Conflict Weekly

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Conflict Weekly
Protests in Iran

  IPRI Team

Conflict Weekly #143, 29 September 2022, Vol.3, No.26

An initiative by NIAS-IPRI and KAS-India Office

Lavanya Ravi

Iran: Protests spark against hijab rules

In the news
The death of a 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini on 13 September while under detention by Iran’s morality police has sparked nationwide protests. The demonstrations targeted the strict hijab rules enforced by the government.

A heavy public backlash was observed, with ongoing protests the past fortnight claiming more than 71 lives, including security personnel. Hundreds of people, including journalists, have been arrested or detained.

Visuals of women burning their hijab and cutting their hair have flooded social media. Iran’s government has responded by banning the internet, especially WhatsApp, Instagram, and other social media, pledging “decisive action without leniency against the core instigators of the riots.”

On 23 September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met President Ebrahim Raisi to raise concerns about the investigation and excessive use of force against the protesters. The international community, including the UN and Amnesty International, has called for a criminal investigation and a fair probe into the death of Mahsa Amini.

On 25 September, Iran’s government summoned the British and Norwegian envoys to protest their ‘hostile reporting and interference’ in Iran’s affairs. President Raisi also cancelled an interview with an American CNN reporter because she refused to wear a hijab during the interview. Iran’s protesters have garnered widespread support in the international community. The protests in Iran have received support from the diaspora based in the US, UK, Norway, Turkey, France, and more.

Issues at large
First, strong anti-hijab sentiments. Hijab and loose tunic over clothes became strictly mandatory for women in Iran only after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Protests on a smaller scale erupted in 2017, and the then leader Hassan Rouhani relaxed the Hijab mandate in certain areas. However, the current conservative hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi brought back strict enforcement of the dress code which has resulted in strong protests, especially led by women.

Second, internet censorship. The Iranian government has restricted access to the internet to prevent people from using it mobilise protests. However, the US has stepped forward to assist the people in their peaceful protests by imposing sanctions on the morality police and providing means to bypass internet shutdowns. To that end, billionaire Elon Musk has offered Starlink, a satellite network operated by SpaceX, to help people access the internet. 

Third, state-sponsored counter-protests. Supporters of the current regime have gathered in large numbers in the form of state-sponsored pushback to change the existing narrative. They claim the ‘rioters’ have engaged in anti-religious acts by burning the Quran and the national flag. They have also denounced the intervention of foreign powers like the US, claiming the protests are ‘seditionist’ fuelled by external forces intervening in Iran’s domestic affairs.

Fourth, momentum for the feminist movement. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 set back the progress made by women by at least 5 decades. Since then, the feminist movement has struggled to make progress with conservative leaders enforcing strict Islamic law. Moments of relaxation have been observed with predecessor Hassan Rouhani reining in the Moral Police. The current protests are a culmination of decades of oppression and pose a challenge to the regime. Women in Iran are not just challenging the hijab mandate, but the culture of treating women as second-class citizens.

In perspective
First, the interplay of religion and moral policing. The protests which started out by demanding justice for Amini have turned into questioning the institutions set up by the government that enforce strict Islamic laws. The extent to which the government has gone to uphold its social-religious and oppressive practices has caused widespread dissatisfaction. The death of Amini has triggered the fundamental question of the need for moral and religious policing in an age when the country’s feminist movement is stronger than ever.

Second, impact of protests. Iranian bureaucracy is adamant about enforcing the hijab as a mandate; there are very few officials under Khameini’s rule that have opposed the veil. If the government gives in to the hijab row, then there will be popular demand to update various other aspects of the Islamic law that are repressive in nature. As a result, the government is putting a lot of effort into denying Amini’s death as the fault of the police and changing the narrative to condemn the violent riots and undue foreign influence. In the short term, the government is likely to provide selective relaxations to quell the civil unrest but it is unlikely that any substantial institutional changes will come about.

