MIGRANT CRISIS WORSENS IN SE ASIA
“Out at sea with nowhere to go,” reads today’s front-page headline in Malaysian daily The Star, alongside a photo of Rohingya migrants, a persecuted minority, waiting on a boat adrift off the coast of Thailand. According to the UN, about 6,000 refugees fleeing Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Bangladesh are stranded at sea, a humanitarian disaster in the making, as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia are all turning away the migrant boats, many of which no longer have food and water and are dealing with spreading illness. Read more about the crisis in our Extra! feature.
COUP LEADERS ARRESTED, BURUNDI PRESIDENT RETURNS
Burundi troops loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza have arrested three of the leaders behind this week’s failed coup attempt. The main leader, General Godefroid Niyombare, is still on the run, but he told AFP he was willing to give himself up. “We have decided to surrender. I hope they won't kill us,” he said.
- The presidential office announced that Nkurunziza was back in the country from neighboring Tanzania, where he was visiting when the attempted coup began Wednesday. He’s expected to address the nation later today.
- According to Radio France Internationale, the leader of the protest movement against Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a third term has called for more demonstrations.
“This ice shelf has existed for at least 10,000 years, and soon it will be gone,” NASA scientist Ala Khazendar said upon the agency’s announcement that an important section of Antarctica’s ice shelf would likely disappear by the end of the decade.
ON THIS DAY
A yet-to-be-famous little mouse was appearing in a cartoon for the first time ever 87 years ago today. Get ready for your 57-second shot of history.
INDIA AND CHINA SIGN MULTI-BILLION DEALS
India Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in China where he has signed 24 bilateral deals worth $10 billion with his counterpart Li Keqiang, The Times of India reports. The agreements cover diverse areas, from railways, mining and space cooperation to tourism and earthquake science and engineering. Modi highlighted that the talks had been “candid, constructive and friendly” but called on China to “reconsider its approach on some of the issues that hold us back from realizing full potential of our partnership.”
- Another sign of increasing BRICS investment comes from Brazil, where China is to invest $50 billion in infrastructure. The deals will be presented next week, when Keqiang visits Brazil and South America.
Boundaries of personal space can depend on geography and wealth, and city planners and interior designers should keep that in mind when drawing up blueprints for the future, writes Clarin’s Miguel Jurado. “Personal space draws out our comfort zone and psychological security, but it's very difficult to measure,” he writes. “It changes according to personal experiences, culture, the time we live in, age groups and social classes. In the West, for example, studies have found that the average person's personal space extends 60 centimeters from each side of the body, 70 centimeters to the front and 40 behind. But in Latin cultures, it's smaller. Anglo-Saxons seem to require the most.”
Read the full article, A Close (But Not Too Close) Look At Personal Space.
FRANCE TO END RUSSIAN MISTRAL CONTRACT
France has reportedly offered to terminate its Mistral helicopter carrier contract with Russia. Paris would offer the repayment of 785 million euros ($893 million), on condition that Russia first agrees to the sale of the two ships to a third party (possibly China) “without any reservations.” According to Kommersant, Moscow strongly opposes the terms and estimates the “costs and losses” at 1.163 billion euros ($1.32 billion).
- France was supposed to deliver the first ship to Russia in November, but President François Hollande cancelled the transfer in reaction to the Ukrainian conflict. Earlier this week, French magazine Le Point reported that instead of bringing in 1.2 billion euros to government coffers, the broken contract could cost the country between 2 and 5 billion euros.
The United States is expected to run out of Internet Protocol addresses this summer, but only 9% of the web has made the switch from the old version 4 to the new IPv6 norm, The Wall Street Journal reports. The shortage for companies that haven’t made the switch could be costly, the newspaper warns. The old protocol allowed for the creation of 4.3 billion IP addresses, which are the “Internet’s equivalent of phone numbers.” But the new one should have us all covered for some time with its mind-boggling 340 undecillion addresses, (that’s 340 followed by 36 zeroes).
ISIS LEADER RELEASES MESSAGE
ISIS has released what it said was an audio recording of its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he urged Muslims all over the world to “migrate to the Islamic State” or to “carry weapons wherever you are,” Al Jazeera reports. The message’s authenticity hasn’t been verified, but if confirmed, it would be Baghdadi’s first communication since reports that he had been wounded in Iraq.
Photo: James Colburn/ZUMA
Blues legend B. B. King has died in Las Vegas, at the age of 89. As “Blues Boy” put it himself, “The expand=1] thrill is gone away from me … I'm free from your spell. And now that it’s all over, all I can do is wish you well.”
ANOTHER SCOTTISH INDY REFERENDUM?
Last week’s combined victories of Britain’s Conservative party and of the leftist Scottish National Party could pave the way for a second Scottish independence referendum just months after voters chose to remain in the UK, The Guardian reports. According to a senior source inside the SNP, the party is considering holding a new referendum with or without British Prime Minister David Cameron’s approval if his government refuses to give more powers to the Scottish Parliament.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
KOOKY KIWI EMBLEMS
Tired of living in Australia’s shadow, New Zealand’s government decided that changing the country’s flag would be a good idea. But some of the designs put forward ahead of a referendum later this year suggest that maybe it isn’t.
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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