Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Arrested
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested on April 11 to face a charge in the US of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network in 2010, bringing to an abrupt end an eight-year saga in which he had holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in the UK to avoid capture. The Ecuadorean government suspended the citizenship it had granted Assange and evicted him, clearing the way for his arrest. His hosts had displayed growing impatience, listing grievances including recent WikiLeaks releases they said interfered with other states’ internal affairs and personal discourtesies, like the failure of Assange to clean the bathroom and look after his cat. At a court hearing, a judge found him guilty of jumping bail, and he was detained partly in connection with an American extradition warrant. Assange indicated that he would fight extradition, and legal experts said that process could take years.
Julian Assange has been in the sights of the US government since his organization began publishing intelligence leaks in 2010, bringing to light many secrets, like revealing that more civilians had died in Iraq than official estimates showed, detailing the accusations against Guantánamo detainees, and airing American diplomats’ unvarnished takes on what was happening around the world, vaulting WikiLeaks to fame. A grand jury in Virginia began investigating people with links to WikiLeaks. Most recently, Assange has been under attack for his organization’s release during the 2016 presidential campaign of thousands of Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers (who apparently adopted the guise of a hacker calling itself Guccifer 2.0 when providing the files to WikiLeaks). But the conspiracy charge against Assange is not related to WikiLeaks’ role in Russia’s operations to sabotage the election.
2. Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, is Ousted in Military-backed Coup
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the army on April 11, brought down by months of anti-government protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule. “I announce as minister of defense the toppling of the regime and detaining its chief in a secure place,” Defence Minister Awad Ibnouf said in a televised address to the nation. A transitional military council would replace Bashir for two years, he said, adding that the country’s borders and airspace would be shut until further notice. Bashir, who swept to power in a 1989 coup, was one of Africa’s longest serving presidents. He is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
Since early on April 11 huge crowds had begun thronging squares across the center of Khartoum as the army promised an “important announcement.” Chanting “the regime has fallen,” thousands poured into the open ground outside army headquarters where defiant protesters have braved tear gas to keep up an unprecedented sit-in now in its sixth day. The protests, which erupted in December 2018 over the government’s tripling of the price of bread, were the most significant challenge yet to Bashir’s long rule and serve as the culmination of the Arab Spring protests that began over eight years ago. Sudan’s feared intelligence service also said it was freeing all the country’s political prisoners, state media reported. “The National Intelligence and Security Service have announced it is releasing all political detainees across the country,” the official SUNA news agency said. But in the eastern cities of Kassala and Port Sudan, protesters stormed NISS buildings after the releases failed to materialize, witnesses said. Protesters approached the NISS building in Kassala demanding that officers free their prisoners, a witness told AFP by telephone from the city.
The raids on NISS buildings came despite a call by protest organizers for demonstrators to refrain from attacking government figures or buildings. “We are calling on our people to control themselves and not to attack anybody or government and private properties,” the Alliance for Freedom and Change (AFC), the umbrella group that is spearheading the protest movement, said in a statement. “Anyone found doing this will be punished by law. Our revolution is peaceful, peaceful, peaceful. “We had enough of this regime — 30 years of repression, corruption, rights abuses, it’s enough,” said one protester at the sit-in. Officials say 49 people have died in protest-related violence since demonstrations first erupted in December. “I hope our revolution will achieve its goal,” said Alaa Salah, dubbed the protest movement’s “Nubian queen”, after a video clip went viral of her conducting chants with demonstrators outside army headquarters.
3. Death Penalty Use Declining Worldwide, According To Amnesty International Report
The number of executions carried out across the world has reached a 10-year low, according to a new report from human rights organization Amnesty International. At least 690 executions were carried out in 20 countries in 2018, which was a 31% decrease from 2017’s total of 993 executions or more. The statistics assess the use of the death penalty worldwide except in China and Saudi Arabia, where the number of people executed each year is a state secret. The figures “show that the death penalty is firmly in decline and that effective steps are being taken across the world to end the use of this cruel and inhuman punishment,” it said. Amnesty International also recorded commutations or pardons of death sentences in 29 countries last year.
The report is a moment of cautious optimism for human rights advocates who believe the death penalty to be a cruel and inhumane practice. However, along with the general decrease of executions, there are also points of concern. For example, the report shows that nearly 45 people were put to death in the US in 2018, a ~10% when compared to 2017. The increase in the number of executions likely came about due to President Donald Trump’s advocacy of the death penalty for even the most minor crimes, as well as increasing public support for the death penalty in many states. “There has been a slight increase in the number of executions [in the US], but it is still within historical lows,” Chiara Sangiorgio, Amnesty International’s Advisor on the Death Penalty, said. “Over a 10-year-period, we have seen the number of both executions and death sentences decrease.”
Despite the slight increase in executions in the US, the global trend in 2018 as a whole was positive, with most of the reductions coming from countries in the Middle East. For example, Iran has historically been one of the worlds leading execution countries, but the number of executions it carried out dropped more than 50% in 2018. “There was a significant drop in executions for drug-related offenses in Iran, because of a change in the laws from last year,” Sangiorgio says. Additionally, other countries in the Middle East such as Pakistan and Iraq saw an ease in the unusually high number of executions they carried out in 2017. “There is a reason for positive hopes, not only in the drop of executions but in the number of countries that have decided to abolish the practice,” Sangiorgio says. “Burkina Faso, Zambia and Malaysia all abolished or moved toward abolishing the death penalty this year.”
4. Ohio Passes Six-Week Abortion Ban, The Strongest Anti-Abortion Law In The US
The six-week abortion ban known as the “heartbeat bill” is now law in Ohio, making Ohio the sixth state in the nation to attempt to outlaw abortions at the point a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Republican Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill on April 11, just one day after it passed the Republican-led General Assembly. The law is slated to take effect in 90 days unless blocked by a federal judge. Known as the “Human Rights Protection Act,” SB 23 outlaws abortions as early as five or six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. The bill does include an exception to save the life of the woman, but no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. “The essential function of government is to protect the most vulnerable among us, those who don’t have a voice,” Governor DeWine said as he signed the bill. “Government’s role should be to protect life from the beginning to the end.”
Governor Mike DeWine’s signature will set off a lengthy legal fight. The ACLU of Ohio announced it will sue to stop the law, which the group says “virtually bans all abortion care.” “This legislation is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight to the bitter end to ensure that this bill is permanently blocked,” said ACLU of Ohio legal director Freda Levenson in a statement. The group plans to sue on behalf of Pre-Term Cleveland, Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and the Women’s Med Center of Dayton. But DeWine and lawmakers said the threat of legal action does not dissuade them. Since taking office in January, DeWine had said he planned to sign whichever version of the heartbeat bill ended up on his desk. Anti-abortion groups such as Ohio Right To Life say they intend the heartbeat bill to trigger a US Supreme Court case striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. That case legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22-24 weeks. “If this is what it takes, we will see you at the Supreme Court,” said Planned Parenthood of Ohio President Iris Harvey at a rally on April 10.