Also, from around the World

Avishka Ashok, Joel Jacob, Abigail Fernandez, Rashmi BR, Anu Maria Joseph, Harini Madhusudan, Rishma Banerjee, Padmashree Anandhan and Ankit Singh

East and Southeast Asia

China: Court sentences man to 24 years in prison for physically assaulting women at restaurant

On 23 September, the court in China’s northern Langfang city sentenced the leader of a criminal gang to 24 years in prison for the physical abuse of female diners at a restaurant in June 2022. Along with the group leader, Chen Jizhi, 27 other individuals were handed prison terms ranging from six months to 11 years for crimes against women, other petty crimes and illegal activities. The court said: “Chen Jizhi's criminal group acted with impunity to carry out bad deeds, oppress the people, and harm the local economy and public order, having a severe impact on society.” The ruling was appreciated by over 920 million social media users who had expressed their outrage when the video surfaced soon after the incident.

China: Virus Emergency Response Centre traces cyberattacks back to the US

On 27 September, China’s National Computer Virus Emergency Response Centre published an investigation report which supported the country’s claims that the US National Security Agency directed thousands of attacks on the North western Polytechnical University. The report took technical assistance from European and Southeast Asian countries and traced the features, attack weapons and paths used in the cyberattack. According to the report: “They have found that those attacks originated from the NSA-affiliated Office of Tailored Access Operation (TAO), which had exposed its own technical loopholes and operational missteps during the attack.” Over 41 types of cyber weapons have been used in the recent attack on the University.

China: Property buyers settle into rotting and unfinished apartments

On 26 September, the Asahi Shimbun reported on the current situation of the property market in China and shed light on the residents who were forcibly occupying their unfinished apartments. A few people have now chosen to occupy the house despite having no access to water, gas, or finished houses. In Guilin city, over 20 buyers of the Xiulan County Mansion complex have collectively created a makeshift outdoor toilet and are living by for the past six months. The act is both a movement to pressure the builders to complete the projects and a reaction to the current financial incapability of the buyers.

Philippines: Typhoon Noru causes floods in Northern regions

On 26 September, the Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr undertook an aerial survey to analyse the extent of devastation caused by the typhoon. The category three typhoon had resulted in the inundation of farmlands and communities situated in the north. The images released by the government showed strong winds and massive rain induced by the typhoon. The President has called for an extension of equipment’s for a cleaning drive in the worst-hit communities and directed the authorities to provide electricity in areas affected by power outages. On 25 September, the typhoon passed through Philippines and moved in the direction of the South China Sea towards Vietnam.

Malaysia: Protests over holding elections during flood season

On 24 September, in Kuala Lumpur, people protested over the conduction of elections during the “monsoon season.” The opponents held banners in Bahasa Malaysia, the official language of Malaysia which said, “Nyawa dulu, baru PRU (Lives first, then General Election).” The opposition party, Muda party, protested in front of Sogo mall. The president of the Muda party, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman asked, "In times of disaster, it is not the time for politics. If the elections are held during the floods, how can the people be taken care of?" Technically, Malaysia's 15th general election is supposed to be held around mid-September 2023, but due to pressure from a political faction within the ruling party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob had to conduct the elections.

North Korea: Japan and South Korea accuse over firing of ballistic missiles

On 25 September, North Korea launched a single, short-range ballistic missile across the Taechon area of the North Pyongyang region. Japan’s Defence Minister, Yasukazu Hamada claimed that the missile soared at 50 kilometres and at an “irregular trajectory.” The minister claimed that it was the 19th launch of cruise missiles and officially protested against the firing via the North Korean embassy located in China. In a statement, Japanese Defence Minister, Hamada said, “North Korea’s action represents a threat to the peace and security of our country, the region and the international community and to do this as the Ukraine invasion unfolds is unforgivable.” South Korea deemed North Korea’s missile launch a violation of UNSC resolutions and condemned the country for aggravating tensions in the region. North Korea’s Chief objective is to launch nuclear-armed missiles from submarines and is making severe efforts on these lines. The firing of the missile comes ahead of the US-South Korea military drills.

