Sudan’s democratic spring is turning into a long and ugly summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘GLOBAL VOICES’)

 

Sudan’s democratic spring is turning into a long and ugly summer

Protestor’s near the Sudanese army headquarters in Khartoum in April 2019. Photo by M. Saleh (CC BY-SA 4.0)

When protesters forced Omar al-Bashir out of power in Sudan this April after 30 years of dictatorial role, it was an unalloyed good for the world. Bashir has been wanted by The Hague since 2008 for genocide and war crimes in Darfur, and his ouster was a key step towards a free and democratic Sudan, as well as justice for Darfuris.

But what’s followed in Sudan has been far less encouraging. Sudan’s military has promised elections, but not for as much as two years. The Transitional Military Council (TMC), the military leaders now in charge of the country, have included Bashir confidantes like Lt. General Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf, who was suspected of leading Janjawid militia massacres in Darfur. Many Sudan observers Believe that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is the person really pulling the strings on the TMC, where he serves as vice president. Hemedti not only recruited and led many of the Janjawid fighters who brutally suppressed dissent in Darfur—he has also been accused of having recruited child soldiers from Darfur to fight in Yemen’s bloody civil war on behalf of the Saudis.

Despite the obvious dangers, Sudanese pro-democracy protesters are back out in the streets, demanding immediate transition to a civilian government. Their demands have been met with brutal violence. On June 3, security forces including the Rapid Support Forces (RSF)—whose members are veterans of the Janjawid militias responsible for Darfur’s worst massacres—killed over 100 protesters, dumping bodies into the Nile River, raping and robbing civilians stopped at military checkpoints.

Despite these horrific incidents, Sudanese citizens have continued to fight, launching a mass general strike on Sunday June 9.

The struggle over the internet

As with most conflicts today, there’s an important information component to the struggle between activists and the Sudanese military. The protests that ousted Bashir and have confronted the military have been organized by groups of middle-class Sudanese like the Sudanese Professionals Association and the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors using social media, especially Facebook. Since the June 3 massacre, Sudan’s mobile internet has been largely shut down, making online organizing and reporting on conditions on the ground vastly more difficult. Sudan’s government previously shut down the internet for 68 days to combat the protests that ultimately led to Bashir’s ouster.

Facebook was an especially significant force in bringing women into the streets to protest against Bashir. Tamerra Griffin reported on a set of women-only Facebook groups that were initially used to share gossip, but which were mobilized to identify abusive state security officials, who were then hounded and sometimes chased out of their own neighborhoods. The presence of women in the protest movements and the Zagrounda chant—a women’s ululation—has become a signature of the uprising. Bashir memorably declared that the government could not be changed through WhatsApp or Facebook. His ouster suggests that the power of social networks as tools for mobilization is routinely underestimated by governments.

But now social media seems to be leveraged at least as much by the military as by the opposition. The internet has not been completely shut down—the government has been able to maintain its presence on Facebook, which features at least four pages controlled by the RSF, which are advertising the militia veterans’ version of events. Sudanese activist Mohamed Suliman is organizing a petition campaign, demanding Facebook remove these pages in recognition that they promote violence against peaceful protesters in Sudan.

In addition to combatting Sudanese propaganda on Facebook, Sudanese activists inside the country and in the diaspora are looking for ways to return internet access to the general population, so they can continue organizing protests and document government violence. Activists are organizing information-sharing networks on top of SMS and voice phone calls, but I’m also getting calls from Sudanese friends who wonder whether technologies like Google’s Loon could be used to put a cloud of connectivity over Khartoum. (The answer: maybe. Loon acts as an antenna for existing telecoms networks, and those networks in Sudan have been forced to cut off connectivity. In addition, a balloon floating 20km over a city is a very attractive missile target.)

Until very recently, the few Sudanese who had access via ADSL had been opening their wifi networks or sharing passwords with friends and inviting them to post messages from their houses. A couple of days ago I was seeing reports—unconfirmed—that even ADSL has been turned off. This may signal the start of a new phase of the crackdown.

