Saturday, the 5th of August
Welcome back,

Here's everything you need to know but may have missed. First-off we dive deep into the weeks of three dictators from across the globe. From there we'll explore a diplomatic row that erupted over an abduction. After that, a trip to Manila ahead of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit. 

Happy reading. 

- Tom
Every year the American not-for-profit organisation Freedom House releases a global scorecard on press and civil liberties called the World Freedom Index. This index uses a complex series of tests to list each nation as 'free', 'partly free' or 'not free'. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s (and the birth of new nations from the former Union) the free list had flourished. Until recently. After reaching a high-water mark in the last few years, we are now witnessing a backwards slide into repression and authoritarianism around the world.

These are just three (of many) authoritarian leaders who made the news this week. Edgar Lungu in Zambia, Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela and of course, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey.
Lungu rarely gets the critical attention that he deserves outside of the African press.
Zambia in reverse - Muzzled media organisations, a cowed judiciary and a impotent opposition party. Right now the capital of Lusaka doesn't seem all that different from some of its struggling neighbours. But it wasn't always this way. In fact, it wasn't even this way three short years ago.

In the two decades to 2015 Zambia had stood out as a model democracy in southern Africa; one with a strong sense of civic duty and vigorously contested elections that characterised the lives of its public servants. 

In 2015, Edgar Lungu came to power to serve out the term of Michael Sata who had died in office the prior year. The race for Sata's succession was a tight one. But then in the general election held the very next year Zambia got its first hint of what was to come. A reactive Lungu incited violence and paranoia among his supporters who obligingly turned on Hakainde Hichilema's opposition. The country's only independent newspaper, the Post, was also shuttered by the government in the lead up to the vote. 

Lungu won last year's general election, once again by an exceptionally narrow margin. But Hichilema refused to accept the result, claiming that voter intimidation had swayed the result. Lungu's supporters then protested outside the Constitutional Court until the case was dropped. And since then Zambia has slid steadily towards illiberalism. Lungu's followers have railed against the Law Association of Zambia, against broadcast media stations, and the parliament. Opposition lawmakers have been sidelined or suspended from parliament. And earlier this year Hichilema himself was arrested for treason. His crime? The alleged obstruction of the president's motorcade.

In typical authoritarian fashion, Lungu has stifled any group with a dissenting opinion. An imagined campaign of subversion and sabotage became the justification for the government's declaration of emergency rule. This in turn prompted the Conference of Catholic Bishops to decry that "[the] country is now all, except in designation, a dictatorship".

Zambia is heading down a deeply troubling and unfortunately familiar path. And yet, many African and international leaders have so far failed to substantively respond to the hijacking of this erstwhile peaceful democracy.

Venezuela's tainted vote - Venezuela is scarcely having a better run. This week dictator-cum-president Nicolas Maduro celebrated his victory in a rigged vote on the creation of a new legislative body. The new 537-seat Constituent Assembly is stacked with Maduro supporters, and even includes his wife and son. It will be given sweeping powers to disenfranchise opposition groups and even dissolve Congress (the last remaining opposition-controlled democratic institution in the country). 

Despite half the country boycotting the recent vote, Maduro has pressed on. Independent observers, the opposition, and even the company hired to operate the voting system have all cried foul play. The fact that the regime overestimated the turnout by 1-4 million people is immaterial because none of these protests will be heard in Caracas.

Events in Zambia and Venezuela may seem strikingly similar but the international community's response to these fascist takeovers has been markedly different. More than 40 countries protested this week's mockery of a poll in Venezuela. Sanctions have been levelled against the ruling party, and even against Maduro himself, although sanctions will likely only hasten the country's economic collapse. Despite having the world's largest oil reserves, deflated oil prices continue to wreak havoc on what remains of Venezuela's economy. Supermarkets are empty, as are the pharmacies and hospitals.

Months of violent protests have utterly failed to alter Maduro's resolve. His response to the unrest has been as simplistic as it is banal: all opponents are insurrectionists and criminals. On the streets, demonstrators continue to march in the face of tear gas and bullets while their leaders continue to be arrested in the middle of the night.

Turkey's wayward path - A year on from the failed coup, Erdoğan's Turkey is nigh unrecognisable. Hundreds of newspapers and television stations have been shuttered. Nearly 100,000 police officers, soldiers, teachers, lawyers, judges and journalists have been sacked. Civic life has been smothered under the weight of bellicose ethno-nationalism. And still the recriminations continue unabated. Just days ago another major shake-up (read: purge) of Turkey's top military leaders was announced.

