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Bangladesh: Crackdown on Political Opposition

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(New York) – Opposition groups are reporting an escalation of repression by Bangladesh authorities and attacks by ruling party supporters as the country starts preparing for national elections in 2023, Human Rights Watch said today. Bangladesh authorities should respect the rule of law and protect political opposition supporters’ right to freedom of association, and peaceful assembly.

Mass arrests and police raids of opposition party members’ homes raise serious concerns about violence and intimidation ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. Bangladesh election campaigns are often accompanied by violence, but the authorities have failed to properly investigate and prosecute members and supporters of the ruling Awami League, who have targeted opposition public meetings and assaulted participants.

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that Bangladesh is a mature democracy capable of conducting elections and a peaceful transition of power, but instead previous polls have been marked by violence, attacks on the opposition, and voter intimidation,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These recent cases of political attacks and arrests set an ominous tone for the upcoming parliamentary elections.”

At least four people have reportedly died and hundreds have been injured in clashes between police, supporters of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), and Awami League supporters, since August 22, 2022, when the BNP staged a series of protests over fuel and commodity price increases. There are concerning reports of the killing of BNP activists during other recent clashes. Each side has accused the other of instigating the violence. However, while police have carried out mass arrests of opposition supporters, those affiliated with the ruling party appear to have impunity for violent attacks.

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Among those injured was Tabith Mohammad Awal, BNP executive committee member and former mayoral candidate for the northern section of Dhaka, the capital. Awal was participating in a candlelight vigil organized by BNP in the Banani neighborhood of Dhaka, on September 17, when ruling Awami League supporters attacked the meeting, throwing stones and beating people with iron rods.

“I can clearly identify my attackers, who were members of the Awami League North Dhaka committees,” Awal told Human Rights Watch. “The police were present but did absolutely nothing to help me or stop the attacks or even help after I was hurt. Later, the OC (office-in-charge) of Banani even denied anything happened.”

Instead, authorities have filed mass cases against BNP supporters following these clashes. For example, following a clash on September 21 in which Shahidul Islam Shaon, an activist with the BNP youth wing, was killed, police filed two cases naming 365 BNP leaders and activists as allegedly responsible for crimes, as well as 1,400 as yet unidentified. Police often add people to existing cases as one of those previously unidentified.

According to BNP leaders, at least 20,000 cases have been filed against its supporters, in many cases with the accused unnamed. The use of criminal complaints against large numbers of “unknown” people is a common abusive practice in Bangladesh, allowing the police to intimidate and threaten virtually anyone with arrest, to repeatedly re-arrest detainees even though they are not the named accused in the cases, and to thwart bail requests.

Law enforcement officers have used these open cases as warrants to raid the homes of political opposition members in what appears to be overt political harassment and intimidation. In a video that went viral in September, a leader of the Jubo League, the ruling party’s youth league, reportedly threatened that if ruling party supporters are unable to quash the BNP protests, then “we will start the raids.”

The authorities are also increasingly targeting relatives of expatriate dissidents as a means to threaten critics into silence. On September 9, police arrested Abdul Muktadir Manu, a local BNP politician, for “his suspected collusion” in a Facebook post by his London-based brother that was critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. Manu was arrested under Criminal Procedure Code Section 54, a law criticized as a loophole to enable torture because it authorizes the police to arrest people without a warrant and detain them for up to 15 days without allowing them to be represented by a lawyer.

Bangladesh authorities appear poised to further extend the reach of their repression beyond the country’s borders. In a parliamentary foreign affairs standing committee meeting on September 13, Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen presented a list of Bangladeshis living abroad identified as committing “anti-state” activities and called on embassies to bring the individuals to justice.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as well as Awami League and BNP party leaders, should condemn political violence and call on their supporters to respect the right of all Bangladeshis to safely and peacefully gather, and to run for office without fear, Human Rights Watch said.

International human rights law calls for authorities to uphold free expression and peaceful assembly. The UN Human Rights Committee, which interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, says in its General comment No. 37, concerning the right to peaceful assembly, that states have an obligation to “respect and ensure” the right of peaceful assembly without discrimination, and to allow such assemblies to “take place without unwarranted interference.” In case “an assembly provokes or may provoke a hostile reaction from members of the public against participants,” the state has a duty to allow the assembly to go ahead and to protect participants.