South Korea: US aircraft carrier arrives for joint drills

On 23 September, the US “nuclear-powered aircraft carrier” USS Ronald Reagan docked at the southern port city of Busan, South Korea ahead of the US-South Korea joint military drills. The exercises are to be conducted to deter North Korea. The South Korean navy claimed that the joint exercises were conducted to enhance both the states’ “military readiness” and to show the “firm resolve” of the allies amidst North Korean threats. Previously, in 2017, in the face of North Korean missile launches, in a similar fashion, the US had sent its three aircraft carriers. During her forthcoming visit to South Korea, the US Vice President, Kamala Harris is expected to hold talks with South Korea over North Korean nuclear threats. North Korea has claimed to continue its nuclear program as it is threatened by US hostile policies.

Philippines: Typhoon Nora kills 10 as many suffer from landfall and floods

On 26 September, Typhoon Nora hit the mainland of the Philippines at the speed of 185 Kmph, making landfall in the capital and northern provinces leaving 10 dead. Many areas are getting flooded with the authorities rushing to evacuate people from prone areas. Relief aid is to be distributed to the thousands of evacuates along with relief packages also announced by the government for the victims and survivors of the Typhoon.

Myanmar: Military air strikes killed 11 school children

On 25 September, at least 11 children died in an air strike and indiscriminate fire in civilian areas including a school in Tabayin Township in Myanmar. The military said it opened fire because rebels were using the building to attack its force. UNICEF offers condolences to the parents and the families who lost their children.

Myanmar: US announces USD 170 million as financial aid for Rohingyas

On 22 September, the United States of America announced another USD 170 million in aid to Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims who are in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The assistance would include Rohingyas within and outside Myanmar, including the ones taking refuge in Bangladesh. With this announcement, the total financial aid to the cause of uplifting the Rohingyas has reached USD 1.9 billion. The first grant was announced in August 2017 when around 740,000 Rohingyas flew outside Myanmar and had to take refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar. Currently, southern Bangladesh hosts over a million Rohingyas, forming the largest refugee settlement in the world.

South Asia

Bangladesh: Myanmar shelling kill people across the border

On 22 September, tensions escalated between Myanmar and Bangladesh when they exchanged attacks across the border. The Bangladesh army chief warned Myanmar over firing into its territorial domain. The firings have killed and injured especially Rohingyas in Bangladesh. Myanmar's military junta blames the Arakan Army for the shelling as both have been fighting since August near the Bangladesh border in northern Rakhine State. The Bangladesh army has taken a strong stance against the act, stating that it will not tolerate any further violation of their national integrity.

Bangladesh: 50 people die from passenger boat sink

On 25 September, a waterway tragedy in Bangladesh recorded over 50 deaths, with almost a dozen still missing. The accident occurred in the Karatoya river in Bangladesh, where a boat carrying around 90 Hindu pilgrims flipped and sank. The boat mainly had Hindu pilgrims visiting a temple on the occasion of Mahalaya, which marks the beginning of Durga Puja, the most significant Hindu festival in Bangladesh. It is suspected that excess weight load had caused the boat to sink, but a five-member committee is investigating the matter further.

Pakistan: Two soldiers killed in IED blast in North Waziristan; Two ‘IS militants' killed in Khuzdar

On 25 September, two soldiers of the Pakistan Army were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in the General Area Esham of the North Waziristan District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), a statement of ISPR said. Previously, a Pakistan Army soldier was killed while thwarting a terrorist attack from Afghanistan in the bordering Dwatoi area of the North Waziristan district. In a separate operation on 22-23 September, security forces led an intelligence-based operation over the suspected presence of a high-profile terrorist in the Charbagh area of the Swat district. In a separate incident on 23 September, the provincial counterterrorism department (CTD) said two “most wanted terrorists” of the militant Islamic State (IS) group were killed after both sides exchanged fire during an intelligence-based operation in the Sorgaz area of Khuzdar district. The department found a substantial number of arms and ammunition during the operation.

