Revealed: 10 Biggest Controversies In 2013

From classified information leaks to human rights abuse allegations, 2013 saw its fair share of controversies.



1. Edward Snowden leaks classified NSA documents

US-based computer analyst Edward Snowden rocked the US’s reputation when he disclosed classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents about the country’s surveillance programme to journalists in June.

Snowden, a contractor at NSA, leaked documents revealing the US’ surveillance on phone and internet communications. Currently seeking asylum in Russia, the whistleblower has been denied amnesty in the US.

2. Mohamed Mursi deposed, Army takes charge in Egypt

Egypt Braced For More Violence As Pro Morsi Supporters March On Cairo

Egypt has been in turmoil since former Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi was ousted in a so-called ‘military coup’ just a year after he took charge, in July 2013.

Pro and anti-Mursi supporters have been clashing on the streets after the army deposed Egypt’s first freely elected president. The Muslim Brotherhood leader was accused of failing to regenerate the economy and create national consensus.

3. Qatar accused of human rights abuse ahead of 2022 World Cup

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Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, found itself facing severe criticism in 2013 after reports emerged about the inhuman conditions that migrant workers faced in the Gulf state.

In a sharply-worded report, Amnesty International accused construction companies in the Gulf state of human rights abuses and forced labour ahead of the mega sports event.

Following the uproar, Qatar 2022 general secretary Hassan Al Thawadi defended the committee of being “committed towards workers welfare” adding that they are taking steps to improve the situation.

4. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un kills his uncle

South Korean People React To News Of Jang Song Thaek Execution

The sudden and brutal execution of Jang Song-Thaek, the uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was the topic of heightened media speculation and debate in December 2013.

In a statement, Pyongyang said Thaek, once considered a powerful figure in the country, was accused of being a “traitor to the nation for all ages,” and “despicable human scum” for planning a military coup.

Reports also emerged claiming that Kim Jong Un fed his uncle to hungry dogs, but they were later found to be false, with the source being a satirical article on a Chinese website.

5. Syria chemical weapons allegation

Protestors At US Capitol Call For Intervention In Syria

The prolonged Syrian crisis took a turn for the worse last year, when video footage emerged of a possible chemical weapon attack in August.

While Western nations blamed the sarin gas attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Damascus denied responsibility, instead blaming rebels.

As world powers – led by the US – debated a military offensive against Syria, Russia managed to broker a deal under which Syria agreed to abandon its chemical weapons.

6. Cyprus bailout

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Cyprus’ financial crisis forced the government to approach the Troika – the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and the European Central Bank for a bailout.

Following a protracted process, the Troika agreed to provide Cyprus a €10 billion bailout in March 2013, but imposed stringent conditions: Cyprus Popular Bank (Laiki) was forced to shut down, all the cooperative banks had to come under the direct supervision of the central bank, and deposits exceeding €100,000 at Bank of Cyprus were seized to recapitalise the lender.

7. George Zimmerman acquitted

George Zimmerman Appears Before Judge On Recent Aggravated Assault Charges

The acquittal of George Zimmerman, who was charged with second-degree murder in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, outraged Americans.

The former neighborhood watch volunteer was given a not guilty-verdict in a widely-watched trial in July 2013. In a speech later that month, US President Obama ignited the issue when he said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”

The episode brought to the fore issues such as racial profiling and self-defense laws in the US.

8. Olympic champion Pistorius shoots girlfriend

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On Valentine’s Day last year, six-time Paralympic sprint champion Oscar Pistorius fatally shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times in his home in Pretoria. Pistorius, a double amputee, has been charged with premeditated murder, but he claims he shot 29-year-old Steenkamp through the bathroom door after mistaking her to be an intruder.

He is currently out on bail of one million rand and will face trial in March 2014. If found guilty of murder, he could face up to life in prison.

9. Russia passes anti-gay law

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Russian President Vladimir Putin angered activists after he passed a law that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” in June 2013.

The country, which will host the Sochi Winter Olympics in February this year, drew sharp criticism from several human rights organisations and many athletes agreed to boycott the event.

However the IOC said that it had “received strong written reassurances from the Russian government that everyone will be welcome at the Games in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation.”

10. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford admits to smoking cocaine

Unanimously voted newsmaker of the year in a survey of newsrooms by The Canadian Press, Rob Ford made the news for all the wrong reasons.

In November, Ford made international headlines after he admitted to having once smoked crack cocaine “in a drunken stupor”. He has also been accused of using racially abusive language and making sexual comments to a former female staffer.

Interestingly, Ford announced earlier this year that he will be standing for re-election. “I’ve got the strongest track record,” he reportedly told journalists. “I’ve been the best mayor this city has ever had.”