Why Latin Americans are marching in solidarity with Iran’s persecuted protesters 

Special Why Latin Americans are marching in solidarity with Iran’s persecuted protesters 
Iran’s harsh crackdown on nationwide protests has caused outrage in Latin America, including in Mexico City. (AFP)
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Updated 05 January 2023

Why Latin Americans are marching in solidarity with Iran’s persecuted protesters 

Why Latin Americans are marching in solidarity with Iran’s persecuted protesters 
  • Activists have gathered outside Iranian embassies throughout the region to denounce Tehran’s repression 
  • The death sentence issued against Iranian footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani has helped to catalyze public anger

SAO PAULO: Many in Latin America have been demonstrating against Iran’s brutal crackdown on nationwide protests sparked by the death in September of Mahsa Amini, 22, at the hands of the country’s morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab incorrectly.

Activists — especially women — have marched and gathered in front of Iranian embassies, denouncing Tehran’s repression and human rights violations.

Demonstrations across Latin America have been galvanized by the fact that hundreds of Iranians are now facing long prison terms and even death sentences for protesting.
In Mexico protesters assembled in front of the Iranian embassy in the nation’s capital on Dec. 19.

“The demonstration’s catalyst was the death sentence issued against footballer Amir Nasr-Azadani,” activist Paola Schietekat, who co-organized the protest, told Arab News.

But that was not the only reason, she said. “We were horrified by the large list of people currently facing death sentences. The message that the Iranian government wants to convey is that citizens must be afraid of expressing their political opinions.”

According to Human Rights Iran, an NGO based in Norway, at least 100 people have been charged or sentenced to death so far.

Feminist activists and Iranians living in Mexico organized a protest in the capital in September.

Schietekat said some of the Iranian-born participants were identified by the embassy’s surveillance cameras and later had problems renewing documents.

“Now, some of them were obviously afraid of retaliation and preferred not to attend. It was important for them that we, Mexicans, showed our solidarity,” she added.

Laura Vazquez, one of the protesters, told Arab News: “I heard about it on social media and decided I should go. It’s an important cause. Nowadays, people can easily ‘support’ a protest but not show up.”

She added: “The most valuable thing was to be present and to show our solidarity. The problems in Iran didn’t begin in September. They’re historic.”

Mexico abstained in the UN vote that resulted in Iran’s removal from the organization’s women’s rights agency in December.

In Schietekat’s opinion, that was a serious mistake: “The (Mexican) government based its decision on the principle of non-intervention, but we can’t have diplomatic relations with a country that systematically violates human rights.”

There was a “disproportionate” police presence during the demonstration on Dec. 19, she said, but no incidents were reported.

There have also been recent demonstrations in Argentina, but the most visible action coming from the country has been an online petition against Nasr-Azadani’s execution.
Created by Natalia Marcellino, the campaign has already been supported by 1.8 million people worldwide.

“I don’t have any particular experience with Iran’s political situation. I’m a psychologist who manages a school for children with special needs. But I was very impacted by the news and I decided to do something,” she told Arab News.

“I was surprised by the massive reaction to the petition. I’m glad to see that we can come together and do something. Nasr-Azadani has defended Iranian women and now has to be helped by us.”

A number of celebrities have publicly supported the petition, including Colombian-born singer Shakira, Argentinian actor Ricardo Darin and Spanish musician Alejandro Sanz.




Protests have also been held in the Chilean, Argentinian and Brazilian capitals. (AFP)

“I think the World Cup may have given more visibility to his case, given that people were more connected to football and he’s a well-known player,” Marcellino said.

Uruguayan footballer Luis Suarez and Colombian Radamel Falcao Garcia are among the professional athletes who have expressed their solidarity with Nasr-Azadani.

A report published in 2021 by the Arab News Research and Studies unit, titled “Border wars: Iran’s terror haven in Latin America,” noted that since the 1979 Iranian revolution, the Islamic Republic had worked tirelessly to strengthen its ties with Latin American countries, while also seeking out political allies among the region’s leftist governments that shared its hostility toward the US.

