SOME AREAS IGNORE UKRAINE CEASEFIRE
The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine was still broadly observed this morning, but sporadic fighting persisted in some areas, especially in the city of Debaltseve, which is encircled by pro-Russian rebels, the BBC reports. A Ukraine army official said five troops had been killed and 22 wounded since the ceasefire went into effect at midnight Saturday. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are trying to seek full access to the areas where fighting hasn’t stopped. Pro-Russian forces denied them access yesterday. The European Union, meanwhile, added another 19 names of Russian officials and representatives of the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine to its sanctions list. The Russian Foreign Ministry branded the new sanctions as “absurd” and accused Brussels of yielding to Kiev’s “party of war,” RT reports.
ON THIS DAY
On Feb. 16, 2005, the Kyoto Protocol became effective, setting internationally binding carbon emission reduction targets. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
EGYPT STRIKES ISIS IN LIBYA
The Egyptian air force conducted extensive dawn raids against ISIS targets in Libya, hours after the group published an online video showing the executions of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians who had recently been taken hostage by the terrorist group. Egyptian officials said that between 40 and 50 ISIS fighters had been killed in the airstrikes. A statement from the Egyptian army said that the bombings were “to avenge the bloodshed and to seek retribution from the killers,” The Guardian reports. The strikes were reportedly coordinated with the Libyan army, and a Libyan official said more were planned for today and tomorrow. Read more from Al-Arabiya.
- French President François Hollande, who just days ago announced the sale of Rafale fighter jets to Cairo, joined calls from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to organize a UN Security Council meeting to take new measures against ISIS.
The South African government is preparing new legislation to bar individuals from owning more than 12,000 hectares of land, a move that Reuters says will likely upset the large and still predominantly white-owned commercial farming sector. Foreign ownership will also be drastically restricted.
DANISH TERROR ACCOMPLICES CHARGED
(Photo above: Marcus Golejewski/DPA/ZUMA)
Danish police have charged two men it arrested yesterday with helping the suspected gunman who killed two people over the weekend in separate attacks at a café and at a synagogue in Copenhagen. Police shot and killed the alleged attacker, 22-year-old Omar El-Hussein, Sunday. Hours earlier, he killed a filmmaker and wounded several people at a café where Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, known for depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007, was hosting a talk. He then attacked security guards outside a synagogue and killed a young Jewish man.
- The police believe El-Hussein may have been “inspired” by last month’s terror attacks in Paris, though there appears to be no direct connection between the Kouachi brothers or Amedy Coulibaly and El-Hussein. But like the French-born terrorists, El-Hussein was known to intelligence services before the attacks and had recently been released from jail. Read more from The New York Times.
- The attack’s similarity to that on Charlie Hebdo in Paris have led French newspaper Libération to choose a Danish headline for its front page, out of solidarity for the victims.
- Following the synagogue attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is campaigning for reelection, urged European Jews to emigrate to Israel, their “home.” He also unveiled a $45 million plan “to encourage the absorption of immigrants from France, Belgium and Ukraine.”
As Le Monde’s Bruno Meyerfeld reports, graphic Japanese comics, otherwise known as mangas, are becoming a popular part of African pop culture. “There are fans from everywhere, from Angola to South Africa, from Facebook to YouTube,” he writes. “Artists are also making appearances, sometimes in English-speaking countries such as Kenya, where they are making the most of the Japanese embassy's cultural center. The imaginary world is African. In Congo, animated mangas tell of the violence in the country. Female manga character Ebola-Chan, with pink hair and a skull in her hands, is a somewhat morbid allegory of Ebola and is even making a controversial appearance online.”
Read the full article, Africa's Emerging Love Affair With Graphic Japanese Comics, Or Mangas.
JAPAN’S RECESSION ENDS
The Japanese economy rebounded from recession in the last quarter of 2014, but the 0.6% growth figure is still below expectations, The Japan Times reports. The country’s GDP grew by 2.2% in 2014 from the previous year, well below the forecast 3.7%.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
MASSIVE CYBER THEFT DISCOVERED
As many as 100 banks and financial institutions in 30 countries have been attacked in what computer security firm Kaspersky Lab described as an “unprecedented cyber robbery,” with a group of hackers responsible for the loss of $1 billion since 2013. According to the report, the hackers come from Russia, China, Ukraine and other parts of Europe, and they are still active. Read more from Bloomberg.
APPLE JOINS SELF-DRIVING-CAR RACE
Tesla and Google could soon be facing tough competition on the self-driving car market. An inside source tells Reuters that Apple is working on its own project for a self-driving electric car. Though the company is reportedly exploring how to make an entire vehicle, the source says the main focus is on software, where there’s a lot of money to be made from high-definition mapping as well as car-sharing and car-recharging services.
40 YEARS OF SNL
American entertainers Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake teamed up once again over the weekend, this time to celebrate Saturday Night Live’s star-studded 40th anniversary show. Watch the duo’s musical medley honoring many of the show’s most memorable skits.
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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