WHILE YOU SLEPT

Boris Backs Brexit, All-White Housing, A Papal Call

Boris Backs Brexit, All-White Housing, A Papal Call

ISIS TARGETS SYRIA’S MUSLIM MINORITIES

Despite losing ground across much of Syria, ISIS remains a dangerous threat in the western part of the country under the Syrian government’s control. A series of explosions in the cities of Homs and in the capital Damascus yesterday killed at least 140 people and wounded dozens more. ISIS claimed responsibility for both attacks, which targeted Islamic Shia minorities. The attack in Damascus, which killed at least 83, according to SANA, took place in the Sayyida Zeinab suburb, the location of the holiest Shia Muslim shrine.

  • Russian officials say ISIS bombings are aimed at “subverting” peace talks. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov edged closer to a ceasefire yesterday, reaching a provisional agreement on terms to cease hostilities in Syria, Reuters reports.
  • The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS executed 38 airstrikes in Syria and Iraq on Saturday, destroying fighting positions and material.
  • Highlighting the complicated chessboard of alliances, BuzzFeed reports that different U.S.-backed groups are battling each other on the ground, some being directly supported by the CIA and others by the Pentagon.
  • In an interview for Spanish daily El País, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he hoped to be remembered as the man who would save Syria. Asked about the growing reports that Turkey and Saudi Arabia may send ground troops to northern Syria, where government and Kurdish forces are making crucial gains, Assad replied, “We’re going to deal with them like we deal with the terrorists. We’re going to defend our country.” He accused Turkey of being involved in the conflict “since the very beginning” by “sending the terrorists.” Read the interview in English here.
  • Speaking to Germany’s Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung, Europol director Rob Wainwright said that between 3,000 and 5,000 jihadists have infiltrated Europe. The Old Continent is “currently facing its biggest jihadist threat in more than 10 years,” he said.

UK GOVERNMENT DIVIDED OVER BREXIT

Less than two days after reaching a deal with its EU partners to grant Britain “special status” within the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron was already facing a divided cabinet yesterday over whether Britain should stay in the EU. Among the seven ministers who announced their support for a Brexit ahead of a June 23 referendum is Justice Secretary Michael Gove, a close friend of Cameron’s, who said the EU “has proved a failure on so many fronts.”

  • But the heaviest blow to Cameron came from the popular London Mayor Boris Johnson, who will also campaign for a Brexit. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to vote for real change in Britain’s relations with Europe,” Johnson writes in today’s The Daily Telegraph. For more on Johnson’s Brexit campaign, see The Sun’s cover on Le Blog.
  • Writing in The Guardian, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn slammed the deal Cameron signed, describing it as “a sideshow” with changes that “are largely irrelevant to the problems most people in Britain face.” But his Labour party will be campaigning to stay in the EU, “regardless of Cameron’s overblown tinkering,” he wrote.

VERBATIM

“The commandment ‘You shall not kill,’ has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,” Pope Francis told a crowd at St. Peter's Square yesterday, calling for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. The pontiff argued that there were now means to “efficiently repress crime without definitively denying the person who committed it the possibility of rehabilitating themselves.”


INDIA CASTE RIOTS TURN DEADLY

Photo: Stringer/Xinhua/ZUMA

At least 19 people have died and 200 were injured in India’s northern Haryana state during protests led by the Jat rural caste, The Khaleej Times reports. A week-long protest to obtain quotas for government jobs and university places turned violent in recent days, and the capital New Delhi is facing a water crisis after some of the rioters shut down a canal that delivers water to treatment plants. The protesters accepted a government offer today.


ON THIS DAY


Can you remember where you were when the United States celebrated the so-called “Miracle on Ice”? We’ve got that moment and more in today’s shot of history.


BOLIVIA’S MORALES EARNS REBUKE

Bolivian President Evo Morales looks to have lost yesterday’s referendum on whether he has the right to run for a fourth consecutive term in 2020. Preliminary results published by La Razón show that 52.3% voted “no.” Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, has been in office since January 2006.


$35,000

All one British collector needed to get a lock of John Lennon’s hair was a $35,000 bid.


OBAMA’S WOULD-BE TALKS WITH N. KOREA

Just days before North Korea conducted its latest nuclear-bomb test, the Obama administration had agreed to peace talks with the country to formally end the Korean War, The Wall Street Journal reports. But North Korea apparently wasn’t willing to include denuclearization as part of the meetings, killing the would-be talks before they even began.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

In the multiethnic French city of Marseille, the La Rouvière housing complex has its own unwritten rules, and that means keeping out people of color, Sylvia Zappi reports for Le Monde. “Particular attention is paid to the profiles of would-be newcomers. The prices in this southern district of Marseille are competitive, 1,800 euros per square meter. But entry is not guaranteed to anyone. ‘Newcomers always belong to the same social class. High wage levels keep the place from becoming like the northern districts,’ says Christian Cavailles, president of the union council. It is a kind of social sorting process that was established by the returning "Pied-Noir" owners in the early days in order to maintain the seclusion of whites.”

Read the full article, How A 50-Year-Old Housing Project Has Remained All-White.


MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD



EUROVISION GOES POLITICAL

Ukraine has chosen its representative for the next Eurovision song contest, and it could be a controversial one. Susana Jamaladinova, a Crimean Tatar, will sing a song denouncing Soviet Russia’s oppression of her minority.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

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.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

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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