Posted: 3 August 2023
India: Violence in West Bengal spikes during local elections
Political violence in India’s West Bengal state escalated substantially during local elections in July, more than doubling compared to the month prior. The increase contributes to 2023 levels of political violence in the state – already well exceeding the total violence recorded for all of 2022. The increase began in anticipation of the panchayat (village-level government) elections held on 8 July, with violence driven by deadly inter-party clashes. In the weeks leading up to the elections, several candidates were physically prevented by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) from filing nominations, forcing them to file at remote locations.1Indian Express, ‘BJP takes candidates 100 km to file nominations in West Bengal, returns empty-handed,’ 15 June 2023 Clashes were also reported between TMC and former TMC members who contested the elections as independent politicians. The dominant TMC won decisively, though repolling was held in several locations due to the violence that continued after the election results were announced. The degree to which governance in West Bengal is devolved gives substantial power to the panchayat, which in turn fuels local political contention that lends itself to high levels of violence during panchayat elections in the state.2Shoaib Daniyal, ‘Why are rural elections in West Bengal so violent?’ The India Fix, 10 July 2023
Japan and South Korea: Planned Fukushima water release leads to increased demonstrations
Demonstrations opposing the planned release of treated water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean increased in Japan and South Korea in July. The treated water was used to cool the damaged reactors after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed the plant in March 2011. The Japanese government is expected to go ahead with the release plan starting in August, arguing that the slow release of the treated water is safe and is needed to allow for the plant’s decommissioning.3Associated Press, ‘Dozens rally against Fukushima plant water release plan,’ 16 May 2023 Despite a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) backing the release plan,4IAEA, ‘IAEA Finds Japan’s Plans to Release Treated Water into the Sea at Fukushima Consistent with International Safety Standards,’ 4 July 2023 demonstrators oppose the release, arguing that the treated water is still radioactive and harmful to both humans and the marine environment. There are particular concerns about the potential impact on the fishing industry in the region.5Mainichi Shimbun, ‘Release of treated water, 90 people gather to protest in front of Prime Minister’s Office, including a member of the South Korean National Assembly,’ 10 July 2023 The issue has led to demonstrations in Japan, as well as in South Korea where a recent survey found 80% of South Koreans oppose the discharge plan.6The Korea Times, ‘8 in 10 Koreans Worried about Fukushima Wastewater Release Plan,’ 1 July 2023 Around 90 demonstrations against the release plan were recorded in Japan and South Korea in July, with the overwhelming majority of these events recorded in South Korea. The issue has been taken up by the opposition Democratic Party in South Korea, which organized a mass protest on 1 July to call on the South Korean government to oppose the plan.7Xinhua, ‘S. Korea’s Opposition Party Holds Rally to Oppose Japan’s Nuclear-Contaminated Water Discharge Plan,’ 1 July 2023; Reuters in Seoul, ‘South Koreans confront IAEA chief over Fukushima water release,’ The Guardian, 8 July 2023 Other countries in the region, including China and some Pacific Island nations, have also condemned the plan, arguing that a consensus needs to be reached among countries in the region regarding the water.8The Guardian, ‘We depend on our beautiful reefs’: Fukushima water release plan sparks concern across Pacific,’ 4 July 2023
Myanmar: Clashes in Kachin state increase
Fighting increased in Myanmar’s Kachin state last month, with more than four and a half times the number of battles reported in July compared to June. The increase was driven by clashes between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and came after at least 1,000 military junta troops were moved into the region in early July.9Myanmar Now, ‘Massive military build-up reported near KIA headquarters,’ 13 July 2023 Heavy fighting began on 3 July as the military attempted to seize the village of Nam Sang Yang in Waingmaw township, located near Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA.10RFA, ‘Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels in Kachin rages 13 days,’ 14 July 2023 Thousands of locals were forced to flee.11The Irrawaddy, ‘Fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin State Displaces Over 1,000 Villagers,’ 4 July 2023 The fighting continued throughout the month as the KIA defended the area by ambushing military reinforcements arriving from three different directions: Bhamo, Myitkyina, and Waingmaw townships.12BNI, ‘KIA Ambushes Junta troops in Kachin State while regime reinforcements are marching from 3 directions to bid to secure Nam San Yan village,’ 13 July 2023 By the end of July, the military had resorted to airstrikes during clashes around Nam Sang Yang.13Voice of America, ‘Intensified fighting between the military and the KIA near Laiza,’ 28 July 2023 Nam Sang Yang is situated on the strategically-important Myitkyina-Bhamo road, which the military aims to gain control over.14Hein Htoo Zan, ‘Myanmar Junta’s Kachin State Offensive: Why and What’s Next?’ The Irrawaddy, 17 July 2023 Prior to the coup, fighting had previously flared in the area after the ceasefire between the military and the KIA ended in 2011.
