Women

A Native American artist/activist is creating a large-scale portrait out of 4,000 beads. Each bead is to represent an indigenous woman who has gone missing or been murdered, and was hand-rolled by community members across the US. The portrait will honor the sister of a victim, and promote awareness of this issue through socially engaged art.

World’s Longest-Jailed Journalist Freed in Uzbekistan, but Media Struggle Continues

Photo: Shamil Zhumatov. Reuters. Via The Committee to Protect Journalists.

It has recently been announced that the longest-jailed journalist in the world is free. After 19 years, Uzbekistan has released Yusuf Ruzimuradov, now 64 years old. The journalist had originally been detained for his work at an independent newspaper called Erk, or Freedom. The government, seeing this paper and its writers as a political threat, arrested Ruzimuradov and his editor, Muhammad Bekjanov.

Both reporters were sentenced originally to 15 years in prison after a sham trial that convicted them for publishing and distributing a banned newspaper, which by extension was considered part of an attempt to overthrow the government. Those sentences were arbitrarily extended in the prisons until finally both journalists were recently released. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has confirmed that Ruzimuradov was freed in late February, even though the news is only just emerging.

The organization sees this as a definite victory, but is not consumed merely by celebration. “Today, we can breathe a sigh of relief that Yusuf Ruzimuradov–the longest imprisoned journalist in the world–has finally been released in #Uzbekistan, but we remain outraged at the grave injustice that robbed him of 19 years of his life,” the CPJ tweeted. The organization is calling further on the Uzbek government to release the other journalists still being held as political prisoners.

Two such trials are set to begin sometime this week. Yet one of the journalists on trial, Bobomurod Abdullaev, has had his court date postponed after undergoing harsh torture inside the Uzbek prison. The independent journalists concerned have been charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime” and are facing up to 20 years in prison. Human rights groups have been urging that these charges be dropped and the prisoners be released immediately. Last month, 12 organizations issued a joint statement on the subject: “Uzbek authorities should ensure a thorough, impartial, and independent investigation into the alleged torture and other ill-treatment of a detained independent journalist … Uzbek authorities should immediately release Bobomurod Abdullaev and other people detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

While these human rights groups push for releases and reforms, the road to press freedom in Uzbekistan is long and perilous. Freedom House has ranked the status of the country’s press, net, and societal freedom as all “Not Free” in its annual reports. In its World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Uzbekistan at 169 out of 180 countries. This metric, placing the country as one of the most repressive in the world, has many implications. For activists celebrating the release of Ruzimuradov this week, it is a kind of reality check. The nation is still systematically oppressing free media. For those fixated more on this latter fact, however, every positive development is rather a welcome victory that inspires the continued fight for justice.

Bonn Protests at COP23 – How do mass-protests cause change?

Photograph: People march during a demonstration under the banner “Protect the climate – stop coal” two days before the start of the COP 23 UN Climate Change Conference hosted by Fiji but held in Bonn, Germany November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Published on 07/11/2017

A smartphone without an operating system. Or a brand-new car without the road-network to drive it on. The 2015 landmark Paris agreement at COP21 delivered the first truly global deal to tackle climate change, but national action needs to be significantly toughened to meet the goal of keeping global temperature rise on the low. That is why half of the world moves to Bonn this week. Where the Paris agreement set out principles, the 23rd annual ‘conference of the parties’ (COP23) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is looking to build structures and rules that will enable the Paris deal to work. 

With all the world-leaders and influencers in the field of climate in one place, Bonn seems to be the place where everybody wants to show their stance. As the COP23 Climate Summit has started on Monday, several activist groups and protesters have tried to make their mark. Over the weekend, thousands of people had gathered in Bonn ahead of Summit, calling for the measures set out in the accord to be implemented faster. For Germany specifically, this means a move away from coal to renewable resources. More protests were staged in the nearby town of Kerpen on Sunday 

Early July, we have seen similar forms occurring, with mass protests surrounding the G20-Summit in Hamburg. In most recent years the G20 has caused mass protest in the host-city. And also the 2015 Paris based COP21 saw thousands defy a protest ban to call for climate action. Where the nature and goals of these protests differed from those in Bonn (as well as the amount of violence used in some occasions), we can see how large, international conferences like the G20 or COP often result in protests by advocacy groups calling for change on a variety of topics. 

