Senate Minority Leader Warns Against Stifling Free Speech

File photo of Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe

 

The Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe has warned state houses of assembly not to stifle opposition voices, particularly the recent actions of cowing minority leaders in their midst.

Abaribe in a statement released in Abuja by his spokesman, Uchenna Awom on Monday, bemoaned recent happenings in some state assemblies in the country, where minority leaders and opposition party members are hounded as perceived enemies in the performance of their statutory and democratic functions of clear oversight on the executive.

He described as worrisome the recent occurrence in Imo State House of Assembly where the Minority Leader and some other members were suspended in a manner that strongly suggests circumvention of democratic ethos.

“Democracy does not stop at the national level. It must permeate all levels of government i.e, wards, local governments, state and other democratic institutions. In all of these, everybody must enjoy of expression and association as guaranteed by our constitution,” Abaribe said.

“So, it is undemocratic and smirks of dictatorship, any attempt by anybody, particularly a parliament for that matter to abhor minority functions and stifle opposition voices, just because you want to pander to executive whims.

“It is reprehensible to even contemplate suspension of a minority leader because he questions the executive on things that seem to be antithetical to democratic norms.”

The Minority Leader, therefore, advised the State Assemblies to always see every party represented on the floor as partners in progress, whose viewpoints are all geared towards achieving good governance.

He added, “Without dissenting opinions, democracy loses its kernel. The essence of liberal democracy is the accommodation of different viewpoints, which is warehoused in the interplay of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary independently in the political system.”

Mali Opposition Rejects Junta-Backed Transition

Supporters of the CNSP (National Committee for the Salvation of the People) celebrate during a gathering at the start of two days of talks aimed at validating the terms of reference for a transitional government in Mali, on September 5, 2020, in Bamako.  AFP

 

Mali’s popular opposition movement has rejected a charter for a transition government backed by the army officers who ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

The military junta backed an arrangement for an 18-month transition government on Saturday, after a three-day forum with political parties and civil society representatives.

But the June 5 Movement (M5), which took part in the talks, rejected the roadmap in a statement on Saturday night, accusing the junta of a “desire to monopolise and confiscate power”.

Key ideas discussed during the talks had been left out of the final document while others had been added in, the group said.

The talks had taken place against a backdrop of “intimidation, antidemocratic and unfair practices worthy of another era”, it added.

The coalition of opposition groups, religious leaders and civil figures was behind months of protests against Keita, which led up to his ouster and arrest in a military coup on August 18.

But the group said that ideas such as the broad support for a civilian transition president had not been reflected in the final document.

The committee overseeing the talks that adopted the final version of the charter by acclamation on Saturday was chosen by the junta.

Under the terms of the final document, either a civilian or a military officer can become transition president, the committee’s rapporteur Moussa Camara told delegates.

AFP has not seen the final version of the charter. But an earlier version seen on Saturday stipulated that a junta-appointed committee would pick the transition president, raising questions about the military’s influence.

Commander Baba Cisse, from the junta, told AFP that the final text would not be made available on Sunday, and offered no further details.

 ‘Not democratic’ 

As the forum came to a close on Saturday, leading M5 member Sy Kadiatou Sow said the final version of the charter had been “butchered”.

“This is not democratic at all,” he said.

On Sunday, Sidebe Dedeou Ousmane, a union leader and M5 member, told AFP that none of the ideas discussed at her workshop had been included in the final report.

But Moussa Mara, a former prime minister, on Sunday defended the charter and urged “all Malians” to commit to the transition.

“The documents produced are not perfect, but they are a basis for starting the transition period,” he said.

Mali’s neighbours, who are anxious to avoid the fragile Sahel state spiralling into chaos, are yet to react to the transition charter.

Last month’s coup — Mali’s fourth since gaining independence from France in 1960 — came after months of protests stoked in part by Keita’s failure to quell a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the country since 2012.

The violence has since spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has taken a hard line, insisting that Mali’s ruling army officers hand over power within 12 months.

It has also closed borders and banned trade with the nation of some 19 million people.

ECOWAS leaders are nevertheless prepared to engage with the junta, and a meeting between the two sides is scheduled for Tuesday, in Ghana’s capital Accra.

Belarus Opposition Urges EU To Reject Vote As Leaders Hold Emergency Talks

belarus-protesters
Belarus opposition supporters attend a demonstration in central Minsk on August 16, 2020. The Belarusian strongman, who has ruled his ex-Soviet country with an iron grip since 1994, is under increasing pressure from the streets and abroad over his claim to have won re-election on August 9, with 80 percent of the vote. Sergei GAPON / AFP

 

The exiled head of Belarus’s opposition urged European leaders to reject President Alexander Lukashenko’s “fraudulent” re-election on Wednesday as the EU held an emergency summit on the country’s political crisis.

