what happened last week (whlw) | Subscribe

whlw: no. 273

July 19 – 25, 2021

How far, this is Sham, your very own news curator, who is now trying to introduce more Nigerian pidgin phrases into her vocabulary. Simi also says I hail. In this issue, we'll talk about
  • The 'first poor president of Peru'
  • A water crisis that might have something to do with anti-Arab discrimination in Iran and climate change, too
  • Guantánamo Bay aka one of the world's most controversial prisons run by the United States
  • The new crime that is denying the 1995 genocide in Bosnia
  • #MeToo in China and Germany
  • We found 33 completely new viruses frozen in glacier ice in China from 15,000 years ago
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Now without further ado, here's what happened last week,

what happened last week

We elected the ‘first poor president of Peru’
Around 17 million people voted for (left-wing) Pedro Castillo to become president of Peru. It was a pretty tight win. He won against (right-wing) Keiko Fujimori by just 44,263 votes. *I say it’s the hat that put him over the edge, look*

Why this matters: So many reasons. First, in the last 40 years, this South American country hasn’t counted votes for this long (more than a month!). Second, he is the first person who comes from a rural part of the country (and is probably not tight with the country’s ‘elite’) to become president. Analyst Hugo Otero called him ‘the first poor president of Peru.’ It's an important representation of a group mostly ignored in Peru’s history.

Did you know that voting is mandatory in Peru? If you don’t vote,
you get fined.

Tell me more about Castillo
He’s 51 years old. He has been an
elementary school teacher for the last 20-something years in the village of San Luis de Puña, Cajamarca (it’s in the north). He campaigned wearing sandals made out of tyres, a poncho and this hat (looking like the peasants in his community, where 40% of children are chronically malnourished).

Most media call him a ‘left-wing’ politician. His (and his party Peru Libre’s) go-to catchphrase? “No more poor in a rich country.” Makes sense when you consider the fact that
almost every third Peruvian is considered poor. Partly thanks to COVID-19 for that (they have the highest global per capita COVID death rate, sigh).

I sense a ‘but’ coming...
Well, yeah. Your idea of what ‘left-wing’ means might not be the same as Castillo’s. He is
against gay marriage, abortion, making marijuana legal or euthanasia and is for putting the press on a tighter leash, death penalty and strong religious and ‘traditional’ (whatever that means) family values. Oh, and to combat ‘crime,’ Castillo even talked about taking Peru out of a human rights convention so he can get harsher with criminals and no one can call him out.
We really, really need more water in Khuzestan, Iran right now – ‘thanks’ to anti-Arab discrimination and climate change
There is a drought in Iran right now, and people have been protesting. I asked Hamburg-based Iranian journalist Omid Rezaee (follow his Twitter, btw) about what to make of all this. ‘Sham, it’s really bad. Mainstream media unfortunately only tells one part of the story. The situation is so much worse. I can check what activists are saying and write something up for whlw,’ Omid said. To which I said, ‘yesss, please.’ *Enter Omid*


Hundreds of people protested because there isn’t nearly enough water across cities in the province of Khuzestan, Iran right now. They demand that they get more government support and that some of their local politicians resign ASAP. The demonstration, however, has turned violent. According to activists, at least nine people (a 17-year-old named Hadi Bahmani, too) have been shot by police and the internet has been cut off in a few cities.

Why is there not enough water?
Two reasons. First, government mismanagement and second, climate change. 

Why this matters: Some 83 million people live in Iran, and Khuzestan is one of the country’s economic ‘pillars’. This province in the southwest sits on 80 percent of Iran's oil and 60 percent of its gas reserve. Plus, in a few weeks, Ebrahim Raisi (the country’s ultra-conservative new president) will take office. And everyone’s like, ‘let’s see how he’ll respond to this first challenge. He’s not really known for being cool with people who are frustrated with the government.’

Government mismanagement? Explain.
Yes. So, until a few years ago, thirteen rivers flowed in this part of the country – including the longest and the only open-for-ships river in Iran. However, thanks to decades of mismanagement of water resources (
way too many dams were built), the cattle are dying, and the rivers and the wetlands have dried off. As a result, farmers are not able to water their farms. If you need help visualizing how bad the situation is, check out this (extremely tragic) video of thirsty buffaloes in the Hawizeh Marshes that went viral last week. 

And climate change? 
Of course. Like everywhere else, Iran says ‘the Western part of our country has gotten
two to three degrees Celsius hotter in June.’

