East Asia
Hong_Kong

Hong Kong: pro-democracy activists sentenced

Ten veteran Hong Kong pro-democracy activists—all aged 60 or older—were sentenced for participating in two unpermitted demonstrations, both in August 2019. They include Martin Lee, 82, hailed as Hong Kong’s “Father of Democracy,” and former lawmaker Margaret Ng, 73, who both received suspended sentences. Newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai, 72, will have to serve 14 months in prison. Also receiving between eight and 18 months were Lee Cheuk-yan, Leung Yiu-chung, Cyd Ho Sau-lan, Albert Ho Chun-yan, Yeung Sum, Au Nok-Hin and Leung Kwok-hung. The sentences fell short of the maximum of five years the defendants had faced. But Amnesty International said: “The wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of these 10 activists underlines the Hong Kong government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition in the city.” (Photo: Iris Wong/Wikimedia)

The Andes
castillo

Peru: electoral upset portends polarization

Peru seems poised for polarization following surprise results in first-round presidential elections that saw a previously unknown leftist candidate, Pedro Castillo, taking 19% of the vote in a very crowded field—more than any of his rivals. In a June run-off, he will face his runner-up—hard-right candidate Keiko Fujimori, who took 13%. The two candidates represent the extremes of Peru’s electoral spectrum. Fujimori is the daughter of imprisoned ex-dictator Alberto Fujimori—and had herself been imprisoned as corruption charges were pending against her last year. Her Fuerza Popular party is the paradoxical populist vehicle of the most reactionary sectors of the country’s elites, and has actually been assailed as a “mafia organization.” Castillo, in vivid contrast, is a former school-teacher and trade unionist of campesino background from the poor and rural Andean region of Cajamarca. His successful grassroots campaign is seen an upsurge from such forgotten parts of the country, in rejection of the Lima-based political class. (Photo of Pedro Castillo in Lima via Twitter)

Mexico
Juarez

Northern Mexico: aid efforts struggle to keep pace

Humanitarian response networks in northern Mexico are stretched thin between the growing number of people fleeing violence, poverty, and climate disasters in Central America, the continued expulsion of asylum-seekers and migrants who enter the United States irregularly, and the lingering effects of Trump-era migration policies. Nowhere is this pressure being felt more acutely than in Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city of around 1.5 million bordering El Paso, Texas. Shelters are overwhelmed and underfunded, and more arrive every day—from both the north and south. (Photo: Luís Chaparro/The New Humanitarian)

Southeast Asia
Kachin Independence Army cadets in Laiza (Paul Vrieze VOA)

Burma: resistance unveils federal constitution

The leadership of Burma’s democratic resistance issued a statement declaring the country’s 2008 constitution void and putting forward an interim replacement charter—a major political challenge to the ruling military junta. From hiding, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH, a reference to the lower house of Burma’s suspended parliament) released the text of the interim Federal Democracy Charter to social media. Significantly, it adopts a federal rather than centralized model of government, which has long been a demand of the ethnic rebel armies that control much of the country’s north and east. Recent days have seen renewed fighting between the military and rebel armies in Kayin and Kachin states. Repression of pro-democracy protesters in Burma’s cities has now claimed at least 530 lives. (Photo of Kachin Independence Army fighters via WikiMedia Commons)

Syria
Atareb

Syria: outrage after Assad regime attack on hospital

Aid groups working in besieged northern Syria are expressing outrage after a hospital in the town of al-Atareb was destroyed by artillery fire. Six people were killed in the strikes, including a child, and at least 16 injured. The hospital was within the rebel-held pocket of Aleppo province, which has come under renewed bombardment by the Assad regime and Russia in recent weeks after a year-long lull in the fighting. The hospital was jointly supported by the International Rescue Committee and the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS). All the casualties were civilians. The IRC said in a statement: “Although SAMS shared the hospital’s coordinates through the UN’s notification system, it came under attack and has now been damaged so severely that it can no longer be used.” (Photo via Daily Sabah)

Syria
syria betrayed

Ten years after: the Syrian Revolution betrayed

Ten years after the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful anti-regime protests, the UN Human Rights Commission released a report finding that actions by the Assad regime and its Russian allies over the course of the Syrian war have likely constituted “crimes against humanity, war crimes and other international crimes, including genocide.” The UN and human rights groups have issued such findings repeatedly—to little media coverage. The charge of genocide officially requires the world to act under the Genocide Convention. But the world is no longer even paying attention. (Image: Delawer Omar)

Southern Cone
paraguay

March revolution in Paraguay?

