Inmates across the US began a planned 19-day strike on Aug. 21 in protest of poor conditions, no-to-low pay for work, and racist prison administration practices. The strike, set to take place in 17 states, was organized by many groups, including the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and Jailhouse Lawyers Speak. Those participating in the strike will not show up to their assigned jobs and will engage in sit-ins; some prisoners may elect to go on hunger strike. The strike is set to last until Sept. 9, coinciding with the start of the Attica Prison Uprising in 1971. Organizers planned the strike for August after seven inmates were killed during a riot at a South Carolina prison in April.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a cybersecurity law Aug. 18 that gives the government broad authority to block websites deemed to constitute a threat to national security or the economy, imposing prison terms for anyone found guilty of running or just visiting such sites. Amnesty International described the new law as giving "the state near-total control over print, online and broadcast media." The Cairo-based Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression said more than 500 websites had already been blocked in Egypt prior to the new law being signed. There is another cybersecurity law before the president, which would place all Twitter accounts with more than 5,000 followers under government supervision. With street protests in Egypt all but banned, the Internet has been one of the last spaces left for dissent. Sisi has been in power since 2013 and won an election this past spring with 92% of the vote. Sisi ran virtually unopposed, and the turn-out was only 40%.
In Episode 16 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses how Berbers, Palestinians, Sahrawi Arabs and other subjugated peoples of the Middle East and North Africa are pitted against each other by the Great Game of nation-states. Berbers in Morocco and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories face identical issues of cultural erasure, yet Moroccan support for the Palestinians and retaliatory Israeli support for the Berbers constitute an obstacle to solidarity. The Sahrawi Arabs are meanwhile fighting for their independence from Morocco in their occupied territory of Western Sahara. But the Arab-nationalist ideology of their leadership is viewed with suspicion by the territory's Berbers—leading to Arab-Berber ethnic tensions in Morocco. Algeria, Morocco's regional rival, is backing the Sahrawi struggle, while denying cultural rights to its own Berber population. But there are also signs of hope. Arabs and Berbers were united in the 2011 Arab Revolution protests in Morocco, and greater Berber cultural rights were a part of the constitutional reform won by those protests. Algeria, facing resurgent Berber protests, adopted a similar constitutional reform in 2016, and has taken other measures to expand recognition of Berber cultural rights. And the new protest wave in Morocco's Rif Mountains over the past year has united Arab and Berber. These developments point to hope for the subaltern peoples of MENA to overcome the divide-and-rule game and build solidarity. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Four years after Russia's annexation of Crimea, repression is mounting against the peninsula's Tatar people—whose autonomous powers, officially recognized under Ukrainian rule, have been unilaterally revoked. The group Human Rights in Ukraine is demanding that Russian authorities provide details on the death at the hands of Russian agents of Vedzhie Kashka, an 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, last November. On Nov. 23, 2017, a team of Russian National Guard troops with OMON and FSB secret police officers carried out raids in which five Tatar leaders were briefly detained while their homes were searched. Kashka was among those targeted, and died during the operation. An initial report said Kashka had died of coronary artery disease, but an investigation carried out months later after her family had contracted a lawyer revealed that she had suffered several broken ribs. Authorities are still not providing an explanation.
A UN human rights committee this week raised the alarm about reports that China is holding up to a million Uighurs in what are being termed "counter-extremism centers" in the western Xinjiang autonomous region. Gay McDougall of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination raised the claims at a two-day meeting on China held at the UN's Geneva headquarters. McDougall termed the centers "political camps for indoctrination,” and raised the prospect that Beijing has "turned the Uighur autonomous region into something that resembles a massive internment camp." Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have submitted reports to the UN committee detailing claims of mass detention. The World Uyghur Congress said in its report that detainees are held indefinitely without charge, and forced to shout Communist Party slogans. (BBC News, Reuters)
A Libyan appeals court on Aug. 15 sentenced 45 former pro-Qaddafi militiamen to death by firing squad for their involvement in murders that occurred during the 2011 uprising. The defendants were accused of opening fire on a crowd of demonstrators calling for the end of Moammar Qaddafi's regime in the Abu Salim district of Tripoli, the nation's capital. An additional 54 people were handed five-year prison sentences, and 22 of the militiamen were acquitted. According to the Ministry of Justice, the president, members of the court and victims were present at the sentencing. These are the first death sentences given by the Tripoli Court of Appeals since Saif al-Islam Qaddafi was sentenced to be hanged in 2015.
Turkey's TRT World runs a report Aug. 15 recalling the Chontal Maya blockades of the Pemex oil installations in Mexico's southern state of Tabasco in 1996, to protest the pollution of their lands and waters. This is a struggle that is still being waged today by the Chontal of Tabasco, but back in 1996 the figurehead of the movement was Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO)—now Mexico's left-populist president-elect. The report asks if AMLO as president will remain true to the indigenous struggle that first put him on Mexico's political map. In a segment exploring this question, TRT World speaks with Melissa Ortiz Massó of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and CounterVortex editor Bill Weinberg.
Reports of rights abuses in the north Syrian enclave of Afrin, taken by Turkish forces and Free Syrian Army allies from Kurdish defenders in March, continue to mount. An Amnesty International alert issued Aug. 1 charges that Afrin residents have been arbitrarily detained and tortured, with houses and businesses looted and confiscated, and schools destroyed or taken over by militia forces. These abuses mostly took place "at the hands of Syrian armed groups equipped and armed by Turkey," while "Turkey’s armed forces have turned a blind eye." Thousands of children have had their education disrupted by the take-over of their schools for use by rebel militias and even directly by Turkish troops.