Afghanistan: Another blast near a mosque during Friday prayers

On 23 September, the Afghan capital, Kabul, was shaken again by an explosive-stocked car bomb blast near a mosque. The car detonated outside the mosque in the Wazir Akbar Khan area, which had formerly hosted several foreign embassies and NATO. The bomb blast followed the same pattern as before, where the explosion occurred right after people started exiting the mosque post their prayers. The mosque hosts several Taliban members regularly. The nearby hospital received 14 people affected by the blast, out of which four were already dead. No one claimed responsibility for the attack till now.

Afghanistan: Only 43 per cent of the requested USD 4.4 billion provided in the last nine months, says OCHA

On 26 September, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that only 43 per cent of the requested USD 4.4 billion in aid have been provided in the last nine months. According to OCHA, this amount was requested in 2022 to provide humanitarian assistance to over 22 million Afghans who have been acutely food-insecure and hit by natural disasters. Additionally, OCHA reported that more than 223,000 people have been affected by natural calamities over the past several months, claiming, “Many natural disaster-affected households lost homes, assets, and livestock, with worst-affected poor households likely in need of emergency humanitarian food assistance to prevent food consumption gaps and Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes.”

Afghanistan: 12 bodies found in mass graves in Kandahar

On 26 September, Taliban’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stated that mass graves containing the remains of 14 people have been uncovered in the town of Spin Boldak, Kandahar. He said, “We are looking into the issue of this mass grave after which we will decide on what kind of investigation should be conducted,” and added that, “These were individuals who were arrested from villages by the former cruel commander General Raziq. They were all civilians who were killed and buried in a mass grave.” In response, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan, Richard Bennett, tweeted, “Important these remains are not disturbed and damaged further pending forensic examination.”

Afghanistan: CIA unveils model of Zawahiri’s hideout

On 24 September, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) revealed a model which they claimed to be of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s safe house. The model is stated to have been used to brief President Joe Biden about Zawahiri’s whereabouts before they carried out the drone strike that killed him in Afghanistan. The model was put on display at the CIA Museum which is generally closed to the public, however, journalists were allowed to tour the museum for the agency’s 75th anniversary, as part of a broader effort to display its achievements.

Central Asia, Middle East, and Africa

Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan: Officials agree to begin preparing a draft agreement on the state border

On 26 September, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan’s delegations on delimitation and demarcation of the state border agreed to sign a protocol that would allow the beginning of the procedure for agreeing on a draft of a new agreement on certain sections of their state border. The document was signed by  the Chairman of the State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan Kamchybek Tashiev and Prime Minister of Uzbekistan Abdulla Aripov. This comes as the two countries prepare to fully resolve the border issue by the end of the year.

Israel-Palestine: Tensions escalate at Al-Aqsa Mosque

On 26 September, hundreds of Jewish settlers backed by Israeli forces entered into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. The prayers were stopped and the Israeli police arrested several Palestinians inside. Jordan, the custodian of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, called on Israel to respect the sanctity of the Mosque and to stop the settlers’ activities in the compound. The Arab League condemned the storming and said in its statement that the charging aims at “changing the existing historical and legal situation”, and amounted to “flagrant violation of international law.”

Syria: Hundred dead after migrant boat capsizes

On 26 September, Syrian authorities said that they have recovered 100 bodies from the Eastern Mediterranean, resulting from a boat carrying migrants which capsized the previous week. The UN observed that the boat was ferrying around 120-150 migrants and refugees who were mainly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians and had capsized off the coast of Tartous, Syria. The Lebanese Army arrested a man in connection with the accident, believing he was a part of the smuggling, with the destination being Italy.

Syria: Cholera outbreak kills 29

The cholera outbreak in Syria has rendered at least 2000 people sick and has claimed 29 lives. The outbreak, first since the conflict began in 2011, is linked to the probable contaminated water being used for growing crops and the unsafe water from the Euphrates River being used for drinking purposes. The Euphrates flows through Aleppo, where 70 per cent of the cases have been reported.

