Year in Review: Mass protests and crackdowns
International | A tide of unrest rose alongside harsh governmental responses
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 12/31/19, 09:49 am
People around the world took to the streets to demand change in 2019 as repressive regimes fought back. Despite numerous standoffs between governments and protesters, some nations have implemented reforms. Meanwhile, Christians stepped across borders to lend a hand to disaster victims.
This year, several groups published reports documenting the extent of China’s crackdown on Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the western region of Xinjiang. Documents leaked in November by a Communist Party official detailed Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s order to show “absolutely no mercy.” The same month, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published classified documents revealing plans for reeducation camps, including double-locked doors and strictly controlled meal and toilet breaks to prevent escape. China claimed the camps were vocational training centers. Facing mounting criticism, the Xinjiang governor, Shohrat Zakir, claimed all the minorities had “returned to society.”
In Muslim-majority Algeria, Christians faced intensified persecution this year. Fifteen churches were closed, including the two largest in the country. In the West African nation of Burkina Faso, a growing insurgency targeted Christians and churches. In December, a Sunday attack on a Protestant church in the country’s eastern region left 14 worshippers dead. Locals reported more than 200 churches have closed in the northern region of Burkina Faso due to the unrest. —O.O.
Despite an abysmal human rights record, Saudi Arabia introduced several reforms to modernize the country this year. In August, the country passed legislation to ease its male guardianship laws, allowing women to register for marriages, divorces, and childbirths. It also gave them permission to travel without a male guardian and to apply for citizenship. In October, the government opened the nation to tourists from 49 countries, including the United States. It plans to welcome 100 million foreign visitors by 2030. And in December, the government ended the requirement that restaurants have two separate entries, one for men and another for women and children.
The reforms are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to push the economy away from the oil sector and boost tourism. He has also tried to improve the nation’s human rights image despite the continued suppression of minorities. In October, he appeared on CBS News’ 60 Minutes and took full responsibility for the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—but he denied he ordered the murder. —O.O.
Thousands of protesters crowded Hong Kong’s streets nearly every weekend since June seeking greater autonomy for the Chinese territory. An unpopular extradition bill that would have made it easier to send criminal suspects to China sparked the protests, which quickly grew into a larger movement with anthems like “Glory to Hong Kong.” Police arrested thousands of demonstrators, and two people have died in protest-related clashes.
Similar uprisings took root in Iraq and Iran, where protesters seeking better services called for an overhaul of leadership. In Haiti, protests for economic reform have crippled the nation and left missionaries and other aid groups in a bind.
Bolivia descended into chaos in November after President Evo Morales claimed he won a fourth term. The leader of 14 years eventually stepped down and fled the country, leaving opposition Senate Vice President Jeanine Áñez to take control and organize a new vote. —O.O.
In March, Cyclone Idai raged across parts of southern Africa, leaving mass destruction in its wake. More than 800 people died in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. The disaster left aid groups scrambling to avoid outbreaks of cholera and malaria as they brought aid to more than 2 million affected people. A second cyclone hit the northern parts of Mozambique in April, bringing more flooding and rainfall.
Later in the year, several countries in the Horn of Africa experienced heavier and longer-lasting seasonal rainfall than usual. From October to mid-November, precipitation rose 300 percent above average, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. In December, a week of flooding and mudslides in eastern Uganda left at least 36 people dead. —O.O.
Britain planned to leave the European Union by March 29, but delays and political maneuvers extended the deadline to Jan. 31, 2020. Parliament struggled to agree on how to handle the border between the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. Former Prime Minister Theresa May stepped down in May, and fellow Conservative Boris Johnson took over. But Johnson has also failed to clinch a deal. His party scored a victory in a snap December general election—giving him the parliamentary backing needed to push ahead with his Brexit plan by the new deadline. —O.O.
Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.