The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran on April 6 urged the international community to demand the release of Toomaj Salehi, a popular rapper who has become a prominent voice of Iran's protest movement. Salehi was arrested in October, and charged with "corruption on Earth," which carries the death penalty, as well as "propaganda against the state," "collaboration with hostile governments," and other offenses punishable by up to 10 years in prison. No date has been set for the trial. Toomaj has been segregated from all other inmates in Dastgerd Prison, a maximum-security facility run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
In Episode 168 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines the suddenly booming global phenomenon of paramilitarism—the official armed forces of a given state or its repressive apparatus seeking an extension in the private sector, citizen militias, or irregular forces. This is a method generally resorted to when state power is in crisis, and contributes to a general militarization of society. Examples from Russia, West Africa, Sudan, Burma, Ecuador, Israel and finally Texas point to a dangerous and ultimately fascistic new model of both imperialism and internal policing and repression. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on March 29 criticized two bills before the Texas state legislature that would expand the state's ability to enforce immigration laws—a matter usually left to the US federal government. HRW stated that the "dangerous and extreme" bills would authorize Texas to deputize "state-sponsored vigilantes" with little oversight.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on March 28 called for authorities in El Salvador to urgently address human rights concerns as the nation marked one year under a state of emergency. Authorities enacted the state of emergency on March 27, 2022 following a wave of gang-related murders. The measure was initially for 30 days but has been regularly renewed. Since March 2022, 65,000 people have been detained, and 90 people have died in custody. OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado stated that 7,900 complaints of abuses against prisoners have been lodged with El Salvador's national human rights body. According to the report, many detentions were arbitrary and founded on "poorly substantiated" investigations or "crude profiling." Conditions in detention have also declined significantly, and the UN has received reports of prolonged solitary confinement and inmates being denied prescribed medications. (Jurist)
Sudan's military and civilian factions have agreed to form a new transitional government on April 11, ending the deadlock that followed an October 2021 military coup. But consultations being held ahead of that date are proving thorny, especially on the sensitive subject of security sector reform. Pro-democracy groups want the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) to be integrated into the Sudanese army, and for all troops to be placed under civilian authority. But the army and RSF both have economic interests and fear accountability should they be forced to reform. The two forces are also increasingly at odds with each other, with talks breaking down over a proposed timeline for integration. The army reportedly wants to fuse with the RSF in two years, while the RSF (which has up to 100,000 fighters) wants a decade. Open fighting between the two sides has been long feared, and reports suggest both are embarking on a recruitment race in the long-suffering western Darfur region.
Despite worsening economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the Pakistani government is intensifying its crackdown on Afghan refugees, adding new movement restrictions on top of a wave of detentions and deportations. On March 18, some 330 Afghans were returned from Pakistan, including 70 who had been imprisoned for lacking documentation—just the latest to be sent home as Islamabad doubles down on its hardline approach.
In Episode 167 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg examines Putin's plans to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus. The Russian strongman's dubious justification for the move is the UK's decision to supply depleted uranium shells to Ukraine. Depleted uranium is indeed sinister stuff—but Russia itself has been already using DU weapons in Ukraine for over a year now! Russia's reckless occupation of the Zaporizhzhia power plant also represents a far more serious escalation on the ladder of nuclear terror than the use of DU. Putin further claims he is merely countering the NATO tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. But NATO's warheads are stored in underground vaults, to be loaded onto plane-dropped gravity bombs if the Alliance makes a decision for their use. In contrast, Moscow has already placed nuclear-capable tactical missiles in Belarus—as well as in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania. If these were armed with warheads, it would represent a dramatic escalation in hair-trigger readiness. Additionally, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has now broached actually having Russian strategic ICBMs placed in his country. The civil opposition in Belarus has been effectively crushed in a wave of mass repression over the past three years—but an underground resistance movement is now emerging. This struggle finds itself on the frontline of the very question of human survival. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
The first protest since the introduction of the 2020 National Security Law in Hong Kong was held March 26 in Tseung Kwan O, an eastern area of the city. A small number of protestors marched against implementation of a new land reclamation plan to facilitate construction of a waste disposal facility. The marchers complied with restrictions imposed by authorities. The protest was limited to a maximum of 100 participants, whose banners and placards were screened before the demonstration. A cordon separated media from the protestors, who were also required to wear numbered tags as they chanted their slogans. (Jurist)