Saudi Arabia

'Great Leap Backward' for press freedom in China

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has issued a new report, The Great Leap Backwards of Journalism in China, revealing the extent of the regime's campaign of repression against the right to information. The report especially examines the deterioration of press freedom in Hong Kong, which was once a world model but has now seen an increasing number of journalists arrested in the name of "national security."

Khashoggi killers trained in US: report

Operatives of the Saudi secret unit responsible for the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States, the New York Times reported June 22. According to the account, an Arkansas-based security firm, Tier 1 Group, provided training to some of the operatives in question. Although the training was described as "defensive" and "devised to better protect Saudi leaders," the unit was then undertaking a series of kidnappings, detentions and torture to crush dissent within the kingdom.

Keystone XL pipeline cancelled —struggle continues

Calgary-based TC Energy Corporation (formerly TransCanada) confirmed June 9 that it has terminated the Keystone XL Pipeline Project. Construction on the project, a partnership with the Alberta provincial government, was suspended following the revocation of its US presidential permit on Jan. 20. The company said in a statement that it will "continue to coordinate with regulators, stakeholders and Indigenous groups to meet its environmental and regulatory commitments and ensure a safe termination of and exit from the Project."

Saudi women's rights activist freed after three years

Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released Feb. 10 after spending a total of 1,001 days—almost three years—in prison. Al-Hathloul had been championing women's rights since 2013. She lobbied especially for the right to drive, as well as for an end to male guardianship laws in the Saudi kingdom. While women were granted the right to drive in 2017, advocates for the change were detained by authorities weeks before it took effect.

Biden pledges end to US support for Yemen war —almost

President Joe Biden announced Feb. 4 the United States will end support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen that has deepened suffering in the Arabian Peninsula's poorest country. "This war has to end," Biden told diplomats in his first visit to the State Department as president, saying the conflict has created a "humanitarian and strategic catastrophe." Biden pledged an end to "relevant" US arms sales, while giving no immediate details on what that would mean. The administration had already said it is pausing some of the billions of dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

US slaps 'terror' label on Yemen's Houthis

The United States has announced it will designate Yemen's Houthi rebels as a terrorist organization, a move aid groups and diplomats have long warned will make getting assistance to people trapped in the "world's worst humanitarian crisis" even harder. In a Jan. 10 statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was officially notifying the US Congress of his intent to designate Ansar Allah, the official name of the Houthis, a "Foreign Terrorist Organization." The change is go into force on Jan. 19, and three Houthi leaders will also be blacklisted. NGOs have lobbied heavily against the designation, saying it will seriously hamper efforts to bring aid to the estimated 80% of Yemen's 30 million people who live in parts of the country controlled by the Houthis. It's already hard to deliver aid in Yemen, in part because of obstacles put up by the Houthis themselves

Will strikes on Iran be Trump's Plan B?

The world is breathing a collective sigh of relief after General Services Administration chief Emily Murphy officially contacted the team of president-elect Joe Biden, marking the Trump administration's belated initiation of the transition process. However, the widespread portrayal that Trump has blinked and is accepting Biden's victory is highly questionable at best. Both Murphy's Nov. 23 letter and Trump's tweet about it state that the decision was Murphy's, taken unilaterally, and that Trump is continuing to contest the election results. Murphy was likely facing what she thought to be the inevitable—Michigan lawmakers had that same day resisted Trump pressure and certified Biden's win in the state, while Trump's legal team got laughed out of court in Pennsylvania. However, the team continues to appeal and is conceding nothing. So no, Trump may not have blinked. And if his Plan A of a judicial coup fails, he and his cabinet may now be preparing the hypothesized Plan B....

Solidarity with striking Sudan sugar workers

Over a thousand workers at Kenana Sugar Company in Sudan are starting their second month on strike to demand basic trade union rights, increased wages to offset the spiralling cost of living, the removal of figures associated with the old regime from company management, and the reinstatement of 34 workers sacked for taking part in the uprising against dictator Omar el-Bashir last year. Other demands raised by the strikers include renovating the workers' canteen, improvements to health services in the company town, and investment in education for workers' children.

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