This week the mass trial of alleged coup-plotters was begun. 486 soldiers (generals and privates alike) are to be tried in a specially-constructed courtroom on the outskirts of Ankara. These are the men responsible for the infamous scenes in Istanbul, the bombing of the parliament in Ankara, and the attempts on Erdoğan's life. They will be accused of a vast conspiracy with foreign powers, no matter how tenuous their link to the exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.

With the judiciary already purged of moderates, do not expect justice for the putschists. 
Thanh on the run.
Berlin-Hanoi express - On Thursday evening Trinh Xuan Thanh appeared on Vietnamese state television to apologise for his crimes. Clearly dishevelled, he lamented having lived a "precarious and anxious life" while on the run in Germany. It was a day to remember for Vietnam's anti-corruption campaign: a fugitive accused of financial mismanagement and embezzlement had returned home to face the music. The only problem? The former PetroVietnam Construction boss hadn't returned. He had been abducted in broad daylight in central Berlin.

Thanh had allegedly lived an extravagant lifestyle while overseeing $150m of losses at the state-owned company. After being named and shamed in the press he had fled to Germany with the intention of applying for asylum. But the day before his appointment with immigration authorities, Thanh was allegedly forced into a car by gunmen in Tiergarten Park.

Ropable German officials have declared the Vietnamese embassy's intelligence attache 'persona non grata' and demanded that he leave the country within two days. But Germany's protestations have fallen on deaf ears in Hanoi where officials are sticking to the line that Thanh had turned himself in. Indeed, Vietnam has described Germany's reaction as "very regrettable".

Rather than asylum in Germany it appears Thanh is now headed for the death sentence in his home country.
Duterte shared some choice words about fellow strongman Kim Jong-un.
Duterte's endless war - All eyes have been on the Philippines in the lead up to this week's ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila.

The mayor of Ozamiz, a city in the South of Philippines, was gunned down along with 13 others in a late night raid by police forces. He was the third mayor to die in a hail of bullets this year; the total death count is well over 8,000. It's becoming a recognisable trend: an official criticises Duterte's bloody tactics, is gunned down, and is posthumously accused of drug-related crimes. Fishermen in the capital are now being coerced by police into the grim task of dumping corpses in Manila Bay. 

But criticism of the drug war will likely be kept to a minimum at this week's 27-nation ASEAN summit. The all-important foreign minister's powwow will feature China's Wang Yi, America's Rex Tillerson, Japan's Taro Kono, South Korea's Kang Kyung Wha and possibly even North Korea's Ri Yong Ho. Soaring tensions in the Korean Peninsula will be the key talking point of the conference. Beijing will be pleased about that because it means that China's aggressive posturing in the South China Sea has slipped down the agenda.

For good measure Duterte again blasted North Korea's Kim Jong-un this week, describing him as a "maniac" who could devastate Asia with nuclear war.
Mooch, we barely knew ye.
  1. Trump replaced Priebus with ex-Gen. John Kelly
  2. Scaramucci was fired just 10 days into the job
  3. Russia reacted to US sanctions with expulsions
  4. Mueller empanelled a Grand Jury in DC
  5. Trump unveiled a tough new immigration plan
  6. He ordered nuclear bomber flights over Korea
  7. Trump ramped up rhetoric about Chinese IP theft
  8. A weapons deal with Ukraine was floated
  9. Trump fabricated imaginary phone calls
  10. He admitted to directing Jr's untrue statement
New jeans? No, new jeans.
DNA-editing breakthrough - Another week, another world-first in medicine. The ability to edit the genome of humans (hello GATTACA) is now a proven reality. US scientists successfully cut a mutation-causing DNA sequence out of early-stage human embryos this week. Cue: ethical conundrums about designer babies.

Mistaken identity - This isn't really "good news" but will definitely leave you chuckling. A Norwegian anti-immigrant group worked themselves into a lather over a photo of burqa-clad women on a bus. Only there weren't any women in the photo, Muslim or otherwise. It's priceless.
That's a lot of dead fish.
The dying sea - This week researchers discovered the world's largest aquatic "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. Toxic runoff from the livestock industry has precipitated deadly algal blooms in the Gulf and suffocated entire populations of fish. This is rubbish. 

Say no more - The central government in Beijing has clamped down further on the restive province of Xianjiang and this week banned the local Uighur language from schools. The ethnically diverse (and majority Muslim) communities in far Western China are having their culture stripped from them by the Han Chinese government. 
Your weekend long read... the Financial Times consistently produces some of the most incisive long-form journalism in the world. This week for your Saturday afternoon reading pleasure we offer this excellent investigation into the genetic data that is at the heart of America and China's budding war over biotech intellectual property. It's a winner.

We should note that articles from the FT like the one above are only available on inkl Premium. So if you'd like to read all of inkl's premium content for just $15/month or 10c per article, and to support the work of the world's greatest newsrooms, please head to to subscribe. 

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