MUSKOVITES MARCH OVER POLITICIAN’S MURDER
Tens of thousands of people marched in Moscow yesterday in remembrance of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was shot dead near the Kremlin Friday evening. Between 16,000 and 70,000 are believed to have attended the march, with some people carrying signs reading, “I am not afraid.”
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- Nemtsov, an outspoken critic of President Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian conflict, was an experienced politician and had served as deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. He was shot four times by a gunman in a car as he was walking near the Red Square, circumstances that suggest the killer was a professional who had carefully identified his target, The Moscow Times writes.
- Critics of Putin have said the murder was politically motivated and accused the president. Russian officials, meanwhile, have denounced the “filthy crime” aimed at destabilizing Russia. Nemtsov’s death “has all the hallmarks of a contract killing and is of a purely provocational nature,” Putin said.
UN Refugee Agency Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl told the BBC that “it is a figure of shame for the entire world” that 860,000 Palestinians are dependent on food assistance. He also highlighted the significant gap between the money pledged after last summer’s Gaza conflict and the actual money that the agency received to help with the enclave’s reconstruction.
IRAQ LAUNCHES TIKRIT OFFENSIVE
The Iraqi army has launched a large-scale military offensive to retake the city of Tikrit, hometown of late leader Saddam Hussein, Al Jazeera reports. At least 30,000 troops and militia groups have started attacking ISIS positions near the Tigris river and are trying to encircle the city, backed with army jets. According to an Al Jazeera reporter, “this is one of the biggest military operations that will eventually proceed to take back Mosul,” ISIS’ stronghold in Iraq, for which the Pentagon also has plans.
- Harakat Hazm, the first Syrian rebel group to be given U.S. weapons, announced it would dissolve after suffering heavy defeats at the hands of the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. According to Reuters, the group has joined a bigger Islamist alliance, the Shamiyah front.
PRO-WEST PARTY WINS IN ESTONIA
Taavi Roivas, at 35 Europe’s youngest prime minister, and his pro-NATO Reform party have won Estonia’s parliamentary election that was largely overshadowed by security concerns related to the Ukraine conflict and what is perceived as a military threat from Russia, AFP reports. With 30 seats in a 101-member parliament, Roivas will have to seek a coalition partner, but he has already ruled out governing with the pro-Russian party Center, which won 27 seats.
“I feel really awful. Here I am doing charity work and one of my dearest friends is being buried,” William Shatner wrote on Twitter to justify his absence at Leonard Nimoy’s funeral. Shatner was the target of much criticism from Star Trek fans for his decision to uphold his commitment despite Spock’s passing.
DEADLY BACTERIA FROM LOUISIANA LAB
Despite weeks of investigation, authorities have found no explanation for how a deadly type of bacteria was released from a Louisiana lab north of New Orleans, USA Today reports. The release of Burkholderia pseudomallei, which was found in four monkey-like rhesus macaques, is believed to have happened in November and is considered a potential bioterror agent. Officials have said there is no public health threat, but the newspaper suggests too few samples were taken to assess the risk.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
On March 2, 1946, Ho Chi Minh was elected president of North Vietnam. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
L.A. POLICE KILL HOMELESS MAN
Graphic footage has emerged online showing LAPD officers shooting and killing a homeless and apparently unarmed man in Los Angeles’ Skid Row area after a struggle. The victim’s identity hasn’t been released yet, according to The Los Angeles Times. One witness said the man had tried to reach for a policeman’s gun during the fight.
‘O LUNA MIA
Check out this week's horoscope, straight from the Eternal City.
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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