Last week in international authoritarianism
Our weekly roundup of the assaults on freedom taking place around the world. Stay up to date on the global fights for democracy.
I’ve been doing a weekly roundup of right-wing trolls or at least right-wing content for a while now, and I think it’s helpful in keeping myself and subscribers aware of what sort of dis/misinformation, propaganda, smear campaigns and other nonsense is floating around the internet. Much of this stuff is simply ridiculous, but some of it does lead to new political realities. That’s especially true in the current iteration of the Republican controlled House right now, as Kevin McCarthy has essentially replaced the policy debates and replaced them with one MAGA grievance after another.
In any case, something I said recently on our podcast made me think about the greater implications of an ascendant MAGA Republican Party. What I said was that at its core, MAGA is an anti-Democratic movement, and it is. Trump’s assault on the free press, his pardons for cronies and the pressure he has put on the judiciary, the FBI and other government officials showed how he believed things in this country should work. He believed the government should be subordinate to the president, and those who refused while he was president were targeted with various forms of punishment. However, as we’ve talked about on this newsletter, MAGA is expanding out into an international movement. Its brand of politics—authoritarianism, illiberalism or simply mafia tactics taken to a state level—has led to plenty of imitators and natural allies being made along the way. Israel’s Netanyahu, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Hungary’s Orban and El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele all spring to mind, but of course, authoritarianism is nothing new and assaults on freedom happen every day in big ways and small all over the globe.
What I’d like to start doing is cataloging some of this for you because at our core at Did Nothing Wrong, we think our mission needs to be striving towards a better, more equitable world. That requires a functioning democracy, and while our politics aren’t terribly functional, we’re well aware of how much worse things could get. Turning that dysfunction upside down requires us to be aware of the threats to freedom both at home and abroad.
If you have any thoughts or suggestions for topics to highlight, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks, as always, for your support!
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Josh Rogin at the Washington Post had an important story on the Chinese government’s mass DNA collection in occupied Tibet and why U.S. companies must stop allowing their products to be used for this program:
The Chinese government is so innovative in applying advanced technology for repression, sometimes it is hard to keep track. Beijing’s latest, horrible abuse of the Tibetan people is to forcibly collect their DNA, their last remaining vestige of privacy. What’s worse, U.S. companies are still working with the authorities perpetrating these atrocities. They should cut that out right now.
There is overwhelming evidence that Chinese authorities are using mass forced DNA collection in many parts of China — but Tibet is an especially cruel case. Human rights groups report that police are taking blood samples from men, women and children , with no legitimate justification , in all seven prefectures in the Tibetan autonomous region, often showing up at kindergartens. There’s zero indication Tibetans can refuse.
Chinese police in Tibet aren’t exactly hiding the practice; they posted a public request for bids to build a huge DNA database online. In one municipality, an official report said police were instructed “not to miss a [single] village or monastery, and not to miss a [single] household or person,” according to Human Rights Watch. The University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab estimated in September that one quarter to one third of Tibetans had been compelled to hand over DNA samples.
China on Wednesday said President Xi Jinping’s just-concluded visit to Russia was a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace,” and again criticized Washington for providing military support to Ukraine.
The trip that ended Wednesday signaled no new progress in ending the bloody conflict between Russia and Ukraine while shoring up President Vladimir Putin’s standing amid growing efforts to isolate him and his government internationally.
The U.S. State Department cited credible reports of killings, arrests and torture in Nicaragua, as well as harsh and life-threatening conditions in the country's prisons, in an annual human rights report released on Monday.
President Daniel Ortega's administration has been increasingly isolated internationally since his government began cracking down heavily on dissent following street protests that erupted in 2018. Ortega has called the protests an attempted coup against his government.
The State Department's 2022 human rights report pointed to "numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings."
Hungary’s increasing pro-Kremlin illiberal government led by Viktor Orban came up in two important recent stories.
First, we have Hungary’s decision to not participate in a joint statement about the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. You can read the ICC’s arrest warrant here.
Hungary blocked European Union member states from issuing a joint statement about an international arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to people familiar with the matter.
Budapest’s veto meant that the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, instead released a statement in his own name “taking note” of the decision by the International Criminal Court. Bloomberg has seen the draft of what would have been the joint statement. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry called the report of a veto a “lie.”
“The EU sees the decision by the ICC as a beginning of the process of accountability and holding Russian leaders to account for the crimes and atrocities they are ordering, enabling or committing in Ukraine,” Borrell said in the statement published on Sunday evening.
On Monday, justice ministers from 26 EU countries issued their own statement supporting the ICC decision, which Hungary did not sign.
The second story tells us that Hungary (and Turkey) are holding up the vote for Sweden and Finland’s admission to NATO in a show of unity in the face of Russia’s war of choice in Ukraine.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Sweden and Finland dropped their longstanding military neutrality and quickly signaled their intentions to join NATO, in a striking sign of how powerful Europe’s security fears had become in the shadow of Moscow’s war.
But nearly a year after the Nordic countries officially applied to join the military alliance, their admission remains unresolved because two of the 30 NATO members — Turkey and Hungary — still haven’t approved their bids.
Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly raised specific objections to the countries — especially Sweden — joining NATO, Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orban, has long signaled that his country’s support for expansion and has repeatedly promised its parliament would soon vote to ratify.
