The situation has largely calmed in France, after a three-day manhunt came to a bloody end on Friday evening with a total of 17 dead on top of the three gunmen killed by the police in the final assaults. Here are Saturday’s key events.
1. FOURTH SUSPECT ON THE RUN The police are still looking for 26-year-old Hayat Boumeddiene, the partner of Amedy Coulibaly, the terrorist who shot a policewoman dead on Thursday and executed four hostages at a kosher shop on the outskirts of Paris on Friday. She was initially thought to have been present at some point during the siege, and at Thursday's killing of the policewoman. But an unnamed police source told Le Figaro that she is now in Syria, having allegedly flown from Madrid to Istanbul on Jan. 2, days before the attacks. According to the Paris prosecutors’ office, there were “constant and sustained” contacts between Coulibaly and Chérif Kouachi, one of the gunmen at Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, via their respective partners. Part of Disneyland Paris was evacuated at midday, after a woman falsely claiming to be Boumeddiene shouted from her hotel room that she was going to set off an explosion. The woman was arrested.
2. KOSHER MARKET VICTIMS We now know the names of the four hostages killed during the kosher supermarket siege yesterday in Porte de Vincennes. The victims are four Jewish males, Yoav Hattab, 21, Philippe Braham, in his 40s, Yohan Cohen, 22, and Francois-Michel Saada, in his 60s. The police believe they were killed at the beginning at the hostage situation. Details emerged of how many people who were in the supermarket when the siege began managed to hide in an underground cold room with the help of a Muslim employee from Mali. “When I turned the refrigerated room off, I closed the door and told them to stay calm,” he told reporters.
3. MASS RALLIES As many as 700,000 people participated in marches in France’s main cities, the Interior Ministry said. More rallies are set for Sunday, notably in Paris where foreign leaders including David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Eric Holder, Sergei Lavrov, Petro Poroshenko and many others. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided at the end of the day to attend as well, after wavering throughout much of Saturday. Representatives of most French parties will be there alongside President François Hollande, though it is unclear whether Marine Le Pen and her right-wing Front National party will be there. More than 5,500 troops will be deployed in the region as the whole territory remain on the highest terror alert level.
"Je Suis Charlie" march in the northwestern city of Rouen — Photo: @rimatabtab
4. INVESTIGATION CONTINUES Investigators believe that the attacks carried by the Kouachi brother and Coulibaly were coordinated, but they are still trying to establish if and how they were coordinated. Despite the obvious fact that the gunmen appeared to know what they were doing during the attacks and that they’d been professionally trained, a senior police official told Le Monde that they appeared to have “no long-term plan,” describing their action as “entirely sacrificial.” Investigators are also exploring the link between the Kouachi brothers and al-Qaeda in Yemen, as the organization threatened to carry out more attacks against France.
5. HAMAS CONDEMNS ATTACK Four days after the attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, Palestinian Islamist group Hamas joined its voices to other religious organizations against the killings, saying that “differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder,” AFP reports. The organization also denounced what it sees as “desperate attempts by Netanyahu to make a connection” between Hamas and “global terrorism.”
6. LE PEN CONTROVERSY Jean-Marie Le Pen, father of Marine Le Pen and former leader of France’s far-right party Front National sparked controversy after saying in his online video blog “I’m sorry, but I’m not Charlie,” denouncing a “manipulation with the complicity of the media.” Although he said he was “affected by the death of fellow Frenchmen,” he added he wouldn’t fight “to defend an anarchist-trostkyist frame of mind.” On Friday, the former nationalist leader had been accused of trying to gain politically from the then unfolding events after he tweeted a picture of his daughter with the words, in English, “Keep calm and vote Le Pen.”
Rally in Toulouse — Photo: @lechatquifouine
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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