South Sudan: UN Secretary General seeks report on sexual abuse allegations in UN-run camp

On 22 September, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for an urgent report on the revelations of sexual abuse by aid workers in a UN camp in South Sudan. The allegations were disclosed by an investigation by Al Jazeera and The New Humanitarian wherein survivors recalled experiences of abuse, including rape of minors, at the hands of aid workers from the World Food Programme, World Vision, International Organization of Migration, and Doctors without Borders (MSF) agencies. Guterres’s spokesperson said, “The Secretary-General is appalled by these allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse which causes irreparable harm to victims and their families.”

Libya: Five dead in clash between rival groups in western town

On 26 September, the Health Ministry's emergency services said at least five people, including a 10-year-old child, were killed in clashes between rival militias in Zawiya town in the west. At least 13 people were wounded in the fighting wherein the groups were competing for influence. A BBC news report suggests that one rival party had links with the interior ministry and the other with the defence ministry of the UN-backed government.

Uganda: Ebola cases rise amid 23 deaths, says WHO

On 26 August, the World Health Organization said 23 people died after the declaration of the Ebola Sudan strain outbreak in Uganda. Adding that there have been 36 Ebola cases- 18 confirmed and 18 probable cases, the outbreak has now spread to three districts in central Uganda, raising a fear of further spread. Uganda’s health ministry said, “The Ministry of Health Rapid Response Teams remain on ground to the confirmed cases.” East African countries have issued alerts following the announcement of the outbreak. The WHO claimed that the Ebola Sudan strain has a lower fatality rate than Ebola Zaire, a strain that killed 2,300 in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 2018 and 2020.

Somalia: Suicide bombing kills one soldier

On 25 September, Al Jazeera reported that one soldier was killed and six others were wounded in a suicide bombing at a military base near the capital Mogadishu. It is unclear of who is responsible for the attack. However, the armed group al-shabab frequently carries out attacks in the region with the group being an  al-Qaeda-allied group. It has been fighting Somalia’s government trying to establish its own rule.

Europe and the Americas

Russia: Reports of a gas leak at the Nord Stream Pipeline

On 27 September, Moscow revealed that Russia was extremely concerned about the damages sustained by the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines. The Pipeline operator Nord Stream AG stated that the three offshore lines of the Nord stream gas pipeline system have suffered unprecedented damage which has led to the gas leaking into the Baltic Sea. Russia’s spokesperson, Peskov said that the pressure on the pipeline has significantly dipped following the three leaks, and considered sabotage as a potential cause. The damage to the 1,200 kilometer Nord Stream pipeline took place in the Danish economic zone and is the latest in the ongoing energy dispute between the West and Russia.

Russia: Shooting in school leaves 17 dead and many wounded

On 26 September, a 34 year old man, sporting all-black clothing with Nazi symbols on them, caused a rampage after shooting in a school in the city of Izhevsk in Russia’s Urals Region of Udmurtia. The shooting killed six adults and 11 children and left more than 20 people, primarily children, injured. According to preliminary updates from Russian authorities, the suspect was armed with two semi-automatic less-lethal pistols, illegally altered to use regular ammunition. The suspect, who was a registered mental patient diagnosed with schizophrenia, killed himself after being confronted by law enforcement. 

Russia: Announces the result to the referendum held in Ukraine districts

On 27 September, Russia released the results of the referendums held in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. Even though the efficacy and validity of the results have been questioned, as per data released by Russia Foreign Affairs Ministry, in the LPR, 98.42 per cent of residents and in the DPR 99.23 per cent people voted to join Russia. In the Kherson region, the percentage was 87.05 while in Zaporizhzhya it was 93.11 percent. The Ministry claimed to have conducted the referendums according to the international laws while international observers have recognized the legitimacy of the vote.