The European Council convened to discuss the fallout from the vote that saw security services in ex-Soviet Belarus brutally disperse peaceful demonstrators demanding that their authoritarian leader resign.

Protesters gathered for a 10th night of demonstrations on Tuesday, with thousands rallying in central Minsk waving the red-and-white flags of the opposition and calling on Lukashenko to step down.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old political novice who fled to neighbouring Lithuania after claiming victory in the vote, called on EU leaders “not to recognise these fraudulent elections”.

“Lukashenko has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of our nation and the world,” she said in the video appeal.

As the EU meeting began, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the bloc “cannot accept the result of these elections” called for dialogue to find “a solution that reflects the vote of the people.”

Ahead of the summit, European leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Lukashenko’s close ally Russia to foster talks between authorities and the opposition.

EU ministers agreed last week to draw up a list of targets for new sanctions and Germany has said even stronger penalties should be considered.

– ‘Fight for post-Soviet space’ –

The Kremlin on Wednesday described foreign interference in Belarus as “unacceptable” and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned what he said were attempts from abroad to take advantage of unrest in Belarus.

“No one is making a secret of the fact that this is about geopolitics, the fight for the post-Soviet space,” he said in a televised interview.

Yet Minsk’s ties with Moscow have cooled in recent years after Lukashenko resisted Putin’s efforts to integrate the two countries. Ahead of the vote, the Belarusian leader accused the Kremlin of dispatching mercenaries to Minsk to stir unrest with the opposition.

Europe’s longest-serving leader, Lukashenko has resisted calls to resign or hold new elections. On Tuesday, he said the opposition was planning to seize power and vowed to take “adequate measures” in response.

Tikhanovskaya, a trained English teacher who said she never planned to enter politics, contested the vote after her husband was jailed and barred from running against Lukashenko.

She has vowed to hold new elections and a Coordination Council which her allies created to oversee the transfer of power was due to convene on Wednesday.

In her video to European leaders, Tikhanovskaya said the council would lead the process of a “peaceful transition of power via dialogue” and call for “new fair and democratic presidential elections with international supervision.”

Nobel Prize-winning author and outspoken Lukashenko critic Svetlana Alexievich has been named a member of the group.

Lukashenko’s claim to victory in the August 9 elections with some 80 percent of the ballot sparked the largest demonstrations in Belarus since it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

More than 100,000 demonstrators flooded the streets of the capital Minsk last weekend as frustration against the strongman’s claim to a sixth term reached a fever pitch.

A police crackdown on peaceful protesters in the days after the vote saw nearly 7,000 demonstrators detained and sparked allegations of abuse and torture at the hands of security services.

The health ministry on Wednesday confirmed the death of a 43-year-old man in hospital after his family said he was shot while taking part in an protest. Two other people are confirmed to have died in post-election unrest.

– Pressure not to strike –

Lukashenko this week handed out awards to some 300 members his security services for “impeccable service” after rights groups and Western leaders denounced police violence.

Factory workers at state-run enterprises answered the opposition’s calls to strike in an unprecedented display of anger towards the Belarusian leader among a traditionally loyal segment of the population.

Lukashenko on Wednesday thanked workers who didn’t join the strikes and accused the West of funding the opposition. He said Western countries were levying allegations against Belarus to “distract from the problems” in their own countries.

The authorities appear to be clamping down on employees at state factories walking off the job, with police intervening in a demonstration outside the Minsk Tractor Works on Wednesday morning and arresting two protesters.

Activists on social media said the authorities were exerting enormous pressure on employees at state-run enterprises to refuse to strike, leading to a sharp drop in the numbers of protesters joining the walkouts.

Police on Wednesday also blocked the entrance to the National Academy Theatre in Minsk after staff resigned en masse to protest the forced removal of director and former culture minister Pavel Latushko, who publicly called for new elections.

AFP

Russia Opposition Leader Accuses Authorities Of Freezing Account

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow.  AFP

 

Russia’s main opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Tuesday that authorities had frozen all of his bank accounts and those of his family, including his elderly parents.

“All accounts have been blocked,” Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner who has emerged as President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, said on Twitter.

His spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh told AFP that the accounts had been frozen due to a money-laundering probe against Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.

