March 8 Brasília, Brazil: A corruption conviction against former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, widely known as “Lula,” was annulled by a Brazilian Supreme Court justice. The ruling determined that the conviction was invalid because the court that had handed it down lacked jurisdiction over the case. “The decision is in line with everything we have been saying for more than five years,” Lula’s lawyer said according to Bloomberg. Although he could face an appeal or even a retrial, the annulment is expected to allow Lula, who led Brazil from 2003–10, to run for office again in 2022. In the previous election, the former leader of the Workers’ Party had been banned from the presidential ballot due to his conviction, even as he was leading in public opinion polls.
March 8 Dhaka, Bangladesh: Tashnuva Anan Shishir became Bangladesh’s first transgender news anchor when she read a three-minute segment on the private TV station Boishakhi TV. The “historic step,” as a spokesperson for the station called it, was cheered by Shishir’s colleagues as well as LGBTQ+ rights activists. During her upbringing, the anchor had to overcome severe discrimination that induced a rift with her father, forced her to flee her hometown, which caused four suicide attempts. Despite facing hatred for her gender identity, Shishir persisted in her pursuit of education: “I continued my studies despite enduring hundreds of insults day after day. All I had in mind is that I should continue my study,” she said in an interview with BBC Bengali. Shishir also credited her employer for being the only TV station “brave enough” to hire her in a country where homosexuality is still illegal.
March 9 Brussels, Belgium: Three leaders of the Catalan independence movement and current members of the European Parliament saw their immunity revoked by the EU legislature after a corresponding petition by Spanish authorities. The trio, including former regional President Carles Puigdemont, could now face extradition to Spain, where they are wanted on charges of sedition. They had been elected to the European Parliament in 2019 while in exile. According to Euronews, Puigdemont said he and his colleagues were experiencing “political persecution” and questioned the democratic character of the European Parliament, asking “What kind of democracy is it [where] political minorities or dissidents are persecuted for their ideas?” Spain’s foreign minister Arancha González Laya said the decision showed “respect for the work of the judiciary in our country.” After losing his immunity, the Belgian judiciary has the final say as to whether or not Puigdemont will in fact be extradited.
March 11 Rabat, Morocco: The government council of Morocco has voted to introduce a bill that would legalize the medical use of cannabis. The executive body led by Prime Minister Saadeddine El Othmani approved a draft law proposed by the interior ministry that would “reconvert illicit” cannabis plantations into “legal and durable activities that generate jobs.” Recreational use would remain illegal under the bill. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Morocco is one of the world’s largest producers of cannabis resin, indicating that illicit production is widespread in Morocco. If the bill gains approval from Parliament, Morocco would become the first North African country to legalize cannabis in any form. The bill has sparked controversy and former prime minister Abdelilah Benkirane, who is opposed to legalization, threatened to leave the governing Justice and Development Party over the issue.
March 11 Beijing, China: The National People’s Congress, China’s national legislature, voted to undertake significant reforms to Hong Kong’s electoral system. The new law is meant to ensure only “patriots” can serve in the government of the special administrative region, according to the South China Morning Post. It was approved without a single dissenting vote and only one abstention. The reforms include an expansion of the city’s Election Committee, which chooses the chief executive, and the Legislative Council. They are expected to give China’s ruling Communist Party greater control over the electoral process in Hong Kong. Kenneth Chan, associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, criticized the new law as “a prelude to autocracy,” according to Deutsche Welle. United States and British officials also condemned the reforms, echoing Chan’s concerns that they will further undermine democracy. Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive Carrie Lam welcomed the changes, pledging “staunch support” for the law.
March 12 Kabul, Afghanistan: Girls and young women in Afghanistan are protesting a directive by the education department that discourages schools from allowing girls over the age of 12 to sing in public, except at all-female gatherings. Using the hashtag #IAmMySong, girls have been posting videos of themselves performing their favorite songs to show their opposition to the directive. According to AP News, the campaign was started by Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of Afghanistan’s Institute of Music, who said the protest is meant to show that the Afghan people “stand for the rights of the children, whether boys or girls.” The campaign has garnered more than 600,000 clicks and prompted the education department to issue a follow-up memo, where it claimed the initial directive had been misinterpreted and that both boys and girls over the age of 12 should not be permitted to sing in public.