The World Today for June 17, 2021

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Exorcising Enemies

Iran and world leaders hope to revive the 2015 nuclear accords before Iranian voters elect a new president on June 18.

The accord would impose limits on Iran’s nuclear program while lifting international sanctions that have battered the Iranian economy where inflation and unemployment are high. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate and reformer, helped design the agreement. But a hardliner, Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, is expected to succeed him, reported Al Jazeera.

Securing the nuclear deal now could improve its chances of sticking under Raisi, an ultra-conservative cleric and close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He has already signaled that he would likely not touch the agreement.

Raisi has a track record that illustrates how he might run the country, France24 reported. In Mashhad, a city where he wielded religious authority, he banned musical concerts. Recently, in the country’s judicial system, he has prosecuted his – and Khamenei’s – political enemies on corruption charges. In the 1980s, he oversaw political, or “revolutionary,” trials that led to hundreds of executions.

Controversy is also dogging Raisi, however.

Iranian election authorities can vet presidential candidates based on “age, piety and experience,” factors that “give the council wide leeway,” the Guardian wrote. The officials banned most moderates and reformist candidates from running in the election, paving the way for the Ayatollah’s man to win.

Human rights activists cried foul. “We are witnessing an unabashed attack on any semblance of republican principles in favor of the absolute power of the supreme leader,” Stanford University Iran expert Abbas Milani told the New York Times.

Khamenei endorsed the council’s decision but then later, after public outrage, said the banned candidates were “wronged.” The council did not overturn its decision, though.

The absence of candidates that appeal to the significant reformist chunk of the electorate might be one reason why voter apathy is so high. Turnout is expected to plunge to a record low, Al-Monitor reported.

The candidates clashed in a recent televised debate. Candidate Mohsen Rezaee, the former chief of the Revolutionary Guards, suggested that he would jail moderate candidate Abdolnaser Hemmati, the former central bank chief, for ruining the country’s economy, for example, reported Reuters.

The tensions could reflect how Iran’s political class as a whole has lost legitimacy in recent years, the BBC wrote. The government has cracked down on political protests, arrested activists, executed political prisoners, mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian commercial airliner and, last year, failed to protect the leader of the Revolutionary Guards, Qassem Soleimani, from US assassination.

Iranian hardliners need to ask themselves whether more of the same will be good for their country. Many voters already know that answer.



Transparency Versus Interference

Australia’s top court upheld the country’s foreign interference law Wednesday following a case that involved a US conservative political organization and free speech, the Associated Press reported.

Under Australia’s foreign interference law, those working on behalf of foreign powers have to be publicly registered with the Attorney General to promote transparency.

The case arose after the Australian libertarian think tank, LibertyWorks Inc., objected to registering while working on communications for the American Conservative Union ahead of conferences held in Australia. The think tank promotes the US group’s annual political conferences.

LibertyWorks said that the law was overly burdensome to the implied right to free speech in Australia and therefore illegal. It also added that the registration process deterred political communication.

The High Court, however, argued that the law was legal, saying that even if foreign interference would not destabilize Australia, it would impede the ability of Australian decision-makers if left undisclosed.

This is the first time Australia’s Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Act has been challenged.

Australia passed the legislation in 2018. It is widely seen as a means to prevent covert Chinese interference in Australian politics, universities and other institutions.

John Shi Sheng Zhang, a Chinese-born political adviser to a state government lawmaker, lost his High Court challenge to charges under the foreign interference laws last month. He remains under police investigation.


Missing: Voters

Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) emerged as the victor in Saturday’s parliamentary elections but failed to reach a majority in a vote marred by boycotts and low turnout, Middle East Eye reported.

FLN won a total of 105 seats, losing more than 50 seats and falling short of the 204 needed to control the parliament, according to Africanews.

The ruling party’s traditional ally, the Democratic National Rally, gained only 57, while the moderate Islamist Movement of Society for Peace came third with 64 seats.

FLN’s victory surprised many observers who had written off the party due to its links with former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was ousted in 2019 following mass protests.

However, this election also marked the victory of a large number of independent candidates, who won 78 seats.

Election officials said voter turnout was 23 percent, the lowest ever in an election.

The latest polls were hit with boycotts by the Hirak protest movement, which forced Bouteflika to resign two years ago.

Before the weekend elections, authorities arrested leaders of Hirak and ordered a lockdown of the capital, Algiers, to avoid further unrest.

Anti-government movement leaders said that elections could not be fair as long as the Algerian army continues to interfere in politics.


Humans, Commodities

United Nations human rights investigators announced this week there was “credible information” that China has been forcibly harvesting organs from detainees from minority communities, Agence France-Presse reported.

The 12 independent analysts – who were appointed by the UN but do not speak on its behalf – said that detained individuals from minority groups such as the Muslim Uighurs forcibly underwent medical procedures, such as blood tests and organ examinations, without their consent. The exam results were then registered in a database of living organ sources for transplants.

The analysts said that hearts, kidneys, livers and corneas were allegedly the most common organs removed from prisoners.

Chinese officials denied the allegations as “disinformation,” saying that the investigators had “slandered China” and demanded a correction of “their mistakes.”

China has repeatedly faced accusations of forced organ harvesting involving prisoners, especially from members of the banned Falun Gong movement.

UN human rights experts had previously raised concerns about alleged forced organ harvesting from prisoners with the Chinese government back in 2006 and 2007. At that time, Beijing did not provide sufficient data on inquiries regarding the origin of organs for transplants.


Baby on Board

NASA launched 5,000 microscopic animals and 128 baby bobtail squid into space Thursday, flying them to the International Space Station aboard the Space X Falcon 9 rocket, reported USA Today.

The trip is part of an experiment to study the effects space missions have on humans.

The project’s principal investigator Jamie Foster said, “animals, including humans, rely on our microbes to maintain a healthy digestive and immune system,” adding that “we do not fully understand how spaceflight alters these beneficial interactions.”

That’s where glow-in-the-dark baby bobtail squid come in. They will help researchers examine microbe interactions with the animal in space.

The passengers will be joined by 5,000 microscopic tardigrades or water bears that are known for their tolerance to extreme environments. They are ideal organisms for studying various stressors during the trip to space – they can survive up to 30 years without food or water on Earth.

“Spaceflight can be a really challenging environment for organisms, including humans, who have evolved to the conditions on Earth,” said the tardigrade principal investigator, Thomas Boothby of the University of Wyoming.

“One of the things we are really keen to do is understand how tardigrades are surviving and reproducing in these environments and whether we can learn anything about the tricks that they are using and adapt them to safeguard astronauts,” he said.

COVID-19 Global Update

More than 180 nations worldwide have confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The following have the highest numbers worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*:

  1. US: 33,498,511 (+0.04%)
  2. India: 29,700,313 (+0.23%)
  3. Brazil: 17,628,588 (+0.54%)
  4. France: 5,809,319 (+0.05%)
  5. Turkey: 5,348,249 (+0.12%)
  6. Russia: 5,189,260 (+0.26%)
  7. UK: 4,605,805 (+0.19%)
  8. Italy: 4,248,432 (+0.03%)
  9. Argentina: 4,198,620 (+0.62%)
  10. Colombia: 3,829,879 (+0.73%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over 24 hours

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