Navalny said that because of the blocked accounts his daughter, who is a student at Stanford University, was without money and that his retired parents could not receive their pensions.

“This is quite unpleasant, I won’t deny it. My parents are elderly people, pensioners,” he wrote in a blog post.

“My child is studying at the other end of the planet by herself — she’s been left without a single cent.”

He added that his son no longer had access to his savings account.

Investigators last summer launched a money-laundering probe into Navalny’s foundation, which seeks donations from the public, accusing it of taking money that was procured illegally.

In August, a Moscow district court froze 75 million rubles ($1.1 million) held in accounts by the foundation and staff members.

Navalny said his personal accounts had until now remained untouched.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s foundation, said authorities had also blocked the bank accounts of his family.

Investigators have repeatedly accused Navalny’s foundation of financial crimes, including money laundering and accepting illegal donations, and frozen its accounts.

Navalny organised some of the biggest protests against Putin in recent years.

In the run-up to local elections in September, Navalny and his supporters organised a wave of protests after popular opposition politicians were barred from standing in the Moscow municipal election, prompting a police crackdown.

AFP

Opposition Postpones Anti-Government Rally In Liberia

Supporters of the Council of Patriots (CoP) confront policemen in Monrovia on December 30, 2019. 
Zoom DOSSO / AFP

 

Liberian opposition leaders announced a week-long postponement of an anti-government rally planned for Monday after mounting confrontation with the government.

The rally was meant to protest at the West African country’s deepening economic crisis, but its organisers said there was lack of protection for protestors.

The government had accused the opposition of calling for President George Weah’s “unconstitutional eviction” and on Saturday warned all protests before the end of January would be blocked.

On Monday, the Council of Patriots (COP) opposition said it had called the rally off after the government said it was unable to provide security and after international observers recommended postponement.

COP Chairman Henry Costa, who helped footballer-turned-president Weah come to power, insisted the protest would take place nonetheless.

A new date has been set for January 6, after mediation from international observers.

The streets of the capital Monrovia were extremely quiet early Monday, an AFP journalist saw.

Police officers erected checkpoints across the city and were systematically checking vehicles and passengers.

Opposition MP Yekeh Kolubah, who is also a COP member, told AFP that police officers had stopped him from transporting protesters to a rallying point in the city.

Costa told reporters later on Monday morning that representatives from the UN, EU, US and the West Africa bloc ECOWAS had complained to the government about blocking the protest.

Still traumatised by back-to-back civil wars and the 2014-2016 Ebola crisis, Liberia is struggling to revive its failing economy.

Inflation is rampant, according to the World Bank, and civil servants regularly go unpaid.

 

Russia Detains Four Over Opposition Protest

Russia Flag

 

Russian investigators said Monday they had detained four more people suspected of violence against police at an unauthorised opposition protest in July, after jailing several demonstrators.

The powerful Investigative Committee in charge of the probe said it had detained four suspects and searched their homes while two other suspects had fled.

The latest detentions came after tens of thousands of people, many of them supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, took to the streets of Moscow during the summer demanding fair elections.

Authorities unleashed a crackdown on the anti-government rallies and sentenced several people to jail terms of between two and five years. One protester’s jail term was later reduced to a suspended sentence.

Investigators said two of the four detained on Monday, Yegor Lesnykh and Maksim Martintsov, had knocked a National Guard officer to the ground during a July 27 protest and Lesnykh had kicked another.

Another man detained, Andrei Barshai, knocked a National Guard officer onto his back, investigators said, while a fourth man, Vladimir Yemelyanov, seized hold of a National Guard officer and prevented him carrying out his duties.

The men are set to be charged shortly, after which a court will decide whether to hold them behind bars, the Investigative Committee said.

It said two others had “concealed themselves after learning of the investigators’ activities.”

Earlier, a news website that focuses on opposition detentions, Mediazona, reported that another man, activist Denni Kulinich, had been taken by investigators for questioning.

Pro-Kremlin television channel Ren-TV had named Kulinich as a “coordinator” of the protest.

AFP

Iran Arrests Opposition Figure ‘Directed By French Intel’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in New York on September 26, 2019.  Kena Betancur / AFP

 

Iran has arrested an opposition figure who had been “directed by France’s intelligence service” and he is now in custody in the Islamic republic, the Revolutionary Guards said on Monday.

Ruhollah Zam, who ran a “counter-revolutionary” Telegram channel, has been detained in a “sophisticated and professional operation” by the Guards’ intelligence organisation, the Guards said in a statement.