“We have already confirmed to both Finland and Sweden that Hungary supports” their NATO bids, Orban said at a meeting of Central European prime ministers last November. “The Swedes and the Finns have not lost a single minute of membership because of Hungary, and Hungary will certainly give them the support they need to join.”
But a succession of delays by Hungary’s government — and its shifting justifications in explaining them — have caused frustration and worry in Sweden, Finland and beyond, and raised questions over what Hungary hopes to achieve through them.
Daniel Hegedus, an analyst and fellow for Central Europe at the German Marshall Fund, a think tank that seeks to promote cooperation between North America and the European Union, said that at the heart of Hungary’s intransigence on NATO expansion is its desire to exert leverage on the EU, which has frozen billions in funds to Budapest over corruption and rule-of-law concerns.
Hungary’s hope, Hegedus said, “is that by playing with this postponement of the voting, they can push the Swedes and the Finns to support a potential release of the Hungarian funds in April, or at least make these countries not vocally critical.”
Trump’s close ally, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, has suffered a string of protests due to actions taken by his far-right government to exert pressure on the country’s judicial system. However, in addition to all this, I believe it’s necessary to point out one of Netanyahu’s ministers engaging in genocidal rhetoric against the Palestinian people.
Israel’s far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich denied the existence of a Palestinian people or nationhood over the weekend, prompting a rebuke from the United States just weeks after calling for a Palestinian town to be “erased.”
Smotrich, a Jewish nationalist, argued that the idea of Palestinian nationhood was invented in the past century in response to the Zionist movement to found modern-day Israel.
“Who was the first Palestinian king? What language do the Palestinians have? Was there ever a Palestinian currency? Is there a Palestinian history or culture? Nothing. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” Smotrich said at a speech in Paris.
US National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby on Monday objected to the comments, saying they would not help to calm tensions in the region.
“We utterly object to that kind of language. And It’s extremely unhelpful to – again – trying to de-escalate the tensions and trying to find a viable two-state solution going forward,” Kirby said, speaking to Israeli Channel 13. “We don’t want to see any rhetoric, any action or rhetoric – quite frankly – that can stand in the way or become an obstacle to a viable two-state solution, and language like that does.”
The Palestinian Authority presidency slammed Smotrich’s remarks as “racist,” calling them “an attempt to falsify history.”
In a statement, the PA asserted that the Palestinian people “have existed on this land forever.”
Here’s Politico covering Netanyahu’s anti-Democratic attacks on Israel’s judicial system. Note the importance Biden continues to place on democratic values in discussions with foreign leaders.
President Joe Biden spoke Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express “concern” over his government’s planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system that has sparked widespread protests across Israel and to encourage compromise.
The White House said Biden reiterated U.S. concerns about the measure to roll back the judiciary’s insulation from the country’s political system, in a call a senior administration official described as “candid and constructive.” There was no immediate indication that Netanyahu was shying away from the action, after rejecting a compromise last week offered by the country’s figurehead president.
The official, who requested anonymity to discuss the leaders’ private call, said that Biden spoke to Netanyahu “as a friend of Israel in the hopes that there can be a compromise formula found.”
The White House in statement added that Biden “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
Netanyahu said Sunday the legal changes would be carried out responsibly while protecting the basic rights of all Israelis. His government — the country’s most right-wing ever — says the overhaul is meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the voting public’s will.
Critics say it will upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and slide the country toward authoritarianism. Opponents of the measure have carried out disruptive protests, and has even embroiled the country’s military, after more than 700 elite officers from the Air Force, special forces, and Mossad said they would stop volunteering for duty.
Russia’s close ally (some might say puppet) in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has received some temporary sanctions relief from the United States after the devastating earthquake which killed thousands in Turkey and Syria.
The Ukrainian government placed sanctions various companies and officials in Syria. Though the scale of support remains sketchy, Syrians have been recruited to serve with the Russian forces in Ukraine, and Assad’s government has recognized illegally seized Ukrainian territories as belonging to the Russian Federation.
President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree on March 18, approving a proposal by the National Security and Defense Council to impose sanctions on 141 legal entities and 300 individuals, including Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad.
Sanctions were also imposed against Syrian Prime Minister Husein Arnus and the country’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
Sanctions have been introduced for 10 years and include the blocking of assets, restrictions on trade operations, and suspension of economic and financial obligations.
A number of Russian citizens were sanctioned as well.
Ukraine cut diplomatic ties with Syria in June last year after Damascus recognized the Russian-occupied areas of eastern Ukraine as independent states.
Finally, here’s the latest on the suspension of constitution and MAGA fan favorite Nayib Bukele’s “emergency powers” used to carry out mass arrests of supposed gang members El Salvador.
El Salvador’s congress has voted to approve yet another extension of emergency rules allowing police to round up suspected members of street gangs.
The vote late Wednesday was widely expected, and marks the 12th such one-month extension granted to President Nayib Bukele since the measure was first approved on March 27, 2022.
The crackdown has resulted in over 65,000 arrests and thousands of alleged rights abuses, but remains popular in a country where gangs once demanded protection payments with impunity.
Opinion polls suggest that about 9 out of 10 Salvadorans approve of the government’s anti-crime strategy.
The extension came on the same day the government sent 2,000 more suspects to a huge new prison built especially for gang members Wednesday, and the justice minister vowed that “they will never return” to the streets.
That’s all for now. Until next time!
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