ANTI-TERROR SWEEP ACROSS EUROPE
Suspected terrorists were arrested in France, Belgium and Germany in a series of dawn operations aimed at preventing future attacks. According to Le Figaro, 12 people were arrested in several outlying towns around the French capital, with some of the suspects believed to have provided weapons, hideouts and cars to to Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly before last week’s terror attacks in Paris. More operations are underway.
- Belgian authorities have detained 13 people who were said to be planning attacks on the police, in a series of raids against a group of Islamist fighters who recently returned from Syria, newspaper Le Soir reports. Another 2 suspects were arrested in France and will likely be extradited soon. The operation began yesterday in Verviers, a town close to the eastern Belgian city of Liège, which ended in a shootout that left two suspected terrorists dead. Jewish schools in Belgium and in Amsterdam decided to stay closed today as a precautionary measure.
- The German police arrested two people in Berlin on suspicions that were planning to carry out an attack in Syria, Deutsche Welle reports.
- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris this morning where he met and hugged President François Hollande before visiting the offices of Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket where attacks took place last week. He apologized for his absence at last Sunday’s march and said that he shared “the pain and the horror” of what France went through.
- Clashes erupted near the French Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan after Friday’s Muslim prayers. The police used water cannons, tear gas and shot in the air to disperse anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters who reportedly wanted to hand a written protest to consulate officials. Yesterday, Pakistani politicians passed a motion condemning France’s satirical magazine for publishing on its front page a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
POPE FRANCIS ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Pope Francis made a somewhat unexpected contribution to the ongoing debate over freedom of speech, saying that you can’t offend or ridicule the faith of others. By way of comparison, he said that if somebody insulted his mother, “he can expect a punch.”
U.S. NAVY OFFICIALS BRIBED
A Malaysian military contractor pleaded guilty to corruption charges in what The Washington Post describes as a “scandal of epic proportions” for the U.S. Navy. Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian businessman, admitted he had bribed “scores” of Navy officials with thousands of dollars in cash, prostitutes and luxury hotel rooms in exchange for access to classified information. Francis also overcharged the U.S. Navy for Asian port visits and bribed officials to avoid being caught. He has agreed to forfeit $35 million in ill-gotten proceeds and could face up to 25 years in prison.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
A NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT FOR LIBYA
Representatives of Libyan rival parties have agreed on an agenda to form a national unity government after two days of talks with a UN mission in Geneva, AFP reports. Under the agreement, the warring parties will seek “the necessary security arrangements to end the fighting,” and will free abducted people. Libya has been gripped by civil war between terrorist groups fighting for control over territories and oil wells since the overthrow of former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
A Chinese man came face-to-face with the two masked gunmen who killed 12 people at Charlie Hebdo"s offices on Jan. 7., and lived to tell his story. But he says the Chinese state TV version of his account makes him look like a coward: “An anchor was saying, ‘We talked to a special witness, a Chinese person, who refused to take media interviews after the homicides, and only put away his apprehension and agreed to have an exclusive interview with us after learning that the two killers had been shot dead.’ ... I was shocked and stupefied. I remember giving her a different answer, but why is she lying?”
Read the full article, The Strange Tale Of A Chinese Interview With A Charlie Hebdo Witness.
U.S. TO SEND TROOPS TO TRAIN SYRIAN REBELS
The U.S. military is planning to send some 400 troops to help train the “moderate” Syrian opposition in their fight against ISIS, USA Today reports. According to a Defense Department spokeswoman, the training will likely take place in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar and will begin in the spring. Meanwhile, two Italian aid workers who had been held hostage by the al-Nusra Front for five months were freed and are now back in Italy.
A deadly virus has claimed the lives of two of China's beloved giant pandas and left a third in critical condition
STOCKS CONTINUE SLIDE AFTER SWISS FRANC DECISION
Swiss stocks resumed their fall this morning after a surprise move from the country’s National Bank to abandon the cap on the currency’s value against the euro. Shares fell by more than 5% in early trading, after closing down 8.7% yesterday, The Guardian reports. Experts expect the move will have many global casualties, but according to Bloomberg, the biggest could be the European single currency.
LONG LOST BEAGLE2 PROBE FOUND ON MARS
The NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found the Beagle2 robot probe, which had been missing since it attempt to land in 2003, on the red planet’s surface. Scientists assumed until now that the landing had failed and the lander was destroyed, but it appears to be intact. Read more from the BBC.
ON THIS DAY
Get your 57-second shot of history in our daily video feature — today featuring Kate Moss.
The Tongan archipelago has gained a new island after a month-long volcano eruption created a substantial landmass more than one kilometer wide, two kilometers long and about 100 meters high.
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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