Moldova: Anti-government protests reported in Chisinau

On 24 September, several thousand people gathered in Moldova’s capital, Chisinau to protest against President Maia Sandu’s pro-western government. The protestors set up tents in front of Sandu’s official residence and demanded her resignation. Increasing gas prices and rising inflation in the country has been the main trigger for the protest. The protestors argued that instead of lobbying for EU membership, the government should have negotiated a better gas deal with Russia, who is Moldova’s main supplier. Moldova is not the only country where protests have broken out due to a cost-of-living crisis. Earlier, similar protests were reported in the Czech Republic. Around 70,000 protestors took to the streets to protest against the energy crisis and demanded the government's resignation.

Europe: Droughts in the EU could be the norm by 2050 says European Drought Observatory

On 27 September, the Members of the European Parliament were warned that the droughts plaguing Europe can become a norm by 2050 if measures are not taken to mitigate them. Andrea Toreti, a member of the European Drought Observatory briefed the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public health and Food Safety (ENVI) on the same. He said that the climate crisis that hit Europe last summer was going to occur every year if mitigation measures are not introduced. Currently, 64 per cent of Europe is experiencing drought conditions in varying degrees, where agriculture, transport and energy sectors are facing problems due to this drought. Harvest has rapidly decreased and key waterways are reported low levels. Toreti proposed a European approach to deal with this which will not only focus on Europe but will look at mitigating at the global level with greater cooperation. Parallel extreme events have contributed greatly to the worsening situation in Europe and that immediate measures are required to deal with the fallout to prevent the worsening of the situation in the future.

Turkey: Malaysia and Indonesia interested to procure drones

On 26 September, Turkey proposed that Malaysia and Indonesia had expressed their willingness to procure armed drones from Baykar, a Turkish defence firm. In a press conference in Tokyo, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "Many Asian countries, especially Malaysia and Indonesia, show great interest in our defence industry products. Agreements are being signed." In the wake of positive effects of using Turkish drones in wars in Libya, Syria and Ukraine, the demand for Turkish drones have risen.

Turkey: Summons Ambassador for the militarization of Greek islands

On 23 September, at the UNGA debate, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis accused Turkey of playing a destabilizing role in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Caucasus. He specifically mentioned the territorial disputes between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean Sea. In response, Turkey’s delegation invited Greece for an open dialogue. On 26 September, there was an escalation of tension when Turkey summoned the Greek ambassador to Turkey. This was to protest against Greece’s decision to deploy US-made armoured vehicles in Greece’s, Samos, and Lesbos islands which Turkey claims should be demilitarized as per international law.

Turkey: Police attacked by Kurdish militants

On 26 September, police in the Mezitli district of Mersin were attacked by two alleged Kurdish militants who later killed themselves by discharging suicide bombs. A police officer and a civilian were wounded while a second police officer was killed. The two women militants were identified as associated with the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu while talking to the reporters said that the civilian hit by a stray bullet and the wounded police officer were not seriously hurt. The militant group is yet to respond.

Columbia: Protest and march held against tax bill

On 26 September, thousands of Columbians marched against President Gustavo Petro’s proposal of raising tax reforms to generate additional USD 5.6 billion for economic and social welfare programs of the government. Earlier the government decided to increase royalty payments from oil and mining industries, increase export tax on oil and coal above a threshold, the reform was diluted later. The government also proposed to raise taxes on those earning more than USD 2,259 per month, about 10 times the minimum wage, and eliminate exemptions. Some 5,000 people, many with waving signs and slogans which read "no to the tax reform," marched in Bogota.

About the authors

Rashmi Ramesh, Ankit Singh, and Harini Madhusudan are Doctoral scholars at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Abigail Miriam Fernandez, Apoorva Sudhakar, Avishka Ashok, and Padmashree Anandhan are Project Associates at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS. Joel Jacob, Anu Maria Joseph, and Sai Pranav are Research Assistants at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, Vijay Anand Panigrahi is a Post Graduate Scholar from Pondicherry University, Puducherry. Lavanya Ravi and Sruthi Sadhasivam are Post Graduate Scholars from Christ (Deemed to be) University.

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