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Catalonia Separatists Win, Obama To Meet Putin, Mars Mystery

Catalonia Separatists Win, Obama To Meet Putin, Mars Mystery

SEPARATIST PARTIES WIN CATALONIA VOTE

Pro-independence parties in the Spanish region of Catalonia won an absolute majority of legislative seats in regional elections yesterday that were seen as a de facto referendum on independence. Separatists see the landmark victory in the rich region as a clear mandate to break away from Spain, though they received under 50% of the overall votes cast. The Spanish government is fiercely opposed to Catalan independence, and its loss would be devastating for the EU’s fifth-biggest economy. The 72 seats the separatists won exceed the 68 (of 135) required to form a parliamentary majority. Read more in our Extra! feature.


70TH UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY BEGINS

World leaders are gathered in New York for the United Nations’ 70th General Assembly, during which many global issues will be on the agenda. The presidents of the United States, Russia, China, Iran and France will all take the podium today, but the most important event will be happening backstage, where President Barack Obama will meet Vladimir Putin. Read more from The Guardian about what to look for.


2033

Photo: Gene Blevins/LA DailyNews/ZUMA

Missed last night’s supermoon eclipse? You’ll need to wait until 2033 for the next one.


VERBATIM

“She was extremely lazy and copied mercilessly.” Vroniplag Wiki, an Internet platform that examines academic work for plagiarism, has accused German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen of copying without reference many sentences contained in her doctoral dissertation, Der Spiegel reports. The minister denies it, saying, “It’s not new that activists on the Internet try to spread doubts about the dissertations of politicians.” In recent years, her predecessor and an education minister were both forced to resign after being found guilty of plagiarism. The 56-year-old minister is often mentioned as Angela Merkel’s potential successor.


FRANCE BEGINS AIRSTRIKES IN SYRIA

France launched its first airstrikes against ISIS in Syria over the weekend after weeks of reconnaissance flights, Le Monde reports. The French mission, which until now was centered on Iraq, destroyed an ISIS training camp in Deir ez-Zor, in eastern Syria. “More strikes will come in the next weeks if necessary,” President François Hollande warned.


ON THIS DAY


Former French actress and model Brigitte Bardot turns 81 today. That and more in your daily shot of history.


EVIDENCE SHOWS VW WAS WARNED

A report in Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung showed that a Volkswagen engineer warned his company as early as 2011 about the illegal use of software to improve their VW car emissions during tests. It wasn’t the only caution. Tabloid Bild am Sonntag reported that Bosch, which supplied the diesel software for testing purposes only, warned the company that using it on the road would be illegal.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Climate change is already starting to affect wine growers, who scientists say will have to use other varieties of grapes and periodically move vineyards, among other interventions, Frank Niedercorn reports for Les Echos. “Instead of irrigation, seen as an ‘ultimate solution,’ the best adaptation could come from genetics, with new varieties that ripen more slowly and are more resistant to heat and illnesses,” he writes. “Scientists also imagine ‘nomadic’ vineyards: Designated vineyards would exist, but only for a few dozen years, enough time to make the most of a climate and favorable conditions.”

Read the full article, Climate Change And The Vineyards Of The Future.


BANKS PROBED OVER PRICE FIXING

Switzerland’s Competition Commission announced this morning that it has opened an investigation into two Swiss banks, UBS and Julius Baer, as well as Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Barclays, Morgan Stanley and Mitsui over indications that they colluded to fix the price of precious metals, Le Temps reports. Barclays and UBS have already been hit by massive fines this year after pleading guilty with other institutions in the Libor scandal.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



NASA MARS ANNOUNCEMENT

NASA has a “major announcement” to make later today about Mars. But CNN believes it may have cracked the mystery. And no, it’s not about Martians.

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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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