The question which automatically occurs, or that should occur anyway, is one of effectivity. How effective are the mass protests on the sidelines of these events where the rich and powerful of the world meet? Al Jazeera’s Srecko Horvat writes, public demonstrations might be necessary “to show the massive dissatisfaction with the current global system. But even if there are 150,000 people in the streets, this massive mobilization won’t produce any concrete change.” 

There are, of course, several answers to this question. But let’s go with a rather positive one. The answer is yes; these forms of protest do matter, but in a more indirect way than we might think. In a 2011 study, economists from the Universities of Harvard and Stockholm found that protests do in fact have a major influence on politics. Their research shows that protest does not work because big crowds send a signal to policy-makers—rather, it’s because protests get people politically activated. More than directly influencing their apparent targets at the summit or conference, “protests can build political movements that ultimately affect policy.” 

Although the study is of a mostly quantitative nature, and has more implications than just this one, we can see the logic. Change is not the result of influence the actual protest has on policy-makers, but of the way it motivated attendees of the protests. Protesters may be affected by interactions with other protesters, and non-protesters may be affected by interactions with protesters during and after a rally has taken place. Opponents become neutrals, and neutrals might be pulled to your side! What protesters in Bonn might not achieve, is a direct influence on the decisions made at the GOP23 in 2017. However, their protests will be a breeding-ground for debate and a growing political movement. Although this developing political consciousness is what will cause change in the end, the spark of the protest is indispensable in the process.  

Read more about the article on which our thoughts are based in a summary, or the full article. Want to read more about why the Cop23-Summit in Bonn matters? Read this article by The Guardian. 

UK: School Boys Place Health First, Gender Norms Second

On Thursday morning a group of high school students from Isca academy confidently strutted into school clad in skirts. In spite of temperatures exceeding 30C in this last week, school authorities cautioned that the boys must keep to their regular school uniform, which as of yet does not allow for shorts. Acknowledging that the school would likely remain uncompromising in its stance, a group of boys opted to wear the school skirt in lieu of their long trousers, allowing them to partially resolve the issue, all whilst respecting the school uniform. Media pounced on the story, and the school soon came under fire for not being more mindful of student health.

Although it would be easy to dismiss this story as nothing more than a charming little tale, there are nevertheless some important takeaways from this wee rebellious act. In the first place, it highlights the potential to act in a way that challenges authority without necessarily acting outside of the law. Although such action is perhaps still limited, it might nevertheless prove to be more inviting, allowing for greater people to join your cause. In the second place, it underscores the power of humor in activism, or as we like to call it here at CANVAS, “laughtivism.” In their cheeky, albeit lawful action, the boys used to humor to underscore the absurdity of the school’s response and accordingly draw to it criticism. Finally, this anecdote serves to remind readers that protest at its best is fundamentally intersectional. Whilst these boys might have only been protesting a Kafkaesque school bureaucracy, doing so involved challenging gender norms, inevitably also drawing in the support of feminists and queer-theorists the world over – accidental allies, but allies nevertheless.

Read more here. Photo: BBC/Apex.

Hong Kong Youth Activist: We Will Continue Our Fight By Carol Off and Jeff Douglas

Read more here: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-friday-edition-1.4164029/we-will-continue-our-fight-why-hong-kong-activist-joshua-wong-will-keep-speaking-out-for-democracy-1.4165073. Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images. Piece by Carol Off and Jeff Douglas.

Joshua Wong was 17 years old when he gained global attention as a leader of the Umbrella Revolution, a series of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that took place in 2014. Wong, who is the subject of a new documentary on Netflix Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, plans to plead guilty for his role in the revolution and says he’s proud of his involvement in pressuring his government for change.


Yes Magazine: Pop-Up Schools to Train Amateur Activists in U.S. By Chuck Collins

Read more: https://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/how-to-go-the-resistance-distance2014pop-up-schools-for-new-activists20170612. Photo: shaunl / iStock. Article by Chuck Collins.

