MANHUNT FOR BANGKOK BOMBER
Photo: Jack Kurtz/ZUMA
Thailandâ€™s junta government has launched a manhunt for the suspect believed responsible for bombing a tourist-packed shrine in Bangkok yesterday, which Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha characterized as the â€œworst-ever attackâ€ on the country. At least 20 people were killed and 125 injured in the explosion, The Bangkok Post reports. Itâ€™s still unclear whether anti-government groups or Islamist insurgents are behind the attack, which comes more than a year after the Thai military overthrew the elected government. The local police chief warned that the investigation would be difficult given the extensive destruction at the site. There was another, smaller, explosion in the Thai capital today, but there were no injuries.
Germany is expecting at least 650,000 refugees to enter the country this year, up from 450,000 in 2014, the countryâ€™s Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere plans to announce later today.
TIANJIN MOURNS BLAST VICTIMS
The Chinese port city of Tianjin held services in memory of the 114 people who died in last Wednesdayâ€™s warehouse explosions, which also left 700 people injured and damaged thousands of homes. According to the South China Morning Post, Tianjinâ€™s vice mayor has admitted that sodium cyanide has spread as far as a kilometer from the site of the blasts, amid fears that the chemical could react with the rain forecast for the next days. An investigation is focusing on the company that operated the warehouse after revelations that it had handled hazardous chemical products without a licence. Read more from Xinhua.
ON THIS DAY
It was 95 years ago today that the United States ratified the Constitutionâ€™s 19th Amendment, finally giving women the right to vote. That and more in todayâ€™s shot of history.
WAR CRIMES IN YEMEN
The killing of scores of civilians by warring parties in Yemen could represent war crimes, Amnesty International says in a new report. Pro and anti-Houthi fighters on the ground are implicated, but much of the blame is being laid at the feet of Saudi Arabia and the coalition of Sunni Muslim states that have been conducting airstrikes in Yemen for months. â€œThe evidence gathered reveals a pattern of strikes targeting heavily populated areas, including civilian homes, a school, a market and a mosque,â€ the organization writes. â€œIn the majority of cases, no military target could be located nearby.â€ More than 4,000 are believed to have died in the conflict, half of them civilians.
Geneva native Marie-Laure Canosa says an eight-day fast at a world-renowned Russian treatment center was transformational. Many researchers seem to agree, as withholding food can heal the body of chronic diseases, Marie-Pierre Genecand writes for Le Temps. â€œThe process is supervised by doctors with daily consultations, and personal care (massages and mud baths) is provided every day along with assistance to the eventual return to eating. The mother of three says last yearâ€™s experience during the Easter holidays profoundly changed her. â€˜Iâ€™m never tired anymore, and I feel stronger, more relaxed.â€™ But it was a detox that went well beyond the physical.â€
Read the full article, The Siberian Fasting Cleanse For Body And Mind.
Leonard B. Robinson, a 51-year-old man beloved for visiting children in hospitals dressed as Batman, was killed Sunday after his â€œBatmobile,â€ a custom Lamborghini, broke down and was struck by another car in Maryland.
SHELL TO DRILL IN THE ARCTIC
The U.S. government has given the final green light to energy giant Royal Dutch Shell to drill below the Arctic Oceanâ€™s floor for oil and natural gas, a decision that has angered environmentalists, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Anglo-Dutch company, which plans to spend over $1 billion on the Arctic project this year alone, has been pursuing the rights for eight years, and it will now be able to drill under the Chukchi Sea, which is believed to contain some 15 billion barrels of oil.
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
GIVE BOB A BED
To thank Bob Dylan for 50 years of great music, ClickHole (the sister site of satirical website The Onion) sent the musician a $1,500 adjustable bed â€" as well as a Bob Dylan duvet cover and a personalized â€œHi Bobâ€ remote â€" through crowdfunding.
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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