The report shed light on the nature of the political and economic cooperation between Iran and Paraguay, and analyzed the suspicious activities and operations of by Iran and its proxies, such as Hezbollah, in the Tri-Border Area in general and Paraguay in particular.

In the 1990s, a leading Paraguay political and religious figure, Fernando Lugo, made a historic visit to Iran, a gesture repaid by Tehran through its support for his successful presidential bid in 2008, according to Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar.

“Nevertheless, diplomatic and economic relations between the two countries remained somewhat modest compared with Iran’s ties with other Latin American countries,” he wrote.

“However, in the years after it became the target of international sanctions, Iran realized that it needed a haven for its illegal activities that was out of sight of the global community and immune from legal action.

“In some Latin American states, it found the ideal staging ground for its illicit operations, especially within the so-called Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. According to several investigations, Iranian activities being closely monitored in this frontier region range from drug and arms smuggling to money laundering and terrorist training.“

Fast-forward to the present time and prominent political leaders in Latin America are lining up to condemn Iran’s repression. When Colombian President Gustavo Petro congratulated Argentina on its World Cup victory on Twitter on December 18, he notably appealed to Iran to not execute Nasr-Azadani, the footballer.




Iran’s harsh crackdown on nationwide protests has caused outrage in Latin America, including in Mexico City. (AFP)

Colombia has endorsed criticism of Iran in the international arena over the past few months.

Tehran formally complained to Colombia over its vote to oust Iran from the UN women’s rights agency.

In September, Chilean President Gabriel Boric condemned Iran for Amini’s death in his speech at the UN General Assembly.

Chilean feminist movements have been following events in Iran, and have organized several initiatives against the regime.

“We have solidarity ties with several women’s groups, including with Iranians. We’ve protested against Iran and produced videos about it with Farsi subtitles so they can see there that we’re supporting them here,” Javiera Manzi, a spokeswoman for the feminist group CF8M, told Arab News.

“We’re now releasing a declaration condemning the crackdown on protesters and gathering support from several human rights organizations.”

Mahmonir Nadim, an Iranian-born singer who has lived in Brazil since 2012, told Arab News: “Many people in Brazil say they don’t know enough about the Iranian situation so they can’t give an opinion.

“What else must they know when people are being arrested and killed for protesting against the government?”

Nadim said she had always dreamt of being an artist, but that would be too difficult in Iran after the 1979 revolution. “That’s why I decided to come to Brazil.”

She and her sister organized a protest in Brazil in September, and are now planning another one. They want more Brazilians to join them.

“The Brazilian media isn’t properly showing what’s going on there, and Brazilians are quite disconnected from that reality,” Nadim said, adding that many of her Iranian friends have been detained in recent months. “People in Iran hope we can be their voice. We have to help them.”


Nationwide protests in France after Emmanuel Macron doubles down on pension bill

Nationwide protests in France after Emmanuel Macron doubles down on pension bill
Updated 11 sec ago

Nationwide protests in France after Emmanuel Macron doubles down on pension bill

Nationwide protests in France after Emmanuel Macron doubles down on pension bill
  • ‘The best response we can give the president is that there are millions of people on strike and in the streets’
  • Protests against the policy changes have drawn huge crowds in rallies organized by unions since January
PARIS: Train services were disrupted and some schools shut while garbage piled up on the streets of France on Thursday as part of a ninth nationwide day of strikes against a deeply unpopular bill to raise the pension age.
Protesters blocked a highway near Toulouse in southwestern France in the early morning and a bus depot in the west, in Rennes, Le Parisien newspaper said. Protest rallies were scheduled across the country later in the day.
President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said the legislation — which his government pushed through parliament without a vote last week — would come into force by year-end despite escalating anger across the country.
“The best response we can give the president is that there are millions of people on strike and in the streets,” said Philippe Martinez, who leads the hardline CGT union.
Protests against the policy changes, which lift the retirement age by two years to 64 and accelerate an increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organized by unions since January.
Most protests have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government pushed the bill through parliament without a vote last week.
The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and scuffles with police.
Labor unions said Thursday’s day of strikes and protests would draw huge crowds against what they described as Macron’s “scorn” and “lies.”
Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV the government must withdraw the pension law.
The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago. Polls show a wide majority of French opposed to the pension legislation as well as the government’s decision to push it through parliament without a vote.
Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move on.
“There is a disagreement that will persist on the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.
“Things will be done gradually,” he said.
Electricity power supply was reduced on Thursday as part of rolling strikes in the sector.
The government has renewed a requisition order requiring some employees to return to work at the Fos-sur-Mer fuel depot in southern France to secure petrol supplies for the region.