Opened on May 4, 2017, the Sojourner Truth School for Social Change Leadership will provide in-person training opportunities in activism in Western Massachusetts. The Truth School is one of a number of new schools emerging to meet the demands of a new wave of activism and resistance that has swept throughout the United States since the Trump election. People have offered free venues for the classes to operate; the Truth School is now popping up in art studios, libraries, and community centers.

The school is similar to the Citizenship schools and Freedom schools formed during the Civil Rights movement to fight for voter registration and teach youth about Black history and civic engagement.


Africa News: NGOs denounce human right violation in Morocco

Read more on Africa News and on Anadolu Agency. Photo: Jalal Morchidi – Anadolu Agency.

The Moroccan Coalition for Human Rights on Wednesday denounced “abusive” arrests and cases of “torture” in al-Hoceïma.

The coalition which comprises 22 organisations, criticized Moroccan authorities for repressing demonstrators of the “Hirak”, a popular protest movement that has been shaking the northern Rif region for months.

The focal point of the movement was to call for the development of the Rif region deemed marginalised.


NBC News: Meet a Young Venezuelan Artist Known As the ‘Painter of Protests’

Read the full article here. By ASSOCIATED PRESS. Photo by Ariana Cubillos / AP.

Abuse is hurled daily at the art of Oscar Olivares.

Rubber bullets and tear gas canisters clatter off protesters’ shields adorned with his works — cartoon-like digital paintings that have made him an instant icon for the demonstrators who have taken to Venezuela’s streets in recent weeks to oppose the socialist government.

Olivares received a standing ovation at a recent event by former colleagues of volunteer paramedic Paul Moreno, who died in May after being crushed by a truck while attending to injured protesters. In Olivares’ hands, Moreno is immortalized as 24-year-old clinching his fist high the air while walking through a cloud of tear gas with Venezuela’s colorful flag trailing behindIn this June 2017 photo, a protester carries a homemade shield embellished with an adhesive printout created by artist Oscar Olivares, during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela.

Another popular creation, called the “Heroes of Liberty,” depicts the more than 50 victims of this year’s protests – along with victims of previous unrest in 2014 – standing alongside independence hero Simon Bolivar and other national icons smiling widely and staring into a sky full of white doves.


Slate: Why Dictators Don’t Have a Sense of Humor

Originally published on Slate.

It was early on in our efforts to take down Slobodan Milosevic, and like all novice activists, we had a moment of reckoning. Looking around the room at one of our meetings, we realized that we were a bunch of Serbian kids, and rather than focus on what we had going for us, we began obsessing about everything we didn’t have. We didn’t have an army. We didn’t have a lot of money. We had no access to media, which was virtually all state-run. The dictator, we realized, had both a vision and the means to make it come true; his means involved instilling fear. We had a much better vision, but we thought on that grim evening, no way of turning it into a reality.

It was then that we came up with the smiling barrel.

The idea was really very simple. As we chatted, someone kept talking about how Milosevic only won because he made people afraid, and someone else said that the only thing that could trump fear was laughter. It was one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard. As Monty Python skits have always been up there right with Tolkien for me, I knew very well that humor doesn’t just make you chuckle—it makes you think. We started telling jokes. Within an hour, it seemed to us entirely possible that all we really needed to bring down the regime were a few healthy laughs.  And we were eager to start laughing.

Milosevic-on-a-barrel, smash his face for just a dinar.

Photo courtesy Srdja Popovic

We retrieved an old and battered barrel from a nearby construction site and delivered it to our movement’s “official” designer—my best friend, Duda, a designer—and asked him to draw a realistic portrait of the fearsome leader’s face. Duda was delighted to help. When we came back a day or two later, we had ourselves Milosevic-on-a-barrel, grinning an evil grin, his forehead marked by the barrel’s numerous rust spots. It was a face so comical that even a 2-year-old would have found it amusing. But we weren’t done. We asked Duda to paint a big, pretty sign that read “Smash his face for just a dinar.” That was about two cents at the time, so it was a pretty good deal. Then we took the sign, the barrel, and a baseball bat to Knez Mihailova Street, the main pedestrian boulevard in Belgrade. Right off Republic Square, Knez Mihailova Street is always filled with shoppers and strollers, as this is where everyone comes to check out the latest fashions and meet their friends for drinks in the afternoons. We placed the barrel and the sign smack in the middle of the street—right at the center of all the action—and hastily retreated to, the Russian Emperor, a nearby coffee shop, to watch.