“Bangladesh law enforcement are under increased scrutiny following US human rights sanctions and with parliamentary elections on the horizon,” Ganguly said. “Diplomats in Bangladesh should raise concerns publicly and privately that such repression threatens the conditions for a free and fair election.”

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B.C. Premier David Eby unveils his new cabinet

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B.C. Premier David Eby to reveal new cabinet with health, safety, housing priorities

Here is a list of British Columbia Premier David Eby‘s ministers following his first major cabinet shuffle since taking over as leader:

Agriculture and Food — Pam Alexis (new to cabinet)

Attorney General — Niki Sharma (new to cabinet)

Children and Family Development — Mitzi Dean (unchanged)

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Citizens’ Services — Lisa Beare

Education and Child Care — Rachna Singh (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for child care — Grace Lore (new to cabinet)

Emergency Management and Climate Readiness — Bowinn Ma

Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation — Josie Osborne

Environment and Climate Change Strategy — George Heyman (unchanged)

Finance (includes Columbia River Treaty) — Katrine Conroy

Forests and minister responsible for consular corps. — Bruce Ralston

Health and minister responsible for Francophone affairs — Adrian Dix (unchanged)

Housing and government house leader — Ravi Kahlon

Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation — Murray Rankin

Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation — Brenda Bailey (new to cabinet)

Minister of state for trade — Jagrup Brar (new to cabinet)

Labour — Harry Bains (unchanged)

Mental Health and Addictions — Jennifer Whiteside

Municipal Affairs — Anne Kang

Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills (includes immigration/foreign credentials) — Selina Robinson

Minister of state for workforce development — Andrew Mercier (new to cabinet)

Public Safety and Solicitor General (ICBC) — Mike Farnworth (unchanged)

Social Development and Poverty Reduction — Sheila Malcolmson

Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport — Lana Popham

Transportation and Infrastructure (BC Transit and Translink) — Rob Fleming (unchanged)

Minister of state for infrastructure and transit — Dan Coulter (new to cabinet)

Water, Land and Resource Stewardship — Nathan Cullen

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022

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Bob Rae heads to Haiti in attempt at political consensus, amid possible intervention

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OTTAWA — Canada is trying to dislodge a political impasse in Haiti by sending one of its top diplomats to Port-au-Prince.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, started an in-person push for negotiations Wednesday.

Haiti is facing a series of crises as armed gangs block access to fuel and essentials, leading to water and power outages that are worsening a cholera outbreak.

The Haitian government has asked for a foreign military to intervene and push out the gangs, but opponents argue that might only prolong an unpopular government in a country that has not had elections since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada might be part of an intervention, but only if there is a consensus across Haiti’s fractured political scene.

Rae’s three-day visit will include talks with politicians, grassroots groups and United Nations officials on how Canada could play a role in what the Liberals say would be “Haitian-led solutions.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand gave no sense of what that might look like.

“We are making sure to be prudent in this situation,” she told reporters Wednesday.

“We are studying those contributions, potential contributions, and we will have more to say on that in short order.”

This fall, Canada has sanctioned 11 prominent Haitians over alleged ties to gangs, sent military vehicles to the country, and had Trudeau’s former national security adviser conduct an assessment mission.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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An anti-environmental group is shaping Oregon politics and policy – Oregon Capital Chronicle

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Shortly after this year’s midterm elections, an anti-government group in Oregon called Timber Unity posted a call to action on Facebook. It asked its followers to “bombard” Portland City Council members during an upcoming hearing over a proposed change to a motor vehicles fuel code.

The changes in the code would reduce dependence on nonrenewable fossil fuels by “increasing the required percentage of renewable fuels blended with petroleum diesel.”

In its post, Timber Unity called this a “special eletist [sic] blend” that would raise the price of diesel, lead distributors to disinvest in Oregon and cause biodiesel and renewable diesel to “not meet specs.”

