Duterte, All Business In China

Among the many memorable lines from Rodrigo Duterte’s run for the presidency was this colorful threat to Chinese leaders: If elected, he would personally ride a jet ski across the South China Sea to plant the Philippine flag on the Spratly Islands that are claimed by both countries as their own. Just past 100 days into his controversial reign, Duterte headed north this morning instead, arriving in Beijing â€" by airplane.

Indeed, much has changed in these few short months. Though he has garnered the most attention for the violent anti-drug countdown at home that has left more than 2,300 dead, Duterte has also made waves internationally. Not only has he had shockingly harsh words for both President Obama and Pope Francis, Duterte seems intent on overturning a half-century of foreign policy built around tight relations with U.S.

This helps to explain today’s soft landing in China to meet President Xi Jinping. Playing world powers off of each other is a favorite tactic of ambitious leaders of smaller regional players. But there may also be reasons closer to home for Duterte, who himself is of Chinese descent. At a forum last week Duterte had this message for Filipino businessmen: “Study the Chinese style. It’s an innate thing in them, the art of doing business,” he said.

Yesterday, on the eve of his visit, which would include some 400 Filipino business leaders, Duterte spoke with the state Chinese news agency Xinhua: “Some other countries know we are short of money, but instead of helping us, all they had to do was just to criticize. China never criticizes,” he said. “They help us quietly. It’s part of the sincerity of the people.” Duterte’s is yet another immigrant story, and his state visit to China is one more foreign business trip.


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Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said that Iraqi forces were "ahead of schedule," retaking a number of villages as they begin the second day of the battle to recapture the northern city of Mosul from ISIS fighters. According to Al Jazeera, the joint operation carried out by Iraqi forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops has already "liberated" a 200 square-kilometer area around Iraq’s third-biggest city.


Russian and Syrian armed forces agreed to pause attacks on the Syrian city of Aleppo for eight hours today, to allow civilians and rebels to leave the city. The decision, announced by the Russian Defense Ministry, was deemed “too little too late” by the U.S. State Department, Reuters reports.


The UN announced yesterday that a 72-hour ceasefire will go into effect on Wednesday night in Yemen, in a bid to end the more than 18 months of confrontation between the country's Houthis and the government.


Happy 56 to Belgian actor, martial artist and would-be “philosopher” Jean-Claude Van Damme! He’s in your 57-second shot of history.


“They’re lies,” Melania Trump said yesterday of allegations of sexual misconduct targeting Republican nominee Donald Trump, breaking her silence about her husband’s behavior in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper.


Both the FBI and the State Department denied yesterday that a "quid pro quo" arrangement took place over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s emails, according to USA Today. Documents that were recently made public, belonging to the FBI's now-closed investigation into Clinton's handling of classified information when she was secretary of State, suggest that top Clinton aide Patrick Kennedy pressed the FBI for a change in the classification of an email related to the 2012 Benghazi attack.


By promoting the use of open-source software, French group Framasoft offers alternatives to the Google behemoth’s products, Elsa Trujillo writes for French daily Le Figaro. Bonus: Framasoft’s tools come with added digital privacy. “The ‘De-Google-ify internet’ initiative, which was launched two years ago, has so far offered about 20 tools that allow you to bypass centralized web services. Framasoft added new solutions to its offerings since the start of October. Framalistes, for instance, sees itself as an alternative to Google Groups that lets users choose his or her subscription options, access archives and manage lists.”

Read the full article, The Open-Source Group Trying To "De-Google" The Internet.


At least 23 people have died after a fire broke out in a private hospital in Bhubaneswar, eastern India, the BBC reports.


Touch Stonehenge â€" Wiltshire, 1976

10,000 FROGS

Peruvian authorities are investigating the death of an estimated 10,000 Titicaca water frogs, whose bodies were found in a river in the south of the country, Peruvian daily La Republica reports.



The Nobel committee has said it is giving up on trying to contact Bob Dylan, five days after awarding the American singer-songwriter the 2016 Literature prize. A close Dylan representative has spoken with the Stockholm committee, but given no word on whether he will come to accept the award in December. What’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?

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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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