Did you know that
Ebrahim Raisi was the country’s former judiciary head before?

Good to know: Many Arabs live in Khuzestan. Historically, they have been discriminated against a lot. As a result, there is a separatist movement that’s well and alive. ‘
Anti-Arab discrimination in Iran is real,’ said some protesters.
We are finally talking about Guantánamo Bay again – one of the world's most controversial prisons
Guantánamo Bay, a now-famous United States prison in Cuba, held a man from Morocco since 2002 without ever charging him of a crime. Last week, he was finally transferred to his home country. His name: Abdul Latif Nassar.

Why this matters: “Gitmo”, as Guantánamo Bay is often called, has been a ‘judicial black hole’ since the very beginning in 2002. So many men were held without ever being charged with a crime and… tortured. At the moment, 39 people are still being held. At its peak, there were some 800. Abdul Latif Nasser is the first prisoner from there to be transferred while Joe Biden is U.S. prez. “Bringing an end to two decades of unjust and abusive military detention of Muslim men at Guantánamo is a human rights obligation and a national security necessity.” Not my words but that of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in this statement.

Did you know that mostly men from
Afghanistan were held in this prison? Learn the names and stories of everyone here

Tell me more about Nasser
He is now 56 years old. He studied maths, computer science and English at Guantánamo, and wrote a 2,000-word Arabic-English dictionary. But before that, oof, there’s a lot of information. His Pentagon file says he was a top al-Qaeda (network of Islamic extremists and Salafist jihadists) bomb expert and worked really closely with Osama Bin Laden (the al-Qaeda leader who was killed in 2011). 

But that’s not the whole story. This podcast series (highly recommend) last year,
The Other Latif, by journalist Latif Nasser (yes the same name) tells a very different story. ‘He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ says his lawyer. However, he is believed to have worked on Osama bin Laden's (sunflower) farm in Sudan and he also probably went to training camps in Afghanistan. In this interview to NPR last week, the journalist behind the podcast said, ‘That said, kind of the overwhelming feeling that we were left with after this years-long investigation was that the U.S. government's evidence was both very overblown and very unreliable.’ He plans to meet him, at some point.

Why is Guantánamo Bay still open?
Former U.S. president Barack Obama wanted to close it so bad but
failed. Then, the next one, Donald Trump, took office but didn’t do much about it. Now, it looks like Joe Biden might want to finally close it. With 39 people held, it’s costing the United States US$13 million per man per year.
We made it illegal to deny the 1995 Bosnian genocide
It is now banned to say that the 1995 genocide of Bosniaks in Bosnia-Herzegovina never happened. 

Refresher: Which genocide?
In July 1995, over the span of a few days, Bosnian Serbs
murdered more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. They then dumped their bodies into mass graves. The victims’ remains are still being dug out and identified today. It’s literally an open wound still.

Wait, there are people who say it didn’t happen?!
Unfortunately, yes. Many (Bosnian Serb) politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina and neighboring
Serbia today refuse to call what happened a ‘genocide’. Even though there are two courts (The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court for Former Yugoslavia) that say, ‘it was a genocide, you people. You can’t deny this historical fact.’ 

So, how come it’s now illegal to deny it?
This is all thanks to Valentin Inzko, the top man in an international body called ‘the Office of the High Representative’ or OHR. As ‘High Representative’, Inzko has the power to change the country’s laws – even though he’s not officially part of the Bosnian government. He is an Austrian diplomat; looks like
this and is a Gemini. There is some criticism that ‘he should have done this an eternity ago!’. However, now, people who deny the 1995 genocide can go to prison from six months to five years. On top of that, Inzko was like, ‘if you give any award or privilege to anyone convicted of genocide, even name a street after them, you can go to jail, too.’
  • Refresher: The OHR was created by the U.N. Security Council after the Bosnian war ended in 1995. Why? To make sure genocide would never happen again. 
Why this matters: This is one of the biggest moments in OHR history. No other ‘High Representative’ has taken as big of a decision as Valentin Inzko. Plus, genocide denial is a huge, huge society-as-a-whole-healing-blocker.