Zam reportedly lived in exile in Paris, but the Guards’ statement did not specify when or where he was arrested.

The Guards said he was “trapped” by its intelligence organisation.

It said this was despite the fact he had been “directed by France’s intelligence service and supported by intelligence services of America and the Zionist regime (Israel).”

The Guards said they managed to “deceive” foreign services and arrest him by “using modern intelligence methods and innovative tactics”.

It said the operation showed Iran’s enemies were “lagging behind” its own intelligence services.

Last year, Iran’s telecoms minister Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi demanded Telegram shut Zam’s Amadnews channel, saying it was inciting an “armed uprising”.

The channel, which had around 1.4 million followers, was later removed.

Telegram was the Islamic republic’s most popular social network with some 40 million users before it was blocked by the judiciary last year.

Authorities had temporarily banned the messaging app during a wave of protests in early 2018, saying it enabled foreign-based “counter-revolutionary” groups to stir tensions.

AFP

Cameroon Orders Release Of Main Opposition Leader Kamto

 

A Cameroonian military court Saturday ordered the release of main opposition leader Maurice Kato who has been imprisoned for nine months, after a series of conciliatory gestures by veteran ruler Paul Biya.

The court said Kamto and 101 others summoned could be released “if they have not been detained for anything else”. Kamto’s lawyer Sylvain Souop added: “We note the release of our clients who should not have been in prison. Maurice Kamto is free.”

Biya on Friday announced he had ordered prosecutions to be dropped against “some” opposition leaders, including a number from the main Movement for the Rebirth of Cameroon (MRC) led by his jailed rival Kamto.

AFP

Putin’s Opponent Navalny Freed After 30 Days In Jail

 

Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was released on Friday after serving 30 days in jail for urging protests against the exclusion of opposition candidates from upcoming elections in Moscow, his spokeswoman said.

Navalny emerged from prison smiling, according to photographs released on Twitter by the spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

Zimbabwe Bans Third Opposition Protest

At Least 31 Dead As Cyclone Idai Hits Eastern Zimbabwe

 

Zimbabwean police outlawed anti-government protests that had been scheduled to take place on Tuesday in Gweru, the country’s third-largest city, the main opposition MDC said.

The march, organised by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is the third demonstration to be banned in less than a week.

In a statement, the MDC described the move as not just “a ban on civilian politics, but a de-facto state of emergency”.

“The prohibition orders that are being used to stifle and throttle democratic space are in themselves unconstitutional,” it said.

MDC Vice President Tendai Biti said in a tweet that “the regime’s actions are effectively banning the MDC & suspending the constitution.”

But, he promised, “we will soldier on peacefully & Constitutionally.”

Police have already banned marches in the capital Harare and Bulawayo, the country’s second largest city.

The protests aim at highlighting the worsening economic conditions in the southern African country.

Riot police patrolled the streets of Gweru on Tuesday where some shops kept their shutters down, according to witnesses.

On Friday, police using teargas and batons scattered demonstrators who defied the ban in Harare, leaving 12 people wounded.

The European Union, Australia, Canada and the United States have called on the authorities to exercise restraint and proportionality.

The “intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives, and opposition politicians — prior to, during and following the demonstration in Harare on 16 August — are cause for great concern,” their envoys said in a rare joint statement issued in Harare.

Zimbabwe’s government is trying to mend relations with the West after decades of isolation over human rights abuses under Robert Mugabe who was ousted in a military-led coup in 2017.

His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, won elections last year on a pledge to revive the country’s sickly economy.

But many Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse with shortages of bread, fuel, medicines. Inflation is now running at triple figures.

According to the UN, about five million Zimbabweans, or a third of the population, are in need of food aid.

AFP

People Will Think Prosecution Of Atiku’s Son-In-Law Is Intimidating The Opposition – Yabagi

The presidential candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP) for the 2019 Nigeria elections, Sani Yabagi

 

The presidential candidate of Action Democratic Party (ADP) for the 2019 Nigeria elections, Sani Yabagi, has criticised President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration over the handling of corruption cases.

Yabagi said the prosecution of Abdullahi Babalele, the son-in-law to the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, will now create an impression that the Presidency is intimidating the opposition.

According to him, this is because Atiku is challenging the victory of President Buhari at the recently held polls before the Presidential Election Petitions Tribunal.

READ ALSO: EFCC Arraigns Atiku’s Son-In-Law, Abdullahi Babalele

“I understand that Atiku’s lawyer and brother-in-law have been put behind bars by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the court.

