WHILE YOU SLEPT

FBI Flip-Flop, Hong Kong Showdown, Hair Oddity

SPOTLIGHT: A LOADED TRANSCRIPT

It’s hard to recall the last time the FBI flip-flopped so quickly. The release yesterday morning of transcripts of the Orlando nightclub gunman’s calls to 911 had initially withheld Omar Mateen’s references to his apparent Islamist motivations for the attack that killed 49 people. Outrage was immediate. House Republican Speaker Paul Ryan called it “preposterous” that the FBI would try to shield the public from that component of the assault. Others said it was another sign that President Barack Obama, who also chose not to use the term “Islamic radicalism” after last week’s attack, was failing to confront terrorism head on. By the afternoon, FBI officials had re-issued the transcript to include the moments when Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group, as well as his declaration in Arabic to “Allah, the Merciful.”


The FBI explained its rationale for not wanting to give a cold-blooded killer a platform for his twisted ideas. We’ve also heard Obama’s expand=1] articulate explanation for the potential consequences of alienating the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims by linking these acts in any way to Islam. But the FBI reversal is a reminder that little these days is bound to stay quiet or hidden for long. We must ultimately have faith that when we describe something, however incomplete, it is part of a larger conversation that must take place to ultimately defeat this vile attempt to hijack a religion. The religion currently facing this existential threat happens to be Islam. The conversation will sometimes be unpleasant, and sometimes misunderstood. But best to keep talking.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY

  • European Central Bank heads meet to discuss strategy if Britain exits EU.
  • International Yoga Day will have practitioners striking poses around the world.
  • If you’re not in the mood for yoga, today is also Go Skateboarding Day. (Or combine both and do a downward-facing dog kickflip?)


U.S. SENATE BLOCKS ALL GUN BILLS

The Senate rejected four gun control measures in the wake of the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history. The proposals, aimed at bolstering background checks for gun buyers and cutting firearm access to people with terror links, were defeated despite growing gun violence in the country.


FAKE SUICIDE BOMBER IN BRUSSELS

Belgian police have arrested a man threatening to blow himself up this morning at a shopping center in central Brussels. His fake explosive belt turned out to be made of biscuits and salt, but the alert triggered a wide-scale anti-terrorism operation in the Belgian capital, RTBF reports.


â€" ON THIS DAY

Happy 34 to Prince William! That, and more, on your 57-second shot of History!


ZUCKERBERG TO CONTROL FACEBOOK FOR YEARS

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg will stay in control of the social media behemoth for possibly decades to come. Shareholders voted in favor of a measure that would let Zuckerberg keep a majority stake in Facebook even if the company issues more stock. And with good reason, Wired magazine notes. More than 1 billion people use Facebook on mobiles every day and the tech giant drew over $5 billion in revenue last quarter.


MISSING HONG KONG BOOKSELLERS

Hong Kong asked China whether its detention of five booksellers violated the “one-country, two systems” formula under which the former British colony returned to Chinese rule nearly two decades ago. Hong Kong’s strong statement follows Saturday protests against Beijing’s handling of the booksellers whose shop had published gossipy books on Chinese leaders.


MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Royal Ferry â€" Copenhagen, 1967


JORDANIAN SOLDIERS KILLED AT SYRIA BORDER

Six Jordanian soldiers were killed and 14 others wounded after a car bomb exploded near a refugee camp at Jordan’s border with Syria, The Jordan Times reports. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Now take a left on the Seine River and you’ve reached your destination … Soon a reality? For Swiss daily Le Temps, Julie Schüpbach investigates on the futuristic (and funny-looking) SeaBubbles, electric pods slated to transport up to four people on water: “Estimated to cost between $21,000 and $42,000, the SeaBubble is slated to transport up to four people and come with an electric recharging terminal. Investor Henri Seydoux believes the vehicle has the potential to become as widespread as car ride service Uber. Officials in Paris have expressed interest in the project. ‘Paris should be the first city to test prototypes of SeaBubbles,’ Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has said.”

Read the full article, Driverless "SeaBubbles" Aim To Be The Uber Of Waterways.


â€" MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

HAIR ODDITY

A lock of hair that belonged to recently deceased rock icon David Bowie is expected to fetch $4,000 when it goes under the hammer at an auction in Beverly Hills next Saturday. A bargain compared to a piece of Elvis Presley’s pompadour that pulled in $155,000 back in 2002.

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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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