Paraguay is witnessing an explosion of mass protest over government mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis. With hospitals overwhelmed and infections soaring, teachers refused orders for a mandatory return to classes. The following day, nurses, doctors, patients and their families demonstrated outside the main hospital in the capital Asunción to protest the lack of vaccines, protective equipment and basic medications. Finally, widespread protests escalated to clashes with the riot police, leaving one demonstrator dead and several injured. President Mario Abdo Benítez of the conservative Colorado Party offered dialogue and forced the resignation of several cabinet members, including the health minister. But protesters continue to mobilize, demanding the resignation of Abdo himself and his entire government, under the slogan !Que se vayan todos! (Throw them all out!) (Photo via Twitter)

The Amazon
facebook

Facebook enables deforestation in Brazilian Amazon

Criminal networks in Brazil are illegally selling and deforesting protected lands—even within an indigenous reserve—and posting the plots for sale on Facebook, according to an investigation by the BBC. In a documentary, “Selling the Amazon,” BBC Brasil went undercover to reveal how illegal land-grabbers are moving in on public land in the Amazon—clearing rainforest and selling plots to ranchers at highly inflated prices. The documentary showed plots of these cleared lands being openly advertized on Facebook. Contacted by BBC, Facebook said it was “ready to work with the authorities” to investigate the matter, but would not take independent action to halt the land-trading on its platform. (Photo via Mongabay)

South Asia
Mushtaq Ahmed

Bangladesh: protests erupt as writer dies in prison

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets and blocked intersections in Dhaka to protest the death of a writer and commentator in prison, who had been charged under Bangladesh’s controversial Digital Security Act (DSA). The deceased, popular author and blogger Mushtaq Ahmed, had been arrested last May after posting comments on social media in which he criticized the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. At least 10 others were also charged with sedition under the DSA that month, including political cartoonist Kabir Kishore, who remains imprisoned. At a court hearing last month, Kishore passed a note to his brother stating that he had been physically abused in prison, resulting in severe injuries. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding his release, and that the claim of maltreatment be investigated. (Photo via Twitter)

East Asia
qiaochu

China: rights defender detained in ‘quarantine’

Li Qiaochu, a feminist, labor researcher, and human rights defender who has especially advocated for the rights of migrant workers in China, is being held incommunicado following her arrest for “subversion of state power.” Li was detained in Beijing, where she lives, and taken to Linyi city in Shandong province, where her partner and fellow human rights defender Xu Zhiyong is also detained and facing the same charge. Li’s detention follows her disclosure of Xu’s torture and mistreatment in detention. When Li’s lawyer formally requested that the Linyi Municipal Public Security Bureau grant access to her, he was told she is being held in quarantine at a local hospital. She is apparently to be transferred to the Linyi Municipal Detention Center once the quarantine is completed. (Image: FrontLine Defenders)

Planet Watch
Mars probe

Podcast: US robo-imperialism hands off Mars!

In Episode 64 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes the maddening and telling irony that while we’re all supposed to be ga-ga with triumphalism over NASA’s latest Mars probe, it has received practicailly no attention that Afro-Brazilian peasant communities are being forcibly removed from their traditional lands to make way for a US-backed expansion of the Alcântara Satellite Launch Center in impoverished MaranhĂŁo state. This juxtaposition of news stories is paradigmatic of the whole global struggle—sustainable, Earth-rooted cultures against a hypertrophing technosphere that is now colonizing the very heavens. Meanwhile, there are already so many satellites in orbit that near-Earth space is experiencing a fast-growing “space junk” problem. And economic austerity down here on terra firma is compounding the agonizing impacts of the pandemic. Whatever useful knowledge may be gleaned from the Mars probe, accounts don’t note that Halliburton is drawing up plans for mining operations on Mars. We recall Gil Scott Heron’s wry reaction to the 1969 Moon landing (“Whitey on the Moon“), and say with Marvin Gaye: “Spend it on the have-nots!” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Image adapted from NASA photo)

The Andes
yaku

Indigenous candidate upsets Ecuador elections

Ecuador is heading to a run-off presidential race in April after leftist candidate Andrés Arauzof the Union of Hope (UNES) coalition won a first-round victory, following years of economic austerity made more painful by the pandemic. However, in a surprise development, his rival leftist Yaku Pérez Guartambel of the indigenous-based Pachakutik party emerged neck-to-neck with conservative banker Guillermo Lasso of the right-wing Creating Opportunities (CREO) party. The vote is still too close to call which challenger Arauz will face in the April run-off. Pérez portrays UNES and CREO alike as parties of the right that have embraced an economic model based on resource extraction. (Photo: Revista Crisis)