POLICE RAIDS NAB BRUSSELS, PARIS SUSPECTS
Brussels police launched a series of raids overnight after Tuesdayâ€™s deadly terror attacks, detaining at least six people â€" three of them in a vehicle right outside the prosecutor's office, Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported. Two people were taken into custody in Brussels' Jette neighborhood, and another was detained in a different part of the Belgian capital. There were even more arrests during a raid this morning in the Forest neighborhood of Brussels, CNN reports.
- Reda Kriket, who French police arrested outside Paris last night, had been wanted since January and is reportedly connected to the suspected ringleader of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, The Local reports. Police found explosives and â€œan arsenalâ€ during their search of Cricket's home. Authorities describe him as â€œextremely dangerousâ€ and say he is suspected of preparing an attack on France. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve characterized those plans at an â€œadvanced stageâ€ before his arrest.
- New names of victims have been made official this morning, Le Soir reports.
POPE FRANCIS WASHES THE FEET OF REFUGEES
â€œWe are brothers,â€ Pope Francis said yesterday as he washed and kissed the feet of Muslim, Christian and Hindu refugees in Italy. As AP reports, the holy rite ahead of Easter Sunday re-enacts the foot-washing ritual Jesus performed on his apostles before being crucified, and is meant as a gesture of service.
KOREAN-AMERICAN HELD IN NORTH KOREA
The news agency KCNA announced this morning that a Korean-American man detained in North Korea has confessed to stealing military secrets and plotting subversion with South Koreans, Reuters reports. Kim Dong Chul, a naturalized American citizen with ties to Virginia, was arrested in North Korea in October, admitted to committing "unpardonable espionage" under the direction of the U.S. and South Korean governments and apologizing for his crimes. The confession comes weeks after another American, Otto Warmbier, was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda banner.
KARADZIC CONVICTED OF GENOCIDE
Former Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadzic will appeal yesterdayâ€™s genocide conviction by the UN court in The Hague, Dutch daily De Telegraaf reports. Karadzic was also found guilty of nine other charges and sentenced to 40 years in prison for orchestrating Serb atrocities throughout Bosniaâ€™s 1992-95 war that left 100,000 people dead.
CONGOâ€™S PRESIDENT ACCUSED OF FRAUD
Opposition parties in Congo are accusing the re-elected president of fraud and calling for civil disobedience, The New York Times reports. After yesterdayâ€™s election results were announced â€" in which President Denis Sassou-Nguesso won 60% of the vote, extending his 32-year reign â€" a coalition of five opposition candidates said that their own results showed Sassou-Nguesso headed for defeat. It was expected to provide its own vote tally today.
U.S. AIDS IRAQI TROOPS
As part of what the AP characterizes as an â€œexpandingâ€ U.S. combat role in Iraq, U.S. Marines are supporting Iraqi troops in efforts to retake Mosul from ISIS. It reports that about 200 marines provided targeting assistance and artillery fire as Iraqi troops took control of several villages on the outskirts of Makhmour, southeast of Mosul.
ON THIS DAY
From Venice to Elton John, hereâ€™s your 57-second shot of history.
FAREWELL JOHAN CRUYFF
â€œJ.C. Superstar,â€ the front page of Dutch-language daily nrc.next reads today, as it pays tribute to 68-year-old soccer legend Johan Cruyff, who died yesterday in Barcelona after a long battle with cancer. Read more about him on Le Blog.
PARIS LABOR PROTESTS TURN VIOLENT
Protests against new labor laws in Paris are intensifying with some demonstrators burning vehicles and attacking police, Le Monde reports. Dozens of people have been detained, and several officials have been injured during interventions in turbulent neighborhoods.
As part of our Rue Amelot essay series, contributor Alidad Vassigh reflects on how to grieve for Brussels. â€œFor lifeâ€™s problems your first stop may be the psychology supermarket available online,â€ he writes. â€œBut in time, you may move on toward spiritual guidance, and if I may use the word, religion (as Francois Mitterrand once said, â€˜let us not fear wordsâ€™). Ultimately, I find that the solutions to lifeâ€™s turmoil lie in the wide and surprisingly flexible sphere of religion, or religiosity, not in therapy or coaching.â€
Read the full article, Faraway Brussels: How We Do And Donâ€™t Grieve For Others.
12 DEAD IN FRENCH BUS ACCIDENT
A minibus crash in central France this morning claimed the lives of 12 Portuguese travelers, including a 7-year-old girl, Le Figaro reports. The bus bound for Portugal crashed into a truck going the opposite direction near the small town of Montbeugny, 300 kilometers from Paris. Officials are still investigating.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
PERMISSION TO PEE
Workers at a call center in Blagnac, France, were told they had to email their bosses for permission every time they needed a pee break, Le Parisien reports.
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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