EU leaders to discuss Ukraine war with UN chief, back ammunition plan

EU leaders to discuss Ukraine war with UN chief, back ammunition plan
Updated 55 min 23 sec ago

EU leaders to discuss Ukraine war with UN chief, back ammunition plan

EU leaders to discuss Ukraine war with UN chief, back ammunition plan
  • Leaders to give their blessing to a plan to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year
  • Officials have warned that Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders will discuss the war in Ukraine with UN chief Antonio Guterres on Thursday and also endorse a plan to ramp up the supply of artillery shells to Kyiv.
Guterres will be a guest at an EU summit in Brussels, days after the renewal of a deal brokered by the UN and Turkiye on the safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.
That humanitarian measure will discussed at a working lunch with Guterres before the UN secretary-general takes his leave and EU leaders get an update on the war from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky via video link, officials said.
“We will, as always, reaffirm our unwavering commitment to assist Ukraine,” declared Charles Michel, president of the European Council of EU leaders.
The leaders will give their blessing to a plan — agreed by foreign ministers on Monday — to send 1 million artillery shells to Ukraine over the next year by digging into stocks and making a landmark move into joint procurement.
Zelensky’s government has told its Western allies that it urgently needs large amounts of 155mm shells as it fights a fierce war of attrition with invading Russian forces.
Officials have warned that Ukraine is burning through shells at a faster rate than its allies can produce them, prompting a renewed search for ammunition and ways to boost production.
The EU scheme is based on a plan from foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, following a proposal from Estonia, one of Ukraine’s most assertive supporters inside the EU.
The plan earmarks $1.09 billion (1 billion euros) for the swift supply of shells – and possibly missiles – from existing stocks and another 1 billion euros for joint orders by EU countries for more rounds.
The money will come from the European Peace Facility, an EU-run fund that has already provided billions of euros for military aid to Ukraine. Leaders at the summit may begin a discussion on a further top-up to the fund, diplomats said.
It is unclear how quickly the plan could have an impact on the battlefield, partly because governments keep secret how much ammunition they have left in their stockpiles, which have already been depleted by deliveries to Ukraine.
Artillery produced via a new joint procurement initiative will take months to arrive, although EU officials stress they are moving at unprecedented speed for such a project. They say they aim to sign first contracts with arms firms in late May.
“We will need to take measures to boost the manufacturing capacity of the European defense industry,” Michel said in his letter inviting fellow EU leaders to the summit.


China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes
Updated 23 March 2023

