WHILE YOU SLEPT

Presidential Bids And Baggage

France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy announced his bid to become the Republican party’s candidate in next year’s presidential election. He did so despite his previous claim that he wouldn’t run again. (See our Extra! feature for more) Sarkozy will focus on tax and budget cuts, stopping economic migrants and “organizing Islam,” according to French newspaper Le Figaro. But like politicians running for the top job in the U.S., his campaign hardly feels like a fresh start.


Although it was decided last month that no charges would be filed against Hillary Clinton regarding her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state, the Democratic presidential nominee is still being investigated by the State Department. Just yesterday, a federal judge ordered the release of 15,000 emails uncovered during the investigation. Her Republican rival Donald Trump is also running with a lot of baggage: A New York Times investigation found the real estate mogul had $650 million of debt, twice the amount he’s officially stated.


Back in France, Sarkozy, 61, faces a long list of legal proceedings, including two for which he’s being investigated and could face trial. There’s the Bygmalion scandal, in which he’s accused of letting his party exceed the campaign funding limit during the 2012 election. Sarkozy has also been under investigation for corruption and influence peddling since 2014. He is suspected of having put pressure on a judge to obtain private details on another case in which he was implicated.


It’s not surprising, then, that even in new elections, we feel like we’re seeing more of the same â€" across both sides of the Atlantic.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



TURKEY TARGETS ISIS IN SYRIA

The Turkish military launched artillery strikes against terror group ISIS this morning after two mortar shells hit the Turkish border town of Karkamis, CNN Türk reports. It’s the second day that Turkish forces shelled ISIS positions. They also struck Kurdish militants in northern Syria yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.


FBI TO RELEASE EMAILS CLINTON DIDN’T HAND OVER

The federal watchdog is set to release nearly 15,000 new emails it uncovered during its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The move, which comes before the U.S. presidential election, could jeopardize Clinton’s bid for the White House, The New York Times reports.


â€" ON THIS DAY

Oh, so that’s why it’s called “Stockholm syndrome”...! Get ready for your 57-second shot of History.


$850 MILLION

Tourism revenue in the Paris region dropped by 750 million euros ($850 million) in the first six months of 2016 compared to the previous year, Les Échos reports. Terror attacks, strikes and floods are thought to be the main causes behind the loss.


TRIAL OF BANGKOK SHRINE BOMBING POSTPONED

The first hearing of two Chinese Uighurs accused of bombing the Erawan shrine, which killed 20 people and injured 125 others last year, was postponed to next month, The Bangkok Post reports. The defense’s appointed translator is on the run after he was arrested on drug charges in June.


HORMONE REPLACEMENT THERAPY TRIPLES CANCER RISK

A comprehensive new study found that the treatment, which is used for reducing symptoms of menopause, could triple the risk of breast cancer, The Daily Telegraph reports.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

The Art Of The Cart â€" Agrigento, 1964


VERBATIM

“I am really sorry,” said former jihadist Ahmad al-Mahdi at the opening of his trial for war crimes in The Hague yesterday, The Guardian reports. The 40-year-old is the first defendant to be tried for destroying religious monuments in Timbuktu in 2012, when the ancient Malian city was controlled by Islamist extremists from the Ansar Dine group and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. “Those who forgive me will be rewarded by the almighty. I would like to make them a solemn promise that this was the first and the last wrongful act I will ever commit.”


RAMEN BECOMES MOST VALUABLE COMMODITY IN U.S. PRISONS

The calorie-rich noodles are more prized than even cigarettes, according to a study led by a researcher from the University of Arizona. The shift indicates a decline in prison food quality and quantity.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Ghana is trying to gradually develop renewable energy sources. The cornerstone of this new policy is the Chinese-owned BXC solar farm â€" the largest solar plant in West Africa. From Ghana’s capital, Accra, Caterina Clerici writes for Italian daily La Stampa that though things are slow, the country is making steady progress: “Ghana has been grappling with a severe energy crisis since 2012, which has, at its worst, caused day-long blackouts across the country. Locals even have a name for the phenomenon: dumsor, which literally means ‘on and off, off and on.’ ...

‘Some mornings we arrive and there's no power, we know it will come back but we don’t know when,’ says Grace Ogrey, owner of a frozen chicken store at the Asafo market in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city. ... In a country where refrigeration is still a luxury for most restaurants, businesses and households, ‘cold stores’ like Grace's are an essential part of daily life. But with dumsor, the lines of people who used to gather outside the shop are no more.”

Read the full article, Can Chinese Solar Panels Keep The Lights On In Ghana?


MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

NEXT OLYMPIC IS A TECH OLYMPIC

Can’t wait for the next Olympics? The 2020 Games in Tokyo will be all about technology from robots and translation gadgets to artificial meteorite showers.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

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.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"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.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

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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