By Julie Ngalle
We’ve all heard enough about British politics, and Incite devoted an entire issue to the General Election, so this week, we concentrate on international news you might have missed:
What is going on in Iran?
This week, we have yet another protest turning into a battlefield to report on, this time, in Iran. It all started in mid-November when demonstrations started over the unexpected increase in gasoline prices all around the country. Citizens expressed their outrage and disappointment, explaining they wanted to finally see the government overthrown. Security forces responded very aggressively to the protests which were getting larger and larger. In just four days, it was reported that between 180 and 450 people were killed, and since the start of the protest, more than 1200 have been wounded and 7000 detained. On the 3rd of December, the government, although confirming and justifying the use of firearms by security officials, claimed all the numbers advertised in the media had been widely exaggerated. Given that this same government orchestrated an internet blackout just days after the protests became violent – meaning the world has only become aware of these events this week but, more importantly, that Iran’s citizens had lost most means of communication – many have found it hard to believe such claims. These events are reflective of the political and economic turmoil the country is currently experiencing and has been experiencing for years, which it seems, is only going to get worse.
What were the attacks in Burkina Faso about?
On Sunday 1st of December, 14 were killed in a terrorist attack on a church in the eastern town of Hantoukoura. This attack follows a year punctuated by Islamists attacks within the country. The threat had been omnipresent for a while, but 2019 definitely marked a turning point, with attacks happening almost daily, especially in the eastern parts of the country. For a long time, Burkina Faso was considered one of the most peaceful and tranquil countries of Western Africa, notably due to its religious open-mindedness. Unfortunately, the rise of various terrorist groups linked to the famous Al Qaeda and Islamic State has brought extreme violence targeting, schools, military bases, churches but also a large number of random crowds. The government’s response has been to try and reassure its citizens and put in place military strategies to make Burkina Faso safer, but due to the state of the economy and the lack of training and resources in the military, it has been difficult for the Burkinabe government to protect its citizens.
What might China’s real motives be in developing face-mapping technologies?
Once again, this is a topic Incite has covered before. For more context, head over to this rundown. Following the development of “re-education” centres for the Uyghur population to supposedly prevent terrorism within the country, China has taken this initiative to the next level. These camps, where the Turkic Muslim ethnic group are held, have been described by many survivors and international media as textbook ethnic cleansing, with a growing list of violent practices and human rights violations being revealed. The latest revelation is that China is collecting hundreds of blood samples from the Uyghur. What for, you may ask? Chinese scientists have been working on developing a technology from which, by using samples of a person’s DNA, images of a person’s face could be recreated. China is not the only country developing this sort of technology, with notably the United States also working on this, but China’s motives are very questionable: many have argued that this technology could be in development to facilitate China’s ethnic cleansing operations. This would generally make it easier for the government to track any citizens that disrupt the political “peace” of China including protesters, terrorists, or criminals. The development of this technology poses a lot of questions in terms of how ethical and legal the practice is, as it is unlikely the Uyghur consented to the collection of their DNA.
What is Russia’s new law on freedom of speech?
And we continue this rundown with some more very questionable decisions in terms of ethics and respect for human rights. This time it is Russia that is entering the spotlight as a new law was recently implemented with regards to freedom of speech. Any individual or organisation content or advertisement for which international funding is received will have to start registering as a “foreign agent”. This was something that had already been put in place for NGOs implementing in the country, who had faced many complications as a result. Indeed, being registered as a foreign agent comes with a different set of tedious bureaucratic requirements and higher taxes, which will lead to legal action being taken if not all applied properly. Many have expressed their outrage following this announcement as they claim this policy reduces the number of people who can advertise and share, effectively reducing their freedom of speech.
This is still an ongoing debate as technically, Russia is not censoring or reducing anyone’s ability to advertise, share or express anything, but knowing the country’s history and relationship with democratic values such as freedom of speech, it has made international public opinion very sceptical about the motives of the Russian government behind the implementation of this law.
What does Sudan’s policy change mean for the country’s development?
This week, let’s end the rundown on a positive note. Despite all the chaos, confusion and unrest we have been tackling in these rundowns, today, we bring some good news. Late last week, the Sudan government made the important decision to revoke a long list of oppressing and human-right violating laws that had been put in place by the previous government.
In 1992 and 1996, leader Al-Bashir had put in place a Public Order Act diminishing the freedom and rights of Sudanese citizens and punishing them in the name of religion. Laws featured in this act imposed many restrictions, mainly on women: with laws restricting what they were allowed to wear (no trousers, hair covered at all times), their movement (illegal to be seen walking with a man who was not a family member or husband, no right for women to attend social events where men are present), and their work-life (a vague but extensive list of criteria for women to get a job, when the availability was already limited). Other laws also abolished the right to produce, sell, buy or share alcohol with anyone and disobeying this could lead to imprisonment for up to a year. To add to the unfairness to this act, most laws were quite vague and meaningless, which for over 20 years, enabled police officials to abuse their power, especially against women and younger citizens.
Earlier this year, Sudan saw the demise of Al-Bashir, who had been ruling the country since 1989. Following Al-Bashir’s destitution in April 2019 following months of peaceful protests, a Transitional Military Council was put in place to oversee the shift towards civilian rule. However, even after the successful coup d’état, demonstrations continued, and in June, hundreds died in clashes between pro-democracy protesters and military forces. The protests finally came to an end when the Forces for Freedom and Change, an alliance of civilian groups that had organised the protests, and the Transitional Military Council signed the July 2019 Political Agreement and the August 2019 Draft Constitutional Declaration. Activists, charities and citizens have all agreed that this is a major step forward in the road to democratisation, but are however not forgetting the country’s pervasive economic and gender inequality.