The VOC newsroom had a busy year in 2019 with both heart-warming and heart-breaking stories making headlines. This year. US president Donald Trump’s divisive brand of politics and erratic policies continued to cause problems around the world, particularly in the middle east. It was another bloody year for the Yemen and Syrian conflict, the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and there were several despicable acts of terrorism that shook the world, most notably Christchurch. But 2019 was also a significant year for climate change and millions of people were galvanized into action and consciousness. On a more celebratory note, South Africa dominated the sporting stage when it won the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against England, with Siya Kolisi leading the boys in green and gold as the Springboks first black captain.
Take a look at VOC’s list of the most notable and interesting international news stories covered by our newsroom.
The seemingly unending conflict and tension between Pakistan and India reached dangerous levels this year after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had promised a “strong response” to a car bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir which killed at least 42 paramilitary personnel. New Delhi called for “the complete isolation of Pakistan” for allegedly harbouring the armed group behind the devastating attack.
Things reached a climax when the Indian government amended its laws to annex the part of Kashmir it controls, leaving the world in shock. On August 5, India decided to take a long-considered move using article 370 of its constitution to change the status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
In the lead-up to the move, India sent thousands of additional troops to the disputed region, imposed a crippling curfew, shut down telecommunications and internet, and arrested political leaders.
The world watched in utter shock, horror and devastation as a terrorist went on a shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people. The gunman, Brenton Tarrant from Australia, filmed the massacre and live-streamed it directly to Facebook. He also posted a lengthy manifesto detailing his white-supremacist worldview. What ensued was an exhausting race for social media pages to take the footage down, as it was replicated seemingly endlessly and shared widely in the wake of the attack. He was later arrested and charged shortly after the shootings.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the attack “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” and less than a week later announced plans to ban nearly all military-style semi-automatic and assault-style rifles. The bloody shootings sparked an outpouring of grief in New Zealand but also gestures of solidarity and tolerance from the diverse community.
Several coordinated bombings struck churches and hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka this year, killing 350 people. At least 450 were wounded by the bombings when the country was rocked by eight explosions. According to reports by Al Jazeera, among the dead were Japanese, Dutch, Chinese, British, American and Portuguese tourists.
Analysts said the terror attacks in Sri Lanka exposed the failings and dysfunction of the government in Colombo. The country’s leaders will need to act decisively to stop the attacks from fuelling inter-communal conflicts.
Muslim religious leaders in South Africa made an impassioned call on Saudi Arabia to release three prominent scholars who were being detained and faced possible execution. According to reports by Middle East Eye, the three scholars who were being held on multiple charges of terrorism since 2017, were to be sentenced to death. Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari were to be convicted and executed after Ramadan.
In an open letter to the Saudi Kingdom, the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA) appealed to the Saudi authorities to display clemency based on the Prophetic tradition that states: “Avoid applying punishments as long as you are able to find an excuse to avert them,”(Sunan Ibn Majah).
The three have yet to be executed. After nearly two years of detention, a Saudi court again postponed the hearing until December 2019.
In an internationally condemned move, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he was forced to spend the last seven years in asylum.
According to reports by RT, the famous whistleblower garnered significant international attention in 2010 when WikiLeaks released classified US military footage, entitled ‘Collateral Murder’, of a US Apache helicopter gunship opening fire on a number of people, killing 12 including two Reuters staff, and injuring two children. The footage, as well as US war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and more than 200,000 diplomatic cables, were leaked to the site by US Army soldier Chelsea Manning who was tried by a US tribunal and sentenced to 35 years in jail for disclosing the materials.
Egyptian former President Mohamed Morsi died on the 17th June this year, after he collapsed in an undignified court appearance. Morsi was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012. Shortly after his democratic election, he was deposed in 2013 following protests and a military coup led by Egypt’s current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi was immediately placed under arrest following the coup and remained in detention until his passing. Since then, the Brotherhood has been outlawed. Morsi was buried by his family at the Medinat Nasr cemetery, according to his lawyer. His death provoked criticism from local and international rights groups, who accused the government of deliberately denying medical care to political prisoners.
At least seven demonstrators in Sudan were killed and more than 180 were injured as tens of thousands poured onto the streets across the country to pressure the country’s ruling generals to hand over power to a civilian-led administration, according to Al Jazeera.
A mass demonstration, dubbed by many as the “millions march” was the first since security forces early in June killed over 100 people during the dispersal of a protest camp. In September this year, the first ministerial cabinet since the removal of the country’s President Omar al-Bashir took its oath amid high hopes and expectations.
Former Zimbabwean revolutionary leader, politician, freedom fighter and president, Robert Mugabe died aged 95 on 6 September. The former Zimbabwean president had reportedly been battling ill health and was receiving treatment in Singapore before his passing. He served as Prime Minister from 1980 to 1987 and then as President from 1987 to 2017. While many were critical of Mugabe, labelling him a villain and a dictator, many others felt he was a hero and a legendary anti-imperialist fighter.
The Israeli targeting of two ‘Islamic Jihad’ leaders, resulting in rocket attacks from Gaza and a military escalation with Palestinians took place as Israel was ‘in political turmoil’ according to reports by RT.
Though tensions with Gaza have always been high, this escalation came after Israel targeted two leaders of Islamic Jihad. Bahaa Abu al-Atta was killed in eastern Gaza, along with his wife and two other people. Meanwhile, a strike targeting Akram al-Ajouri in Damascus, Syria, injured his wife and killed their son, but reportedly missed him entirely.
Al-Ajouri is a member of Islamic Jihad’s political leadership, while Al-Atta was a prominent commander in the Quds Brigades, its military wing. Click the link to read more.
India is on the verge of a tipping point amid mass protests against the government’s new citizenship law. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended t despite the major ongoing protests against it. The Citizenship Amendment Act provides citizenship to religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, but excludes Muslims. Opponents of the bill say it is exclusionary and violates the secular principles enshrined in the constitution. They say faith cannot be made a condition of citizenship. More than 20 people have died in ten days of clashes across India. Several thousand people have also been detained and internet services have been suspended as the authorities battle to restore order.