ISRAEL-LEBANON-SYRIA SKIRMISHES INTENSIFY
An anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli military vehicle near the Lebanon border Wednesday, wounding four soldiers, Reuters quoted a military source as saying. The incident came several hours after Israel launched an air strike in Syria amid tensions that have escalated in the frontier area over the past 10 days. According to France 24 network, the Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack. Israel retaliated shortly after, by bombing several localities in the southeast of Lebanon as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to respond “with force.”
"Please save Kenji's life. I call on you to work with all your strength in negotiations with the Jordanian government," said Junko Ishido, the mother of the Japanese journalist held hostage by ISIS, Kenji Goto said in a news conference Wednesday, making her appeal directly to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Reuters reports that Tokyo confirmed the authenticity of a new video yesterday that showed the Japanese journalist saying he had 24 hours to live unless Jordan released Sajida al-Rishawi, a woman involved in a suicide bombing that killed 60 people in Amman in 2005. The captive also said the terrorist group would also kill Muath al-Kasaesbeh, a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS several weeks ago. A Jordan government spokesperson said later on Wednesday his country was willing to hand over Sajida al-Rishawi in exchange for the pilot.
ISIS CLAIMS TRIPOLI HOTEL ATTACK
The Libyan branch of the terrorist group ISIS has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack on a hotel in Tripoli that killed 9 people, including four Libyans, one American, one French, one Filipino and one South Korean, and left many wounded. According to a source from the Minister of the Interior quoted by Le Monde, one of the attackers has been arrested. Three men allegedly entered the hotel and fired shots Tuesday after killing a security guard at the entrance. The attack allegedly ended after some of the jihadists detonated their explosive belts while they were surrounded.
In an interview with Le Monde, Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist under house arrest in Moscow, says that Putin is pursuing war in Ukraine to consolidate his power and fulfill his ambition to be Russia's “president for life.” “The situation in Russia now is very different from what it was a year ago. There’s huge pressure on society. A year ago, Putin was only a thief — now he’s a murderer. He’s started a war; people are scared.”
Read the full article, Putin's Nemesis Speaks: The Alexei Navalny Interview.
NEW GREEK PM PROMISES NOT TO CLASH WITH EU
The newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told his ministers in their first cabinet meeting Wednesday that he will avoid antagonism with the European Union, but also that voters gave their new government a mandate for radical change, Kathimerini reports. "We won't get into a mutually destructive clash, but we will not continue a policy of subjection,” Tsipras said. He is set to meet the head of the euro zone finance ministers' group Jeroen Dijsselbloem on Friday to discuss the future of the Greek debt.
PUTIN ORDERED LITVINENKO MURDER, LAWYER SAYS
The former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in 2006, was killed for trying to expose links between the Kremlin and Europe’s largest organized crime group, the lawyer of the victim’s family, Ben Emmerson, said on the first day of a public inquiry on the case in London on Tuesday. He added the former spy was the victim of a “horrifying” political assassination, according to The Guardian, describing the Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “common criminal dressed up as a head of state.”
Read more about it in our Extra! feature.
ON THIS DAY
A MAP OF COUNTRIES SCALED BY POPULATION
A Reddit user created a map of the world where countries are scaled according to their populations. Some countries with vast areas, including Russia, Canada or Australia, appear dramatically shrunken, while other big ones like India and China hold a large chunk of the map.
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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