Myanmar: Ongoing violence against political prisoners
Political prisoners in Myanmar faced ongoing violence at the hands of the military junta in prisons across the country in July. In Bago region, the military removed 37 political prisoners from Daik-U Prison (also known as Kyaiksakaw Prison) on 27 June under the pretext of transferring some to Insein Prison and some to Thayarwaddy Prison.15Han Thit, ‘As more deaths confirmed, questions remain about fate of political prisoners taken from Daik-U Prison,’ Myanmar Now, 20 July 2023 All 37 political prisoners subsequently went missing. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least eight of the 37 missing political prisoners were killed.16Mizzima, ‘Eight missing political prisoners killed by Myanmar junta,’ 22 July 2023 Prison authorities sent letters to the families of the deceased victims in early July stating that the prisoners were shot dead during an attempted escape after a prison transfer van overturned in a road accident. However, the families believe the military used the prison transfer as an excuse to execute them.17RFA, ‘Myanmar junta has killed at least 13 political prisoners during ‘prisoner transfers’,’ 28 July 2023 Human rights groups have highlighted the danger for prisoners during such prison transfers.18Progressive Voice, ‘Atrocities from Brutal Prisons Call for Urgent Action,’ 31 July 2023 The deaths come as anti-coup protests in July marked the one-year anniversary of the executions of four political prisoners, including a former National League for Democracy lawmaker and a well-known pro-democracy activist. Since the coup, the military junta has subjected prisoners, detainees, and prisoners of war to beatings or other forms of severe torture that often results in death. ACLED records over 400 events of violence against individuals in the junta’s custody since the coup. However, due to underreporting on the issue, this number is likely far less than the true scale of the violence.
Thailand: Demonstrations triggered after prime minister vote
Despite the Move Forward Party (MFP) winning the 14 May general election, parliament blocked the MFP party leader, Pita Limjaroenrat, from becoming prime minister in July. On 13 July, Pita – who was nominated by a coalition composed of MFP, the Pheu Thai Party, and other smaller political parties – failed to secure the majority vote in parliament, before another parliamentary vote blocked any further nomination on 19 July. Simultaneously, Pita was suspended from his position as an MP due to a case involving his shareholding in a media company.19Al Jazeera, ‘Thai court suspends Pita as MP as parliament votes on new premier,’ 19 July 2023 The votes, along with Pita’s suspension from parliament, were condemned by pro-democracy protesters. They called for the resignation of senators, including the 250 senators appointed by the military, accusing them of hindering the democratic process.20Reuters, ‘Thai protesters show support for Pita after PM bid blocked,’ 23 July 2023 Tensions persist as protestors decry the military’s efforts to undermine the democratic mandate granted to the MFP and its coalition partners. Protesters continue to call for senators to resign, coalition unity, and adherence to promised policy proposals, including the MFP’s pledge to reform the lèse-majesté law. More than 30 anti-government demonstrations were reported in July. The next vote for prime minister has been postponed until August, with the Constitutional Court reviewing the rejection of Pita’s renomination.21Bangkok Post, ‘Ombudsman asks court to postpone PM vote,’ 24 July 2023
For more on disorder related to these elections, see ACLED’s Election Watch report on Thailand.
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