Space Cadet@nourality

🔻🔻🔻
Last available internet route “Sudani ADSL” is now reported to be down.

This completes a dark ring over sudan as internet are now Almost completely disabled, this gives the TMC milita “janjaweed” enough lack of media attention to continue abusing and killing the Sudan.

Ahmed Abdalla@A_Abdalla

الآن قطع خدمة انترنت سوداني ADSL أيضاً
الخدمة الوحيدة التي استمرت تعمل منذ إيقاف المجلس الانقلابي الانترنت في السودان قبل عدة أيام.
الآن اكتمل التعتيم على جرائم الجنجويد في السودان والعالم يتفرج#العصيان_المدني_الشامل

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On the morning of June 10 Yassir Arman, a major figure in the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement, which fought a war against Khartoum leading to the independence of South Sudan, was deported from Khartoum to Juba by military helicopter.

Yassir Arman@Yassir_Arman

I have been deported against my will by a military helicopter from Khartoum to Juba. I was not aware of where they were taking me. I asked them many times. They tied me up in the helicopter together with Comrade Ismail Khamis Jalab and Mubarak Ardol.

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One major channel for information from Sudan in the future may be from Sudanese who are in touch with organizers on the ground who have been forced to flee the country and report from neighboring countries.

Countries are known by the company they keep, and the military government’s supporters are well resourced: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have provided $3 billion in aid to the military leaders. Given the Trump administration’s tight ties to the Saudi and UAE governments—which have extended to overruling Congress in selling arms to those regimes—it seems unlikely that a petition to the White House to recognize the RSF as a terrorist organization will meet with approval any time soon. (By contrast the African Union—which has a regrettable history of ignoring misbehavior by African military rulers— has suspended Sudan after this weekend’s crackdown.

A few things we can do to help

It’s hard to know what to do as a private citizen when faced with a situation like the one in Sudan. Some thoughts on what might actually be helpful:

– Pay attention and ask others to do so as well. All governments, including military governments, are limited in what actions they can take by public perception. If Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates understand that people are actually watching what the Sudanese military is doing, it may limit their willingness to support a government run in part by experienced génocidaires. Reporter Yousra Elbagir is reporting from the ground in Khartoum and her Twitter feed is deeply helpful. Declan Walsh, the New York Times bureau chief, is doing excellent reporting from the groundReem Abbas, a Sudanese journalist and blogger, is sharing excellent content, much of it in Arabic. Al Jazeera’s synthesis of the conflict has been excellent, but I worry that their reliance on Skype interviews to cover events may limit their coverage going forward:

– In the spirit of getting people interested in what’s going on in Sudan, I recommend Hasan Minhaj’s occasionally silly but good-hearted Patriot Act episode on Sudan’s pro-democracy movement and the military government’s violent reaction.

– Pressure organizations that are helping legitimate the military government. That includes Facebook, which should not be hosting pages for the Rapid Support Forces, or for any entities associated with the transitional military government.

Sudan’s two telecom operators—MTN and Zain—are international companies which could (in theory) be pressured to violate the military’s demands that they shut down. Zain is a Kuwaiti company, which means they are heavily influenced by Saudi Arabia, but MTN as a South African company might be susceptible to shareholder pressure, lawsuits, etc. The Internet Society has released a statement calling for Sudan to turn the internet back on. It’s unclear whether they would be an organizing point for protests to pressure MTN.

– It can be difficult to get money to the ground in Sudan. While the Trump administration removed some financial sanctions on Sudan in 2017, other sanctions stemming from the Darfur conflict remain in place. My friends in Sudan have pointed me to Bakri Ali and the University of Khartoum Alumni Association USA, a US 501c3 which is using their tax-exempt status to deliver aid to democracy protesters.

It can be hard, in retrospect, to remember the excitement and enthusiasm that accompanied the Egyptian revolution and the broader Arab Spring. But after only a year of a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government, a military dictatorship took over. The fear right now is that Sudan could go directly from one dictatorship to another—from one Arab winter to another without an intervening Spring. Some Sudanese protesters have been using the slogan “Victory or Egypt”, looking at the return to dictatorship as the worst possible outcome. The worse outcome is even worse—it’s the prospect of systemic military violence like in Darfur, without intervention by the international community. The same folks are in charge, and we are already looking away.

