WHILE YOU SLEPT

Brexit Stakes, EgyptAir Black Box, Alzheimer’s Clues

SPOTLIGHT: BREXIT, VIOLENCE AND EUROPE’S PAST

Tributes are pouring in for slain British lawmaker Jo Cox, 41, who was fatally stabbed and shot during a meeting yesterday with constituents in northern England. The mother of two young children, Cox was praised as a big-hearted defender of human rights and refugees and was most recently an advocate for UK remaining in the European Union, ahead of next week’s so-called “Brexit” referendum. A 52-year-old man, identified as Tommy Mair, has been arrested, and at least one local witness apparently heard him yell “Britain first!” during the attack. Mair is reported to have had ties to a U.S.-based neo-Nazi group called National Alliance, according to racism watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center.


Whether or not police determine that Cox’s support of the European Union or immigrant rights was a motive in the murder, the stakes are high for the June 23 Brexit vote. Writing last week from Berlin for French daily Les Echos, political scientist Dominique Moisi said the West should not forget the still relatively recent history of Germany’s descent into Nazism. “It's the democratic world that needs to remember the lessons from the collapse of the Weimar Republic. Fritz Stern, the great German-born American historian who passed away recently, was always obsessed with how quickly a sophisticated society that produced giants such as Kant or Beethoven could sink easily into utter savagery. If it happened in Germany, it could happen anywhere if we're not careful â€" through a tragic succession of events interacting with one another, without any apparent logic or causality.” Though written before Cox’s murder, Monsieur Moisi’s piece is worth a close read today.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY (& WEEKEND)

  • President Obama hosts White House meeting today with Saudi Arabia’s powerful heir apparent, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
  • Italian municipal election run-offs on Sunday, including race for Rome mayor.
  • NBA Finals decisive Game 7 on Sunday.


CHARITY SAYS NO TO EU MONEY

Medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) announced today it will reject all funding from the European Union in protest of its migrant policy, Reuters reports. Back in March, the EU agreed upon a deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into the continent.


REBEL U.S. DIPLOMATS CALL FOR SYRIAN REGIME CHANGE

An internal document, signed by dozens of State Department officials, deplores the U.S. government’s policy in Syria and calls for targeted military strikes against the Damascus government. The Wall Street Journal reports that the document urges regime change as the only way to defeat the Islamic State terror group.


â€" ON THIS DAY

Remember that extra slow highway chase that led to O.J. Simpson’s arrest? It was live on TV 22 years ago on this day. That, and more, in today’s 57-second shot of History.


VERBATIM

“The major political task that together we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly.” In a much anticipated speech yesterday, Democratic presidential challenger Bernie Sanders did not pull out of the race. But he did offer clues that he will soon rally around the party’s presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, ahead of the general election against Trump. More from The Washington Post.


EGYPTAIR BLACK BOXES

Egyptian investigators have started analyzing the black box from the EgyptAir Flight 804 that crashed en route to Cairo from Paris on May 19, killing all 66 people on board. Although the black box was damaged during the crash in the Mediterranean, AP reports that its memory unit, which contains the cockpit voice recorder, was safely recovered yesterday and could give crucial clues as to what led to the accident. The plane’s second black box was also found today.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Tests in a region in Colombia with widespread, recurring and inherited Alzheimer's may help researchers understand why the disease occurs and has thwarted treatments for so long. For Colombian daily El Espectador, Jesus Mendez reports from Antioquia: “Preventive tests may be a way then: testing drugs on people without symptoms but who will develop the illness. But how do you identify them, when the immense majority of people who develop Alzheimer's do so unexpectedly, without anticipatory signs. The illness incubates in absolute silence. This is where the so-called ‘Antioquian curse’ comes in. Within a few square kilometers, hundreds of people are among the carrier families. They have no symptoms but are already sentenced. They will suffer what locals call the ‘Piedrahita foolishness,’ a reference to one of 25 families carrying the mutation thought to originate in their ancestors, a Basque couple.

Read the full article, In "Cursed" Colombia Region, Clues To Alzheimer’​s Cause.


INDIA VERDICT

An Indian court today sentenced 11 Hindu convicts to life in prison, and a dozen others to seven years in jail, for their role in the killing of scores of Muslims during riots in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002, a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the state government. Allegations have dogged Modi ever since that he was complicit in the violence, but a court-appointed panel in 2013 said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute him.


MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Postcard From The Emperor â€" Tangermünde, 1975


SANTA BARBARA FIRE TORNADO

A wildfire that started Wednesday afternoon near Santa Barbara, California is spreading rapidly, with flames described as a "wall of fire" having already scorched through 1,700 acres of land.


â€" MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH

MAKING ISIS FABULOUS

Hackers belonging to the activist group Anonymous reportedly hacked into 258 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts yesterday, flooding them with messages of support to the LGBT community, rainbows and gay porn.

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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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