Deadly New Warfare In Ukraine

Despite recent talk of a possible ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels in the embattled city of Donetsk, fighting has escalated following an army offensive, the BBC reports. Heavy shelling targeted rebel positions in the city, and the military said it had regained most of the territory around the airport. In addition to fighters, at least nine civilians were reportedly killed, including children.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have given French President François Hollande, the most unpopular French leader in modern history, an unprecedented 21-point boost in approval ratings, according to a Paris Match poll. In a Le Monde interview, Hollande said that the deadly attacks had made France “stronger.” In a survey published in Journal du Dimanche, 42% of respondents, who were residents of France, said they believed Charlie Hebdo’s Muhammad caricatures were wrong and that their publication should be avoided.

An already tense situation in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa has escalated after Shia Houthi rebels targeted the prime minister’s convoy with heavy gunfire and took over the country’s state television and news agency, Al Arabiya reports. Despite earlier reports of a ceasefire between the rebels and the government, fighting continued across the city and around the presidential residence. As the Arab world's poorest country, Yemen is also home to the al-Qaeda’s Sunni branch in the Arabian Peninsula, which the U.S. considers the most dangerous arm of the terror group, and which claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack.


Get your 57-second shot of history in our daily video feature — today featuring Lucille Ball.

At least 80 villagers in Cameroon were kidnapped in an attack by suspected Boko Haram terrorists that left three people dead and two entire villages destroyed, Radio France Internationale reports. It’s the first time that the Nigerian Islamist terror group has targeted Cameroon villagers, though it has attacked the neighboring country’s army in recent months. This comes as Chad has been deploying its army in Cameroon in a joint effort to fight Boko Haram.

The NSA’s role goes well beyond the mass collection of user data and mass surveillance of online communication. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden show that the agency is preparing for future digital wars, Der Spiegel reports. By developing a series of “D weapons” that target not only software but also hardware, and training interns into adopting an “attacker’s mindset,” the agency is readying itself for conflicts in which the Internet will enable them to paralyze an entire country’s infrastructures, including power and water supplies, and financial institutions.

As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Clemens Haug writes, two German entrepreneurs have seized on a business idea first founded in Dallas — a place where clients who want to dispense with their aggression can destroy set rooms with furniture otherwise destined for the landfill. “‘Hit your Way to Fitness,’ reads a sign by the entrance door,” the journalist writes. “Inside are two spaces that visitors can destroy. They’re equipped with furniture from the garbage dump, discarded TVs and computers. Old picture frames, vases and dishes round out the decor. For 89 euros, clients over 18 years of age can pulverize the lot. To do so, baseball bats and metal tools such as sledgehammers of different weights hang from the walls. Power tools like chainsaws are forbidden because the risk of injury is too high.”
Read the full article, The Business Of Destruction At Germany's Anger Room.

An Argentine prosecutor who accused President Cristina Kirchner of covering up an alleged Iranian involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish center, in which 85 were killed, died just hours before he was due at a congressional hearing Monday, La Nación reports. Alberto Nisman, 51, was found dead in his apartment with a gunshot wound to the head. Read more from AFP.

Chinese shares lost 7.7% today, their biggest drop since 2008, after regulators cracked down on margin trading that they believed was a threat to stability, Bloomberg reports. European stocks, meanwhile, reached a seven-year high amid hopes that the European Central Bank will soon launch a quantitative easing program.

Police in Dresden, Germany, have issued a blanket ban on all demonstrations after reports of a “concrete threat” against the founding member of the anti-Islamization movement Pegida, Die Welt reports. This means that a weekly march that has been growing in numbers won’t happen tonight.

Artist Florence Meunier has found a “hidden message” in the terms and conditions of Apple’s iCloud service, which demonstrates just important it is to read them.

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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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