What’s the reaction like?
Bosnian Serbs were like, ‘wtf. we do not accept this new law’. Milorad Dodik (who is the political leader in the Republika Srpska, and one of the three presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina) was like, ‘nope but this is no surprise tbh, the
OHR has always been super anti-Serb. We want this position gone.’ Russia and China even tried to help with that – no luck.
We are finally talking about #MeToo in China and Germany again
China’s biggest pop star Kris Wu is in the middle of a serious #MeToo storm. He’s been accused of being a ‘predator’ and tricking young girls (under 18) into having sex with him. And within just a few days of all that coming out, big luxury companies like Louis Vuitton and Porsche he was the face of in China just ditched him
  • Good to know: Kris Wu is 30 years old, and was born in China but grew up in Canada. He got famous as a member of K-pop group EXO before he went solo. He (still) has around 50 million followers on Weibo and is one of China’s biggest stars. 
Tell me more
This all started with 19-year-old student Du Meizhu, who said that when she was 17, she was
invited to Wu’s house by his manager to ‘audition for a music video’ (this is what they told her). She was forced to give up her cellphone, drink alcohol and then she woke up in his bed. ‘It was date-rape and he didn’t use a condom,’ she said. Then, she was led to believe they were in a kind of relationship before he ghosted not long after: ‘He’s done it to at least seven other girls.’ Wu said, ‘it’s all a lie, I met this girl once at a party’ but police already say there’s evidence they were dating. On top of this, Du says Wu’s team (and his mom) tried to give her something like 500,000 yuan or $77,130 US to ‘shut up about it.’
  • Btw: The age of consent in China is 14, but if you’re under 18 you’re considered a ‘minor.’
What now?
The Beijing police are investigating the allegations. Wu’s fans are really, really angry at the girl. (Yes, surprise, surprise.) They’re like, ‘she’s doing it for attention and fame.’ Wu’s team plans to take legal action against Du. Meanwhile, Du and her supporters are like, ‘we just want him to say sorry and go back to Canada.’ 

Why this matters: It’s rare for cases like this to be taken seriously in China. The #MeToo movement didn’t really become ‘a thing’ there until last year, when an intern named Zhu Jun accused a TV host of groping her. That case actually went to court. Despite that, China is still slow when it comes to ‘believing women’ and the issue of consent because it is still a pretty conservative, male-dominated society

Dig deeper: Read
#MeToo in the land of censorship by Human Rights Watch researcher Yaqiu Wang. ‘China’s party-state has zero tolerance for collective actions, so the country’s #MeToo movement has never been able to manifest in mass street protests.’

Zoom out: A similar thing happened in
Germany in June. The #MeToo movement arrived to the country’s rap scene as a female influencer named Nika Irani accused rapper Samra of r*pe. ‘I didn’t do it,’ he said. Universal Music Germany have now ended their cooperation with Samra until everything’s been cleared at court. Nika Irani is not alone, however. On Instagram, the account DeutschRapMeToo collects cases and network those affected.
We just discovered completely new viruses frozen in glacier ice from 15,000 years ago 
Last week, researchers studying glaciers in Tibet, (kind of) China found evidence of around 33 viruses. 28 were totally unknown to science. Which means...well, they could be anything at this point.  

Tell me more
Scientists from Ohio State University in the
United States studied two chunks of ice from a place called the Guliya ice cap in Western China. The viruses they found are ‘dead’ and scientists don’t know if they’ll ‘come back to life’ yet. But they say that half the viruses ‘loved’ the cold, frozen temperatures. And they probably came from ‘soil or plants’ and not ‘animals.’  

Can you bring a virus back to life after being frozen for that long?
Apparently, yes. This has happened before. Scientists found a
30,000-year-old virus inside permafrost (super frozen soil under the Arctic) in Siberia and brought it back to life. It’s called Pithovirus sibericum. Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous to humans. Also in 2005, the U.S. space agency NASA apparently unfroze 32,000-year-old bacteria from a frozen pond in Alaska (yeah that’s way back when wooly mammoths roamed the Earth). They were like ‘cool, we’re back.’

Why this matters: Melting ice and permafrost because of global warming is potentially releasing other viruses and bacteria that have been trapped for a long, long time. Permafrost can keep bacteria alive for millions of years. Scientists call it a ‘Pandora’s box of diseases’ that we, humans now, don’t have the defenses for (yet?). But all this research is helping us prepare for that ...and even for looking for signs of life on other planets. Dun dun dun.

On a funny note

Two police officers in Cape Town, South Africa were arrested because they had kidnapped an innocent stranger off the street to replace a prisoner who had escaped under their guard.

I wish this was a joke.
Please send us your recommendations for our Decolonize Weekly playlist. We add new songs every week. We'll stop deleting the old songs.  

Ok, that's it from Sham and Simi. 
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