ANCIENT SYRIAN CITY FALLS TO ISIS
After days of fighting, “Palmyra’s fate is now in the hands of IS,” the Lebanese newspaper L’Orient Le Jour writes on Thursday’s front page. Coalition forces thought a few days ago that they had managed to beat back the ISIS terror group from the ancient Syrian city, but the jihadists came back stronger than before. Government and rebel forces fled the city, where ISIS is now in control. Read more in our Extra! feature.
Corey Knowlton, a hunter from Texas, has killed a black rhinoceros, one of the world’s most endangered species, after paying $350,000 for a permit issued by Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism. According to CNN, which documented the hunt, the man’s aim was “a vital component of Namibia’s effort to save the animal from extinction.” He argues that killing an old rhinoceros that can no longer contribute to the gene pool but is a threat to younger males is part of the science of conservation.
QATAR “STILL FAILING” MIGRANTS
Qatar has failed migrant workers despite insisting it would improve their working and living conditions ahead of the 2022 World Cup, a new Amnesty International report says. “The Qatar government promised reforms to address the widespread exploitation of migrant workers in the country, yet a year on none of the proposed reforms have been implemented,” the report says. Of nine key issues the human rights organization identified, there has been limited progress on only five. “Qatar is failing migrant workers,” Amnesty researcher Mustafa Qadri said.
MALAYSIA ORDERS RESCUE OF BOAT PEOPLE
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced today that his country is launching a search and rescue operation for the Rohingya refugees stranded on boats in the Andaman Sea near the Malaysian coast, The Rakyak Post reports. “It is basic human compassion that we ensure the hungry will be given food and water while the sick will be attended to with medical treatment and supplies,” Razak wrote on his Facebook page. This announcement comes as the Rohingya refugees have already spent weeks at sea after being turned away by Malaysian, Indonesian and Thai authorities. In addition to Malaysia, Indonesia said it would also offer temporary shelter for the refugees if backed by the international community.
As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Dominik Hutter writes, the city of Munich is considering a different kind of police sweep in its city streets. A proposal aims to record the genetic makeup of all Munich dogs in a single database so authorities can track down offending owners who fail to clean up after their pets. “Munich city council members of the political party Civil Middle are demanding a new system where authorities literally sweep the streets to collect and test samples of dog dumpings in order to find the culprit via DNA analysis,” Hutter writes. “Since a dog is not a legal entity and therefore cannot be prosecuted, its owner will be forced to pay a hefty fine.”
Read the full article, Can DNA Be Used To Bust Owners Of Dog Poop Left Behind?
OIL SPILL CREATES CALIFORNIA EMERGENCY
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in Southern California yesterday after as much as 105,000 gallons of crude oil was spilled off the Santa Barbara coast, stretching up to nine miles. The spill was caused by a ruptured onshore pipeline and happened in the same location as a 1969 spill that killed thousands of birds and marine animals. The pipeline owner has apologized and said it would pay for cleanup. But The Los Angeles Times reports that it has been slapped with 175 maintenance infractions since 2006. These include pump failure, equipment malfunction, pipeline corrosion and operator error, incidents that have caused $23 million in property damage and have already spilled at least 688,000 gallons of hazardous liquid.
ON THIS DAY
Today marks 88 years since “Lone Eagle” Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic on a nonstop solo flight from New York. Time now for your 57-second shot of history.
FRENCH FORCES KILL 2 JIHADIST LEADERS
French special forces killed four jihadists, including two leaders, during a raid in northern Mali, the French Ministry of Defense said yesterday. Amada Ag Hama, known as “Abdelkrim the Tuareg,” was said to be a commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who was suspected in the 2013 kidnapping and killing of two French journalists. Ibrahim Ag Inawalen, known as “Bana,” was allegedly a leader of al-Qaeda-linked group Ansar Dine. “France has a long memory,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
BRAZILIAN BLOGGER DECAPITATED
Evany José Metzker, a Brazilian journalist known for denouncing corrupt politicians, investigating child prostitution and drug dealing, was found dead in a rural area near the town of Padre Paraíso, Globo reports. The 67-year-old had been missing for five days. “His hands were tied behind his back, and his body showed signs of torture,” a police spokesperson said.
“Alright, that’s pretty much all I got,” David Letterman said at the end of last night’s Late Show, his final broadcast after 33 years of hosting the show. “The only thing I have left to do, for the last time, on a television program — thank you, and goodnight,” he concluded. Stephen Colbert will replace him in September. In the meantime, to bid Letterman farewell, Worldcrunch put together a video of imitators, “Lettermans” from around the world.
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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