“That is not in tandem with what the political situation in the country is. It has a negative impact because we have not forgotten that Atiku is in court and people will think this is another way of intimidating the opposition.

“So I think no matter what the case may be, in terms of what Atiku’s lawyer and the in-law must have done, I will expect that some decorum is exhibited because this is somebody that is in court with you. People will think you are trying to intimidate the opposition,” he said.

But reacting, a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Daniel Bwala, said Babalele’s prosecution by the anti-graft agency shows the commitment if the current administration to the rule of law.

Bwala who is also a member Lincoln’s inn, London and aide to the Deputy Senate President on Legal Affairs, said the stature of the law is blind, stressing that immunity does not cover relatives of people vying for public offices.

“In an ideal democratic society, the rule of law thrives. And the law does not grant immunity to somebody or his family simply because the person is running for office in government.

“And of course, the stature of the law is blind. Otherwise, people will think that if I want to get some degree of immunity, I just run for office and every member of my family will be protected. I don’t think it’s a valid argument,” he said.

Atiku’s son-in-law who is being prosecuted by the EFCC on a 2-count charge of alleged money laundering, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Russia Arrests Nearly 50,000 Opposition Supporters

Russian police officers detain a protester during an unauthorized anti-Putin rally called by opposition leader Alexei Navalny on May 5, 2018 in Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term. Vasily MAXIMOV / AFP

 

Nearly 50,000 opposition supporters rallied and dozens were arrested in Moscow on Saturday at one of the largest authorised protests since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.

Demonstrators crowded the central Prospekt Andreya Sakharova street, where city authorities deployed a massive police presence, including officers in riot gear, after giving permission for the rally to go ahead.

The White Counter, an NGO that tracks participants in rallies, counted 49,900 people, while Moscow police gave a much lower attendance figure of 20,000.

Police in Moscow said they detained more than 130 people. A further 80 were arrested in Russia’s second-largest city of Saint Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors detentions at protests.

READ ALSO: Five Killed As Russia Tests Missile

In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections after the exclusion of several opposition figures, including allies of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, from local Moscow polls next month.

While the rally was authorised, Navalny — who is currently in jail — had urged supporters to walk peacefully through the city afterwards.

Navalny’s associate, Boris Zolotarevsky, told protesters to proceed to Putin’s administration offices. He was detained by police shortly afterwards.

 ‘Citizens are hostages’ 

At the rally, some protesters carried placards with slogans such as “Give us the right to vote!” and “You’ve lied to us enough”, while others held up pictures of activists arrested at earlier demonstrations.

“I’m outraged by this injustice at every level. They’re not letting candidates stand who have collected all the necessary signatures. They are arresting people who are protesting peacefully,” said one protester, Irina Dargolts, a 60-year-old engineer.

“It feels like the country is a prisoner and its citizens are hostages… No one represents the people,” said Dmitry Khobbotovsky, an activist for the Open Russia movement funded by Kremlin foe and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Showing the movement’s appeal to young Russians, one of the country’s most famous rappers, Oxxxymiron, attended the rally and another popular rapper Face performed on stage.

“I’m performing here today so that my people have freedom and the right to choose,” said Face, 22, known for his facial tattoos.

 Police crackdown 

Riot police and the national guard had detained over 2,000 people at the previous two rallies, which were not authorised by city officials, and a dozen protesters face criminal charges and risk jail terms for “mass disorder”.

Most opposition candidates banned from participating in the Moscow election have now been jailed for violating protest laws.

One of the rally speakers was the wife of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, who is serving a 30-day sentence.

“Each of us has the right to run for office and they are very afraid of that,” said Valeriya Gudkova.

“We have real support from the public and they just have criminals in their electoral commissions.”

 ‘Attempt to gag us’ 

As he enters his third decade in power, Putin’s approval ratings have dropped significantly and critics say the authorities fear any outlet calling for wider political change.

The latest demonstration came this week as authorities mounted their harshest attack yet on Navalny’s team, focusing on his anti-corruption foundation which publishes investigations of officials close to Putin.

One of the foundation’s lawyers, Lyubov Sobol, was detained Saturday at her campaign office by police in riot gear, she wrote on social media.

Riot police also raided the studio where Navalny’s supporters were set to run a live broadcast of the protest, activists said.

On Thursday, investigators raided the foundation’s office as part of a probe into alleged acceptance of donations of laundered money and a court froze the foundation’s accounts.

“This is the most aggressive attempt yet to gag us,” Navalny wrote in a blog entry he issued through lawyers while serving a 30-day sentence.

AFP