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Iran Agreement Close, Kenyan Christians Attacked, Rainbow Skiing

Iran Agreement Close, Kenyan Christians Attacked, Rainbow Skiing

Photo: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Lausanne — Brendan Smialowski/Prensa Internacional/ZUMA

IRAN AGREEMENT “A FEW METERS AWAY”
Iran nuclear talks resumed today in Lausanne, for a second day since the March 31 deadline. A deal seems within reach, as Iran officials hint at more flexibility over the UN lifting economic sanctions on the country, one of the most debated issues.

  • “We’re a few meters away from the finish line, but we know they’re always the hardest,” Le Temps quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying today.

  • Iranian negotiator Ali Akbar Salehi said he could “see the light on the horizon” after another sleepless night of talks.

  • “We’re still making progress, but we still haven’t reached a political deal,” U.S. secretary of state John Kerry said last night.

ON THIS DAY

Today marks 10 years since the death of Pope John Paul II. Time now for your 57-second shot of history.

KENYA ATTACK LEAVES SEVERAL DEAD
Militants of the Islamist al-Shabab group, part of al-Qaeda, have killed at least 14 people and wounded 65 after raiding a university in Garissa, Kenya, near the Somali border. They claim to be holding an unknown number of Christian Kenyans.

  • Arnolda Shiundu, a spokesman for the Kenya Red Cross, told The Guardian they “evacuated about 30 casualties, most of them with bullet wounds. Four are in a critical state, and Kenya Defense Forces personnel have airlifted three victims, including two soldiers, to Nairobi.”

  • An al-Shabab spokesman told Reuters the assailants “sorted people out and released the Muslims.” He added, “There are many dead bodies of Christians inside the building. We are also holding many Christians alive. Fighting still goes on inside the college.”

  • At least 50 students were able to escape the university campus to a nearby military facility after the initial sounds of gunfire, the Red Cross has said.

  • Witnesses said the attackers shot indiscriminately at students and teachers, as the attack started around 5 a.m., the BBC reports.

71%
The number of foreign fighters who joined terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda or ISIS soared 71% between mid-2014 and March 2015, according to a UN report obtained by AP. More than 25,000 people have now traveled to join such organizations, a figure that is “higher than it has ever been historically,” according to UN experts.

YEMEN FIGHTING INTENSIFIES
Intense clashes broke out between Houthi fighters and allies and local militia backed by tanks in the southern Yemeni city of Aden yesterday, the BBC reports.

  • The Houthi rebels, who support former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, had reportedly been forced to pull back from the city center after airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition, according to Reuters.

  • At least 19 people, including civilians, were killed in the clashes, bringing the death toll to at least 122 since the beginning of the Saudi-led operation “Decisive Storm.”

  • A Doctors Without Borders spokeswoman told the BBC that an Aden hospital received “more than 500 injured people from all sides in the conflict over the last two weeks.”

  • Local security officials said al-Qaeda militants stormed a prison in the southeastern city of Mukalla today, freeing at least 300 inmates, including a senior al-Qaeda figure who had been held for more than four years, Al Arabiya reports.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
When Patricia started hearing voices, she was fascinated. Within a year, she wound up in the hospital. She now tries to cope with her illness without medication, opting instead for church and yoga. She told her story to Le Temps’ Rinny Gremaud. “Refusing medication hasn’t been easy,” she told the journalist. “Whenever you are in the health care system, you face five or six people who insist, and you have to stand up to them … I imagine medication must sometimes make things easier. But you have to be coherent. I believe in natural therapies. I think the illness is the body trying to make you understand something. So for me, schizophrenia is a bit more serious than a cold, but it’s the same principle.”
Read the full article, Living With Schizophrenia - And Without Medication.

54 DEAD AFTER RUSSIAN TRAWLER SINKS
At least 54 crew on a Russian fishing trawler died and 15 were missing after it sank in freezing waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Western Pacific Ocean late Wednesday, officials said. Search and rescue operations are continuing, but 63 of the 132 people on board have been rescued, Russian TASS news agency reports. The official spokesman of Russia’s Investigative Committee, Vladimir Markin, said the ship sank within 15 minutes, probably after a collision with an obstacle.

7 SOLDIERS KILLED IN SINAI ATTACKS
Gunmen armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked military checkpoints in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula Thursday, killing seven soldiers, Reuters reports. At least 11 other soldiers and several civilians were wounded. Local Egyptian media reported that at least 15 armed men were also killed by the Egyptian military during the attacks, Al Jazeera reports.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

GERMANWINGS CO-PILOT LIED TO DOCTORS
Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot suspected of deliberately crashing an Airbus A320 in the French Alps, killing all 150 people on board, apparently lied to doctors, concealing the fact that he was still flying commercial planes and telling them he was on sick leave, Bildreported today. The German tabloid also said the 27-year-old had sought medical attention to treat an eye condition, which could be linked to a 2014 car crash in which he was involved.

AFGHANISTAN BOMBING KILLS 20
A suicide bombing killed at least 20 people and injured 36 Thursday during a protest against the local governor in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, Al Jazeera reports.

ONE DOPE SLOPE
A little rainbow expand=1] skiing for your Thursday morning viewing pleasure.

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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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