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes

China, Philippines assess ties amid escalating sea disputes
  • Discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed South China Sea
  • Marcos administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests against China’s increasingly assertive actions
MANILA: Senior Chinese and Filipino diplomats were meeting in Manila on Thursday to review their relations amid thorny issues, including Beijing’s alarm over a Philippine decision to allow the US military to expand its presence to a northern region facing the Taiwan Strait and escalating spats in the disputed South China Sea.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro were leading the talks aimed at assessing overall relations on Thursday. The discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed waterway on Friday, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
The back-to-back meetings are the first under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June last year. He met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a state visit to Beijing in January where both agreed to expand ties, pursue talks on potential joint oil and gas explorations and manage territorial disputes amicably.
But the territorial conflicts have persisted as a major irritant in relations early in the six-year term of Marcos, whose administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests by the Philippines against China’s increasingly assertive actions in the disputed waters since last year alone.
That included a February 6 incident when a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members of a Philippine patrol vessel off a disputed shoal. Marcos summoned the Chinese ambassador to Manila to express concern over the incident, but Beijing said the Philippine vessel intruded into Chinese territorial waters and its coast guard used a harmless laser gadget to monitor the vessel’s movement.
Early last month, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating batches of American forces to indefinitely station in four more Philippine military camps. Those are in addition to five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 defense pact between the longtime treaty allies.
Marcos said Wednesday the four new military sites would include areas in the northern Philippines. That location has infuriated Chinese officials because it would provide US forces a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.
The Americans would also have access to military areas on the western Philippine island province of Palawan, Marcos said, adding that the US military presence under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was aimed at boosting coastal defense.
Palawan faces the South China Sea, a key passage for global trade that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety but a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal ruled in 2016 that historical claim had no legal basis under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
China had dismissed the ruling, which Washington and other Western governments recognize, and continues to defy it.
When asked to react to the Philippine decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that defense cooperation between countries “needs to be conducive to regional peace and stability and not targeted at or harmful to the interests of any third party.”
Wang warned countries in the region “to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US” without naming the Philippines.
A recent statement issued by the Chinese Embassy in Manila was more blunt and warned that the Manila government’s security cooperation with Washington “will drag the Philippines into the abyss of geopolitical strife and damage its economic development at the end of the day.”
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in any future confrontation over Taiwan. The US moves dovetail with Philippine efforts to shore up its territorial defense amid its disputes with China in the South China Sea.
Two senior Filipino officials said that the Philippine government would extend the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the temporary presence of US forces and their defense equipment in the country. The Philippine Constitution prohibits the permanent basing of foreign troops in the country and their involvement in local combat.
The agreement, signed in 2014, would initially be effective for 10 years and would remain in force automatically unless terminated by either side with a one-year advance written notice.
The two officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they lack authority to discuss the issue publicly.

Thai police shoot gunman dead after 15-hour standoff

Thai police shoot gunman dead after 15-hour standoff
Updated 23 March 2023

Thai police shoot gunman dead after 15-hour standoff

Thai police shoot gunman dead after 15-hour standoff
  • Thailand has high rates of gun ownership and there has been a steady number of violent incidents in the past 12 months
  • In one of the deadliest attacks in recent history, a gunman massacred 36 people, including 24 children

BANGKOK: Thai police shot dead a gunman who killed three people and wounded three others, a senior officer said Thursday, after a 15-hour standoff.
The shooter started firing in Phetchaburi, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Bangkok, at around 3 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Wednesday, before police surrounded a house he was in.
The standoff ended early Thursday when armed police stormed the building and killed the gunman, who has not been named but was reported by local media to be a 29-year-old former national park official.
“We proceeded step by step, starting with negotiation but he kept fighting back and shot others,” Police Lt. Gen. Thanawut Wutijarasthamrong said.
“He ran into his room (on the second floor). If we did not have shields, my men would have been shot.”
Police found a Glock pistol and two magazines at the scene, but believe the man had more weapons.
Thailand has high rates of gun ownership and there has been a steady number of violent incidents in the past 12 months, including one of the deadliest attacks in recent history: the massacre of 36 people, including 24 children, in northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province.
 