Hundreds of thousands protest in Hong Kong against the extradition bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF GLOBAL VOICES)

 

Hundreds of thousands protest in Hong Kong against the extradition bill

Huge protesting crowd against the extradition bill paralyzed a large part of Hong Kong Island on June 9 2019. Photo from inmediahk.net

Hundreds of thousands of people in Hong Kong took to the streets on Sunday, 9 June 2019, to stop the government from passing amendments to the existing extradition laws – the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.

The rally started at 2:30 p.m. and it quickly paralyzed a large part of Hong Kong island. Anna Pearce recorded the crowd near Victoria Park, the starting place of the rally:

Anna Pearce@stilltalkin

No to China extradition.. incredible mass protest turnout in Hong Kong pic.twitter.com/DmE643iKVx

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Streets flooded with protesters

The organizer of the rally, Civil Human Rights Front, estimated that there were more than a million protesters in the rally as the scale of the protest was larger than the anti-national security law mobilization on 1 July 2003. But the police said there were about 240,000 in the streets during the peak of the rally. As South China Morning Post reporter Jeffie Lam put it, Hongkongers made history today:

Jeffie Lam

@jeffielam

are making history today. All lanes of the Hennessy Road – including those which police refused to open before – are flooded by protesters against the @SCMPNews pic.twitter.com/UTr2ui7Fix

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Protesters said the proposed amendments would make it easier for mainland China to cause the arrest of critics, dissidents, and even journalists in Hong Kong. They were chanting “no evil law” and calling for the city’s chief executive Carrie Lam to step down.

Protester placard: No China extradition; Liar Carrie Lam, step down. Image via inmediahk.net CC: AT-NC

A social worker told reporter from inmediahk.net that she rallied to defend the people working in the social work sector because under China’s judicial system, those who tried to bring positive change in society would be arrested. Another student protester believes that once the amendment is passed, the city will cease to exist as the constitutional principle of “One Country Two Systems” would come to an end.

Denise Ho (HOCC)

@hoccgoomusic

Today, Hongkonger are telling the world we oppose the Extradition Bill! pic.twitter.com/fNvaBjRhRm

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter
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There have been several mass protests against the extradition bill. On 30 March, about 12,000 rallied from Wanchai to Admiralty right before the government presented the amendment bill to the legislature. One month later on 28 April, about 130,000 took to the streets demanding the scrapping of the bill.

The series protests has caught the world’s attention. Many are now monitoring if the city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam would withdraw the controversial bill which is scheduled for second reading in the legislative chamber this week.

The amendments were first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February to provide further legal grounds for the Chief Executive and local courts to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements, specifically Taiwan and China. By citing the murder case of a pregnant woman in Taiwan, the government claimed that amending the extradition laws was meant to address ‘legal loophole’ that allow fugitives to escape punishment.

However, legal experts pointed out that the so-called ‘loophole’ was in reality a firewall to prevent crime suspects from being handed over to mainland China where there is no fair trial.

Human rights defenders, journalists, NGO workers and social workers at risk

Various sectors have warned that if extradition requests are processed without legislative oversight, the amendments would provide a legal basis for mainland Chinese authorities to arrest political dissents. This concern was stated in an open letter jointly signed by over 70 non-government organizations:

Given the Chinese judiciary’s lack of independence, and other procedural shortcomings that often result in unfair trials, we are worried that the proposed changes will put at risk anyone in the territory of Hong Kong who has carried out work related to the Mainland, including human rights defenders, journalists, NGO workers and social workers, even if the person was outside the Mainland when the ostensible crime was committed. We are calling on the Hong Kong government to immediately withdraw the bill…

Instead of addressing the concerns raised by the petitioners, the Beijing Liaison Office met representatives of the local business sector and demanded them to back the bill. At the same time, the Hong Kong government gave some concessions to the business sector by exempting nine white-collar crimes in the bill and raising the threshold for extradition from crimes punishable by three years in jail to crimes with a seven-year prison penalty.

