Weekly update: 10 January – 16 January 2022
The following media round up on international and foreign policy issues from around the world for the period of 10 January to 16 January 2022. Guernica 37 will provide weekly media updates from the International Criminal Court, European Court of Human Rights, United Nations, European Union and other sources. Should you wish to contribute or submit a media summary, opinion piece or blog, please send to Ned Vucijak at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.
Myanmar – 10 January 2022
Aung San Suu Kyi has been handed a four-year jail sentence by a military court in Myanmar over various offences, including illegal possession of walkie-talkies, the latest judgment in a series of cases that could lead to her spending the rest of her life in detention. According to Associated Press, Aung San Suu Kyi was found guilty on charges related to illegally importing and owning walkie-talkies, and of breaking coronavirus rules. There has been scarce information about the proceedings in any of her trials, which cannot be accessed by media or observers. Her lawyer has also been prevented from speaking to journalists.
Kazakhstan – 10 January 2022
Kazakhstan's President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has described deadly violence last week as an attempted coup d’état. He told leaders of a military alliance of ex-Soviet states the action had been co-ordinated by a "single centre", but did not name those responsible. Russia's President Vladimir Putin said Kazakhstan had been targeted by international terrorism, but provided no evidence for this claim. He added that Russia would never allow revolutions in the region. Troops from Russia and other countries are currently in Kazakhstan to restore order.
Saudi Arabia – 11 January 2022
A court in Saudi Arabia has for the first time ordered that a man convicted of sexual harassment be named and shamed in public, local media report. Yasser al-Arawi was found guilty by the Criminal Court in Medina of harassing a woman using obscene remarks. He was sentenced to eight months in prison and fined $1,330 (£980). The anti-harassment law was amended a year ago to allow for offenders' names and sentences to be published in local newspapers at their own expense. Judges were left to decide whether the "gravity of the crime and its impact on society" warranted such a step. The law, which took effect in 2018, already stipulated penalties of up to two years in prison and fines of up to $27,000 for those found guilty of an act of sexual harassment. Repeat offenders face being imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to $80,000.
Russia / Ukraine – 12 January 2022
Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said there is “a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe” after talks between alliance members and Russia ended with no signs of progress towards defusing the crisis over Ukraine. The Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, emerged from the four hours of talks renewing Moscow’s threat that it would take military steps if political measures were not enough to “neutralise the threats” it says it faces. His remarks came only days after his fellow Russian diplomat, Sergei Ryabkov, had assured reporters Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine. Stoltenberg called the day’s meeting a “defining moment for European security”, but said “significant differences” remained. Tomáš Valášek, a Slovak MP, who served as his country’s ambassador to Nato between 2013 and 2017, said the Nato-Russia Councils he attended “tended to be mere formalities, but not for lack of trying on the Nato side”. He said: “The Russian side wasn’t prepared to go beyond agreed notes, agreed talking points, so in the end these meetings ended up being very formalistic without breaking any new ground.”
Iran / United Kingdom (UK) – 12 January 2022
The British Council says an Iranian employee who was accused of spying by Iran has been released from detention there and has returned to the UK. Aras Amiri had been acquitted of all charges by Iran's Supreme Court following an appeal, the cultural organisation said in a statement. There was no immediate confirmation from the Iranian authorities. Ms Amiri, who worked in the British Council's London office, was arrested in 2018 while visiting her grandmother. A spokesman for Iran's judiciary announced in 2019 that an Iranian woman "in charge of the Iran desk at the British Council" had been convicted of spying by a Revolutionary Court and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He alleged that the woman had used contacts with arts and theatre groups to "influence and infiltrate" Iran at a cultural level, and that she had confessed to co-operating with British intelligence.
Germany / Syria – 13 January 2022
A German court has sentenced a Syrian colonel to life in prison for crimes against humanity in a landmark case. Anwar Raslan, 58, was linked to the torture of over 4,000 people in Syria's civil war in a jail known as "Hell on Earth". The trial in Koblenz is the world's first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria. At the heart of it, Raslan was accused of being a high-ranking security service officer under President Bashar al-Assad as mass anti-government protests were violently crushed in 2011. Many protesters and others suspected of opposing the regime were rounded up and detained in the Al-Khatib facility in Damascus where, prosecutors say, Mr Raslan directed operations. He was charged with 58 murders as well as rape and sexual assault, and the torture of at least 4,000 people held there between 2011 and 2012.
United Kingdom (UK) – 13 January 2022
The Home Office has told asylum seekers from some of the world’s biggest conflict zones that it is safe for them to return there. A 36-year-old from Yemen and a 21-year-old from Afghanistan have both had their asylum claims rejected by government officials on the basis that they would not be at risk in their home countries. The disclosure follows the case of a 25-year-old Syrian asylum seeker who was told it would be safe for him to go back to Syria. The Home Office’s own guidance as well as that from UNHCR warns of the dangers of returning refugees to countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen. UNHCR said that, while it cannot comment on individual cases, it calls on states to suspend forcible returns of asylum seekers “to countries that remain volatile, lack sufficient security or are unable to offer adequate human rights protection”.
El Salvador – 13 January 2022
Dozens of journalists and activists in El Salvador have had their phones hacked with the spyware Pegasus, which has been used by governments to monitor critics and dissidents, a report says. Researchers said most of those targeted work at the El Faro news outlet, which has reported on alleged secret talks between the government and gangs. They could not prove who was behind the hack, but said evidence pointed to government involvement. The government has denied this.
Russia / Ukraine - 14 January 2022
A US official has said that Russia is plotting to stage acts of provocation to create a pretext to invade Ukraine. A Pentagon spokesman said Russian operatives were planning a "false-flag" operation, to allow Moscow to accuse Ukraine of preparing an attack. Russia has dismissed the claims. It comes after a week of US-Russian talks aimed at defusing tensions. Today, Ukraine accused Russia of being behind a cyber-attack on dozens of official websites. Before the sites went offline, a message appeared warning Ukrainians to "prepare for the worst". Access to most of the sites was restored within hours. The US and Nato condemned the attack and have offered support to Ukraine. Russia has not commented on the hack.
United Kingdom (UK) – 14 January 2022
Fair Trials is calling for an end to all Covid-related prosecutions in the UK, for all fines and convictions to be rescinded. Norman L. Reimer, Chief Executive of Fair Trials, said that “we cannot have a justice system where people in power can break lockdown with impunity while others are prosecuted and fined.” An ongoing review by the Crown Prosecution Service has found that hundreds of people have been wrongly charged and prosecuted under the Health Protection (Restrictions, Coronavirus) Regulations and the Coronavirus Act 2020. One third of prosecutions overall have been found to be wrongfully brought.