 


Across globe, women battle ‘gendered disinformation’

Across globe, women battle ‘gendered disinformation’
Updated 23 March 2023

Across globe, women battle ‘gendered disinformation’

Across globe, women battle ‘gendered disinformation’
  • Researchers say “gendered disinformation” has relentlessly targeted women around the world, tarnishing their reputations, undermining their credibility and, in many cases, upending their careers
  • Facebook has acknowledged that online abuse of women was a “serious problem” and pledged to work with policymakers on their concerns

WASHINGTON: Fake photos showing Ukraine’s first lady sunbathing topless, incorrect video subtitles defaming Pakistani feminists for “blasphemy,” slow-motion clips falsely depicting “drunk” female politicians — a barrage of disinformation targets women in the public eye.
Researchers say “gendered disinformation” — when sexism and misogyny intersect with online falsehoods — has relentlessly targeted women around the world, tarnishing their reputations, undermining their credibility and, in many cases, upending their careers.
AFP’s global fact-checkers have debunked falsehoods targeting politically active women, or those linked to prominent politicians, exposing online campaigns that feature fake information or manipulated images that are often sexually charged.
Last year, a fake image of Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska lying topless on a beach in Israel was shared widely on Facebook, triggering criticism that she was having fun while her war-torn country was suffering.
A reverse image search by AFP showed the woman in the photo was, in fact, a Russian television presenter.
Former American first lady Michelle Obama and current French first lady Brigitte Macron have also been targeted in false online posts that claimed they were born as men. The disinformation sparked an avalanche of mockery and transphobic remarks.
New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, who announced her resignation as prime minister in January, is another prominent figure that faced a torrent of disinformation about her sex.
“Women — especially those in positions of power and visibility — are unduly targeted by online disinformation,” Maria Giovanna Sessa, a senior researcher at the nonprofit EU DisinfoLab, wrote in a report last year.

In another tactic that raised alarm in 2020, a slowed-down version of a video of Nancy Pelosi, the then US House Speaker, went viral. The effect made her speech slurred and gave the false impression that she was drunk.
“Building on sexist stereotypes and disseminated with malign intent, gendered disinformation campaigns have a chilling effect on the women they target,” Lucina Di Meco, a gender equality expert wrote in a study published last month.
The disinformation often leads to “political violence, hate and the deterring of young women from considering a political career,” said the study titled “monetizing misogyny.”
In disinformation tactics typically deployed by political opponents, female politicians are sometimes framed as inherently undependable, too emotional or promiscuous to hold office.
When Germany’s current foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, was running for chancellor in 2021, she was the subject of frequent disinformation campaigns which raised questions about whether she was fit for the job.
One of them featured images of a nude model purporting to be of her, alongside suggestions that she had engaged in sex work.
Gendered disinformation represents a national security threat as it can be exploited by autocratic states such as Russia to exercise foreign influence, according to multiple researchers.
It can also be used to subdue the opposition.
“When autocratic leaders are in power, gendered disinformation is often used by state-aligned actors to undermine women opposition leaders, as well as women’s rights,” Di Meco’s report warned.

Women around the globe battle falsehoods that reinforce stereotypes that they are unintelligent or inefficient.
In 2021, Egyptian sports shooter Al-Zahraa Shaaban faced false social media posts that she had been excluded from the Tokyo Olympics because she had shot the referee.
That sparked a wave of comments that ridiculed women and questioned their ability to pursue such sporting activities.
Similar questions were raised about their ability to take on military jobs following last year’s crash of an F-35 fighter jet on the deck of a US aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
False social media posts held the world’s first woman to fly an F-35 responsible for the crash. The pilot, in fact, was a man.
Such humiliating falsehoods, researchers say, can have a silencing effect on women, who are drawn to disengage, censor themselves and even avoid male-dominated professions, including politics.
That was a concern raised in a letter by dozens of US and international lawmakers in 2020 to Facebook, which along with other platforms has been blamed for the algorithmic amplification of false and hateful content targeting women.
In a statement to US media at the time, Facebook acknowledged that online abuse of women was a “serious problem” and pledged to work with policymakers on their concerns.
“Make no mistake, these tactics, which are used on your platform for malicious intent, are meant to silence women, and ultimately undermine our democracies,” the letter said.
“It is no wonder women frequently cite the threat of rapid, widespread, public attacks on personal dignity as a factor deterring them from entering politics.”