Global Briefs: Iran fans flames in regional conflicts
Tehran’s attacks and proxy warfare in the Middle East grow increasingly aggressive
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The Islamic Republic has grown increasingly aggressive amid already-high military tensions in the Middle East. In mid-January, Tehran launched airstrikes against targets in Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a suicide bombing by Islamic State militants that killed more than 90 Iranians. Hours later, Iran similarly targeted insurgents in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Pentagon said several U.S. troops were injured in a Jan. 20 attack by Iranian-backed rebels on an Iraqi air base. U.S. officials say Iran is also “directly involved” in more than a dozen attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on international shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. —Leigh Jones
Kim Jong Un, the country’s dictatorial leader, said unification with South Korea is no longer possible, state media reported on Jan. 16. During his speech to the Supreme People’s Assembly, North Korea’s rubber-stamp parliament, Kim called for a rewrite of the constitution to designate the South as the North’s “primary foe and invariable principal enemy.” The North also shuttered three government agencies that managed inter-Korean affairs, including joint economic and tourism projects. North Korea launched a spy satellite into space in November and plans to launch three more this year, in addition to strengthening nuclear and missile forces and building drones. As tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalate, the South has ramped up defense cooperation with Washington. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the South would retaliate if provoked. —Joyce Wu
Authorities searched the homes and offices of 11 independent media–affiliated journalists on Jan. 16. They are charged with fomenting unrest. The same day, multiple international human rights groups urged Kyrgyz authorities to stop repression of journalists that began after outlets published investigations into political corruption two years ago. Kyrgyzstan’s legislature is considering a new law similar to Russia’s that would increase government control of news outlets. The country was once renowned for its journalistic freedom, but under President Sadyr Japarov, that freedom has eroded. Japarov claims his government supports freedom of speech and “good quality” media investigations. The journalists will remain jailed for at least two months. —Amy Lewis
The state prosecutor on Jan. 12 asked the country’s high court to consider a case against an evangelical Christian lawmaker and her pastor. The prosecutor charges Päivi Räsänen and Pastor Juhana Pohjola with discriminatory “hate speech” for publicly voicing Biblical views on human sexuality. The Helsinki District Court and the Court of Appeal already acquitted them twice. As part of the appeal, the prosecutor dropped a previous charge over statements Räsänen made on a radio program in 2019. Her lawyer, Matti Sankamo, said Räsänen has essentially won that part of the case. The remaining dispute centers on “whether quoting Bible texts can be criminal,” Sankamo said. —Jenny Lind Schmitt
Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a leading critic of Nicaragua’s increasingly authoritarian government, is free after more than a year behind bars. On Jan. 14, a flight carrying Álvarez and 17 other Catholic clergy landed in Rome after the Vatican brokered a deal for their release. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega jailed them following sweeping anti-government protests in 2018. Ortega views the Catholic Church as a threat and has accused religious leaders of plotting to overthrow him. Last February, Washington helped secure the release of 222 political prisoners, but Álvarez refused to leave without conferring with other bishops. —Grace Snell
China is trying to control the press in this tiny island country. According to independent media group In-depth Solomons, a Chinese Embassy delegate contacted the owners of two major island newspapers after Taiwan’s Jan. 13 elections. The delegate expressed concern about “incorrect perspectives” in articles about Taiwan’s new president, and emailed two pro-China articles for the newspapers to print. The Solomon Star ran them on its front page the next day. The Island Sun ran them two days later. Both papers have accepted thousands of dollars in cash and equipment from China. Georgina Kekea, head of the Media Association of Solomon Islands, issued a warning: “If we are not careful, we might lose our freedom.” —Amy Lewis