But on the other hand, it decided to by-pass the legislative committee-level deliberations and tabled the bill for full legislative council discussion.

The direct intervention of the Beijing Liaison Office and the Hong Kong government’s violation of legislative procedure have given a strong and clear signal to the public that the amendment bill is a controversial political decision which is far from protecting Hong Kong people’s interest.

Under the current bill, foreigners who traveled to Hong Kong could also be handed over to mainland Chinese authorities upon extradition requests. Diplomats from the U.S, Canada and European Union have expressed a concern about this. Against the background of the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, some are worriedthat the amendments would turn Hong Kong into a battlefield of international politics:

The intended effects of the amendments can be regarded as a mirrored counterpart of the legal rights utilised by the US government in Meng’s case [Note: the arrest of Meng Wanzhou in Canada upon the extradition request filed by the United State on 1 of December 2018]. If the amendments are passed, then any person who happens to come to Hong Kong can be arrested and surrendered to mainland China with the consent of a court or the Chief Executive, and without deliberation in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.

More than 2500 lawyers demonstrated against the amendment of extradition law on June 6. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

The Hong Kong government responded by accusing the opposition of misleading the public.

Lawyers stage “Black March”

But among those who have spoken out against the bill were not just opposition politicians but also members of the professional legal sector. On 6 June, the legal sector staged a “black march” against the controversial bill. Dressed in black, about 2,500 lawyers gathered outside the Court of Final Appeal and marched to government headquarters in silence. Prior to the “black march”, both the BAR society and the Law society have submitted opinions to the government demanding an extensive consultation with the legal sector and other stakeholders.

While debate in the legislature has been muted by the Hong Kong government, grassroots opposition voices have taken over. In the past few weeks, social media platforms have been flooded with joint signature campaigns against the amendments initiated by hundreds of university and secondary schools alumni groups, Christian groups, and neighborhood associations.

Hongkongers abroad have also spoken out. Diaspora Hong Kong communities from at least 25 cities, including London, New York, Berlin, Toronto, Melbourne, and Tokyo among others also held a coordinated protest against the amendment bill.

Roydon Ng@RoydonNg

Chants of We Love Hong Kong and We Love Freedom are shouted from central CBD (). Protesters oppose the law that would allow for extradition to mainland China. Police estimate 2000 attending. pic.twitter.com/AycfpKVNjO

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The whole world is now watching if Carrie Lam would redraw or continue to push through the extradition bill in Legislature this week.

Protesters Fill Prague Square Again, in New Struggle for Country’s Soul

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Protesters Fill Prague Square Again, in New Struggle for Country’s Soul

Tens of thousands rallied in the Czech capital on Tuesday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis. Credit David Josek/Associated Press

PRAGUE — In the square in the heart of Prague, where crowds gathered three decades ago in their bid to wrest freedom from Communist rule and where independence was proclaimed seven decades before that, protest songs rang out again on Tuesday night.

Tens of thousands of men, women and children, coming from across the Czech Republic, waving flags and carrying signs attacking the government, gathered for what they said was yet another struggle for the soul of their democracy.

What started six weeks ago as a relatively contained protest — over the appointment of a justice minister many believe will protect Prime Minister Andrej Babis from potential fraud charges — has grown into something broader and possibly harder to control. Organizers said Tuesday that as many as 120,000 people had attended the protest, a count that would make it one of Prague’s largest demonstrations since 1989.

“This is about more than just corruption,” said Tomas Peszynski, 44, holding the corner of an oversize European Union flag. “This is about an abuse of the system of government and a fight to protect the institutions of democracy.”

Mr. Babis has responded with his characteristic bravado — he said the large crowd size was a reflection of the nice weather — and he has condemned those leading investigations into his business dealings as being part of vast political conspiracy.