All of these claims were false, according to the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

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Timber Unity has been active in Oregon politics since its founding three years ago.

This year, it endorsed Republican Christine Drazan for governor. Even though she lost, other conservative candidates won and did so with help from Timber Unity, an increasingly active conservative organization with a decidedly anti-conservation agenda.

County commissioners backed by Timber Unity flipped several seats this year, including Ben West who won in Clackamas County, unseating an incumbent. In Lane County, Ryan Ceniga defeated Dawn Lesley, an environmental engineer who prioritized climate change.

Taking over these hyper-local positions has been central to Timber Unity’s strategy of political influence.

Timber Unity’s origins

In June 2019, truckers and loggers living mainly in logging country between the coast and Portland became fed up and angry over a proposed carbon emissions bill.

Many of them, including the trucker and movement’s founder, Jeff Leavy, viewed the bill as a means of killing jobs.

In fact, the bill would have financially benefitted rural communities, such as theirs, affected by climate change.

Known as cap-and-trade, the bill proposed that companies emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide would have to buy carbon credits at auction.

But the proposal galvanized workers in the industry who mistakenly thought that China would be able to trade in the marketplace and, as Leavy put it to me, “keep polluting this earth on our dime.”

After hearing about the bill, Leavy used Facebook to organize a protest at the Capitol in Salem.

Over the course of several weeks in June, truckers and haulers staged their rigs, coordinated a convoy and held speeches in front of the Capitol.

They called themselves Timber Unity.

Soon after that protest, right-wing figures, including anti-vaxxers and secessionists, joined Timber Unity.

The protests attracted national media attention and statewide political interest.

That month, each of the 11 Republican state senators walked out of the legislative session and effectively killed the bill.

Political alignment

Now over three years later, Timber Unity is still energized, even after some initial internal splintering and leadership changes (Leavy says he resigned).

The group endorsed several winning candidates in the 2020 election, and even helped flip a House seat that hadn’t voted for a Republican in two decades.

In a September 1 Facebook post leading up to this year’s elections, the group applauded then candidate and former House minority leader Drazan for joining a 2020 Legislature walkout by Republicans over a bill aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The news that Timber Unity endorsed Drazan wasn’t a complete surprise despite the fact that an early Timber Unity supporter, Betsy Johnson, ran this year as an independent.

Angelita Sanchez, a co-director of the Timber Unity PAC, told me, vaguely, that Johnson was “a yes vote on a gas tax,” which Sanchez considered a “bad vote.”

And Mike Pihl, a former Timber Unity president, was already listed as an endorsement on Drazan’s website.

Anti-conservation agenda

In interviews, Timber Unity leadership distances itself from extremism and right-wing figures, but posts on Facebook and other promotional materials reveal far-right ideologies.

In October, Timber Unity screenshotted a Vox story headlined “How logging, a Nike founder, and the alt-right warped the Oregon governor’s race” and wrote, “Well, well, WELL!!! Look at what we have here!!! The FAR LEFT EXTREMIST came out with a story today, and lets just say they are running scared and they give ALL THE CREDIT TO YOU!!!”

The group also previously promoted a rally with a poster that included a QAnon banner and members of the private Facebook group in 2020 included election deniers, QAnon conspiracy theorists and at least one man calling for war ahead of the Capitol riots.

The rise of Timber Unity mimics previous anti-government movements, particularly in western states.

The “Wise Use” movement in the 1980s and ‘90s, for example, wanted the expansion of private property rights and less government oversight on federal lands. Its anti-government and anti-environmental rhetoric was similar to that used by Timber Unity, which sees environmental and government regulation as an infringement on freedom and rights.

Pihl, the former president, told me there’s already too much regulation of the timber industry.

“We already have the Forest Protection Act, which is very deep and it’s 87 pages of regulation,” he says. “I have it sitting on my desk, I read it all the time and there’s so many protected already, like the Siuslaw National Forest. You can’t do anything there.”

Timber Unity has successfully tapped into deep-seated resentments over environmental regulation, and its statewide support seems here to stay—at least for now.

This story was originally published in Columbia Insight, an independent environmental journalist news site.

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