The first few passersby who noticed the barrel and the sign seemed confused, unsure what to make of the brazen display of dissidence right there in the open. The following 10 people who checked it out were more relaxed; some even smiled, and one went as far as picking up the bat and holding it for a few moments before putting it down and quickly walking away. Then, the moment we’d been waiting for: A young man, just a few years younger than us, laughed out loud, searched his pockets, took out a dinar, plopped it into a hole on top of the barrel, picked up the bat, and with a gigantic swing smashed Milosevic in the face. You could hear the solid thud reverberate five blocks in each direction. He must have realized that with the few remaining independent radio and newspapers of Belgrade criticizing the government all the time, one dent in a barrel wasn’t going to land him in prison. To him, the risk of action was acceptably low. And once he took his first crack at Milosevic’s face, others started to realize that they too could get away with it. It was something between peer pressure and a mob mentality. Soon curious bystanders lined up for a turn at bat and took their own swings. People started to stare, then to point, then to laugh. Before long some parents were encouraging their children who were too small for the bat to kick the barrel instead with their tiny legs. Everybody was having fun, and the sound of this barrel being smashed was echoing all the way down to Kalemegdan Park. It didn’t take long for dinars to pour into the barrel and for poor Duda’s artistic masterpiece—the stern and serious mug of Mr. Milosevic—to get beaten into unrecognizability by an enthusiastic and cheerful crowd.

As this was happening, my friends and I were sitting outside at the café, sipping double espressos, smoking Marlboros, and cracking up. It was fun to see all these people blowing off steam with our barrel. But the best part lay ahead.

It came when the police arrived. It took 10 or 15 minutes. A patrol car stopped nearby and two pudgy policemen stepped out and surveyed the scene. This is when I came up with my beloved “Pretend Police” game. I played it for the first time at the café that day. The police’s first instinct, I knew, would be to arrest people. Ordinarily, of course, they’d arrest the demonstration’s organizers, but we were nowhere to be found. That left the officers with only two choices. They could arrest the people lining up to smack the barrel—including waiters from nearby cafés, good-looking girls holding shopping bags, and a bunch of parents with children—or they could confiscate the barrel itself. If they went for the people, they would cause an outrage, as there’s hardly a law on the books prohibiting violence against rusty metal cylinders, and mass arrests of innocent bystanders is the surest way for a regime to radicalize even its previously pacified citizens.


Which left only one viable choice: Arrest the barrel. Within minutes of their arrival, the two rotund officers shooed away the onlookers, positioned themselves on either side of the filthy thing, and hauled it off in their squad car. Another friend of ours, a photographer from a small students’ newspaper, was on hand to shoot this spectacle. The next day, we made sure to disseminate his photographs far and wide. Our stunt ended up on the cover of two opposition newspapers, the type of publicity that you literally couldn’t buy. That picture was truly worth a 1,000 words: It told anyone who so much as glimpsed at it that Milosevic’s feared police really only consisted of a bunch of comically inept dweebs.

Of course, this was just the beginning. Over the next six years, my friends and I built Otpor—Serbian for resistance—a nonviolent social movement that challenged Milosevic’s regime, stripped it of its legitimacy, and led to its downfall. But it began by chipping away at the people’s fear. It began with a joke.

Today my colleagues and I help train nonviolent democratic movements around the world, and the barrel story is one of the first stories we share with aspiring activists. And, without fail, every time people hear about it they say more or less what my Egyptian friends did when we walked them through Republic Square. “It’ll never work back where I’m from.” But I remind my new friends that while humor varies from country to country, the need to laugh is universal. I’ve noticed this as I’ve traveled to meet with activists around the world. People from Western Sahara or Papua New Guinea may not agree with me on what exactly makes something funny—for more on this check out any German “comedy”—but everyone agrees that funny trumps fearsome anytime. Good activists, like good stand-up comedians, just need to practice their craft.