“We have Babis hysteria again,” he recently told lawmakers. “Try to do something for the people instead, don’t just take a swipe at Babis.”

Mr. Babis has been battling accusations of corruption for years and, in an interview last year, he did not hide his anger, saying it was impossible to defend himself from the constant stream of attacks. But he has proved resilient, having already survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament.

However, the large demonstrations — with organizers promising more in the weeks to come — present a different challenge.

In neighboring Slovakia, months of protests fueled by anger over corruption forced the government to collapse and paved the way for a newcomer, Zuzana Caputova, to win the presidential election this year. The success of the movement there was closely watched by organizers in their brother nation, as the two countries have called themselves since their peaceful separation in 1993.

In fact, Mr. Babis was elected to Parliament in 2013 in part because of a promise to battle corruption.

With a net worth estimated at around $4 billion, he presented himself as someone who could not be corrupted. And as a businessman who came from outside the familiar cast of political elite tainted by years of scandal, he promised a new era.

The voters agreed. In 2017 parliamentary elections, Mr. Babis and his party won a resounding victory, and he was named prime minister.

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Mr. Babis in Parliament last week. “Try to do something for the people instead, don’t just take a swipe at Babis,” he has told his critics.Credit Martin Divisek/EPA, via Shutterstock

Now, many accuse him of betrayal, and worse, engaging in an effort to bend the legal system to protect himself as he faces increased scrutiny over how his sprawling conglomerate — which includes more than 200 businesses, from agriculture to media — used funds provided by the European Union.

“We believed what he was saying when he was first elected,” said Dagmar Pavelkova, 27. “But there were just too many stories about his corruption and now he is trying to manipulate the legal system to get off.”

She traveled three hours from Hranice na Morave with her husband, who carried a sign with the famous words of the anti-Communist hero Vaclav Havel: “Truth and Love Will Prevail.”

Mr. Babis has been dogged by accusations of corruption for years, but the recent protests began in April, shortly after the police recommended that he face fraud charges in connection with a European Union subsidy to finance construction of a resort near Prague, called the Stork’s Nest.

The next day, the justice minister, Jan Knezinek, resigned. He was replaced by Marie Benesova, who is close to the country’s president, Milos Zeman, an ally of Mr. Babis. The move set off immediate outrage.

Under the Czech system, while the police can recommend an indictment, only the state’s prosecutor, who is appointed by the justice minister, can file charges.

For his part, Mr. Babis dismissed the police investigation as a politically orchestrated attack.

An audit by the European Commission made public last week has been harder to ignore. It found that Mr. Babis’s company, Agrofert, has benefited from European Union funds. Since he stands to gain from the success of his company — even though he maintains he has divorced himself from its operation — the audit found that his impartiality was compromised, first when he served as finance minister and later when he became prime minister.

“I strictly reject this opinion and I will fight for it to be changed,” Mr. Babis said. “The Czech Republic certainly won’t have to return any subsidies. There’s no reason for that, because I’m not violating any Czech or European legal norms.”

Speaking in a session of Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Babis stepped up his attacks on his opponents.

“I consider the audit an attack on the Czech Republic, an attack on the interests of the Czech Republic,” he thundered. “It is a destabilization of the Czech Republic.”

While the crowd of protesters on Tuesday was large, Mr. Babis’s Anos party still has a solid base of support. In the recent European Parliament election, affiliated candidates got some 20 percent of the vote, the highest of any party.

But more than anything else, the results showed how fractured the political landscape in the country has become.

The Social Democrats, who were at the center of Czech politics for a quarter-century, are now just one of a handful of parties fighting for the vote of an angry and disillusioned electorate.

Many of those on the square on Tuesday rejected party labels.

Jitka Cvancarova, a famous Czech actress who spoke from the stage in front of the National Museum, said that values should be at the core of any decent society.

“Mr. Babis,” she said, addressing the prime minister directly. “You can probably buy a lot, but you cannot buy our honor, our hearts or our freedom.”

Hana de Goeij contributed reporting from Prague.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Crowds Fill Prague Again, Provoked by Corruption. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe