The week at a glance...International
Khartoum, Sudan Prisoners freed: In a surprise move, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir this week ordered the release of all political prisoners in the country and called for a “national dialogue” with opposition groups. Bashir, who has ruled Sudan since taking power in a coup in 1989, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and genocide in Sudan’s western Darfur region, and is accused by human-rights groups of leading one of the most repressive regimes in Africa. While the full extent of the amnesty isn’t yet clear, seven of Bashir’s political opponents were released within hours of his announcement at the opening of parliament. Bashir recently said that he would retire in 2015 and that the country needed “fresh blood.”
Cairo Satirist arrested: The Arab world’s most popular television comedian was detained and questioned for hours last week for allegedly insulting President Mohammed Mursi. Bassem Youssef, whose satirical take on the news is closely modeled on his friend Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, faces charges of “spreading false news with the aim of disrupting public order” after Mursi supporters claimed they were “psychologically affected by this nonsense, ridicule, and slander addressed to the head of state.” The arrest warrant against Youssef, who remains on air, was one of several issued recently against critics of the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated government, raising concerns about a concerted crackdown on dissent.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Social control: Saudi Arabia is reportedly investigating how to make its citizens reveal their identities on Twitter, as part of a drive to seize greater control of social media. More than half of Saudi Internet users have Twitter accounts, including princes, clerics, and millions of ordinary citizens. The site, which allows anonymous accounts, has become a forum for social and political debate in Saudi Arabia, much to the fury of religious conservatives. The government has also threatened to ban hugely popular Internet phone and messaging services, such as Skype, unless telecom companies allow the government to censor them. “A bunch of stupid old men,” commented a Saudi Twitter user calling herself Rana al Mohsen. “If you block one app another comes up.”
New Delhi Tourism slumps: The number of tourists visiting India has decreased by a quarter—and by more than a third among women—since the gang rape and murder of a New Delhi student in December prompted national soul-searching in India and outrage around the world. Other recent rape cases have continued to raise security fears among tourists, including the brutal gang rape of a Swiss cyclist in a forest in Uttar Pradesh, for which six men went on trial last week. In another high-profile rape case, the celebrated author Laxman Mane was being sought by police in Maharashtra this week over accusations that he raped five women of the Dalit, or “untouchable,” caste. Most of the alleged assaults are said to have occurred at a school for underprivileged children run by a trust, of which Mane is executive president.
Meiktila, Myanmar Muslims massacred: Newly released satellite photographs have revealed the extent of the sectarian violence in central Myanmar last month, in which Buddhist mobs torched hundreds of Muslim homes, killing at least 43 people. According to Human Rights Watch, the group that released the images, more than 860 buildings in the town of Meiktila were destroyed, damaged or incinerated over several days. The U.N. said 12,000 people had fled their homes in the violence, which destroyed an estimated 1,300 homes. Tensions between the majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities in Myanmar have heightened as the military has loosened its grip; last year hundreds of Rohingya Muslims were killed in a campaign of ethnic cleansing by Buddhists in the western state of Arakan bordering Bangladesh.
Beijing First Lady fever: Chinese authorities appear to be carving out an unprecedented public role for the new First Lady, Peng Liyuan, in an apparent bid to harness her popularity to build support for her husband, President Xi Jinping. Peng, a well-known singer, had kept a low profile in recent years as her husband rose in the party ranks. But since Xi took office last month, she has taken a prominent place at his side on foreign trips, and state-run media have been filled with pieces hailing her elegance, beauty, and suitability as a symbol of modern China. She has shunned the Western-designed clothes favored by China’s elite, wearing only outfits designed and made in China.