Russia backlash on assassination. China funds pay for Solomon Islands phone towers. Singapore repeals anti-gay laws. By Jonathan Pearlman.

Khan ‘anti-terror’ charge threatens Pakistan unrest

Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan waves at supporters during a rally in Islamabad in May.
Ousted Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan waves at supporters during a rally in Islamabad in May.
Credit: Aamir Qureshi / AFP

Great power rivalry

Ukraine: Russia this week blamed Ukrainian operatives for the assassination of Darya Dugina, the daughter of a far-right Russian ideologue. But the claims by Moscow – and the speed with which the case was allegedly solved – have raised further questions about the murder.

Dugina, a 29-year-old nationalist commentator, was killed by a car bomb last Saturday night after she left a right-wing festival in Moscow that she had attended with her father, Alexander Dugin, a prominent political theorist who has strongly supported Russian expansionism and the invasion of Ukraine. The bomb exploded as Dugina was driving her father’s Toyota LandCruiser, prompting speculation that he was the target.

On Monday, Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said it had solved the crime and released evidence – including video footage – that it said showed a female Ukrainian operative who arrived in Russia in July with her 12-year-old daughter. It said the woman moved into an apartment near Dugina to conduct surveillance and then attended the festival, planted the car bomb and fled with her daughter to Estonia. 

But the FSB’s account raised questions about how it was able to gather detailed evidence within less than 48 hours of the crime and about why Ukraine would target Dugina, whose influence was limited. 

Ukraine strongly denied involvement in the attack, as various theories emerged about who may have killed Dugina, and why. 

Some have suggested the murder may have been a “false flag” operation by Moscow to justify more intensive attacks on Ukraine, though Russian president Vladimir Putin has so far appeared to need no such pretext for conducting the war. Others have suggested the killing was linked to feuding between ultra-right Russian nationalists, or was conducted by partisans trying to overthrow Putin, or even by Putin and his allies to try to silence commentators calling for a more expansive war.

On Monday, Putin condemned the “vile” killing and posthumously awarded Dugina the Order of Courage.

At her funeral on Tuesday, pro-Kremlin business figures and politicians called for Russia to unite as it pushed for victory in Ukraine. Her father told mourners: “The huge price we have to pay can only be justified by the highest achievement, our victory.” 

The neighbourhood

Solomon Islands: China is providing a low-interest loan to Solomon Islands to fund construction of mobile phone towers by the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei –

a project that is set to raise further alarm in Canberra about the deepening ties between Honiara and Beijing.

Australia was one of the first countries in the world to block Huawei from involvement in developing its 5G network due to security concerns. Other countries, including the United States, Japan, Britain and Canada, have also imposed bans. 

Australia has also actively tried to prevent Huawei from operating in the Pacific. In 2018, Australia funded an underwater cable to Solomon Islands to prevent Huawei from securing the contract, and Canberra also funded most of Telstra’s recent $2.4 billion purchase of Digicel Pacific to prevent a Chinese firm acquiring it. But Solomon Islands has strengthened ties with China, particularly since Manasseh Sogavare became prime minister of the South Pacific nation in 2019. Sogavare has switched the country’s diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan, and earlier this year signed a secret security pact with Beijing. 

The mobile phone deal, confirmed last week by the Solomon Islands government, involves it borrowing almost $100 million from a Chinese state-owned bank to pay Huawei to build 161 phone towers. A KPMG report, obtained by ABC News, indicated that Honiara’s plan “significantly overstates” the potential returns and that the project could generate heavy losses. 

Australia did not publicly object to the arrangement but said it supported investment that “avoids unsustainable debt burdens”.

Democracy in retreat

Pakistan: Since he was ousted as prime minister in April, Imran Khan has held mass rallies at which he has accused the ruling coalition of being corrupt American puppets and has criticised the military and judiciary for allowing his downfall. 

The government initially kept quiet, apparently believing that Khan’s popularity would decline. But the rallies continued and followers of the populist former cricketer have become increasingly vocal, claiming Khan was the victim of a witch-hunt.

Authorities have now struck back. 

Last weekend, media regulators barred Khan’s speeches from being aired live, after a rally at which he verbally attacked a police chief and a judge for the detention and alleged torture of his aide. Police later charged Khan with breaching anti-terrorism laws, alleging that his comments involved threats against government officials. 

The charges have raised concerns about the growing risk of unrest as the showdown between Khan and authorities intensifies.

Ali Amin Gandapur, who served in Khan’s cabinet, said in a tweet: “If Imran Khan is arrested ... we will take over Islamabad.” 

Khan was elected in 2018 but was deposed through a no-confidence vote in parliament after losing the backing of the nation’s military and intelligence services. He is due to appear in court next week. If convicted, he would be disqualified from politics. 

Spotlight: Singapore repeals sex ban

Singapore will finally repeal section 377A of its penal code – a colonial-era law that bans sex between men – but the move was accompanied by a plan to prevent same-sex marriage being legalised.

The repeal, announced by Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, follows decades of campaigning by LGBTQIA+ activists and their supporters. Section 377A has not been enforced for years, but is seen as a discriminatory and degrading relic that has stigmatised the community and fuelled intolerance, harassment and exclusion.

But the repeal of the law was greeted with only muted celebration due to Lee’s plan to change the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman – a move that will prevent courts legalising same-sex marriage, as has occurred in countries such as the United States and Taiwan.

“Even as we repeal 377A, we will uphold and safeguard the institution of marriage,” Lee said in a televised speech.

Andre Ling, who lives in Singapore with his Australian husband, Cameron Sutherland, and their two-year-old son, told Reuters this week that Lee’s announcement was “just a small, little step”.

“Beyond that, if you’re going to have a family or you want marriage and want to be in Singapore and to be treated equally, that’s not going to happen,” he said.

The country’s lack of marriage equality will affect the rights of same-sex couples in areas such as education, adoption and housing subsidies. 

The decision to bar same-sex marriage was seen as a move to placate conservatives, including Christian and Muslim groups, which opposed the repeal of section 377A. Polls indicate the public in Singapore opposes legalising same-sex marriage but views are gradually shifting. A survey by Ipsos in June found 49 per cent of Singaporeans supported adoption rights for same-sex couples.

Kirsten Han, a Singaporean journalist and rights campaigner, said on her We, The Citizens website that the repeal of 377A was a relief, but added: “The struggle is very much not over.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 27, 2022 as "Khan ‘anti-terror’ charge threatens Pakistan unrest".

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