WHILE YOU SLEPT

Record Brexit Support, Obama’s Oil Tax, Johnny Cash Spider

Record Brexit Support, Obama’s Oil Tax, Johnny Cash Spider

SYRIANS FLEE ALEPPO AMID FIGHTING

Up to 70,000 Syrians may be heading north to Turkey as a consequence of heavy fighting near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the figure was more likely around 40,000. “Now 10,000 new refugees are waiting in front of the door of Kilis (Turkey’s border town) because of air bombardment and attacks against Aleppo,” the BBC quotes Davutoglu as saying.

  • Saudi Arabia, an enemy of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, may be preparing to send ground troops to fight ISIS in Syria in coordination with Turkey, The Guardian reports.
  • The Financial Times warns that Europe’s Mediterranean ports are vulnerable because ships are free to sail without any oversight. According to the newspaper, 540 cargo ships entered European waters after “suspiciously” sailing through “the territorial waters of terrorist hotspots Syria and Libya.”
  • A report in The New York Times shows that thousands of Iraqi refugees are returning home, disappointed with a life in Europe that’s “was not what we were expecting.”
CLINTON, SANDERS FACE OFF

For their last debate before next week’s New Hampshire primary, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clashed last night on the establishment, what it means to be progressive, Wall Street money in politics and foreign policy. According The Hill, Clinton “came into the debate seeking a jumpstart of momentum after Sanders fell within a hair's breadth of knocking her off in Iowa.” But New Hampshire polls shows she’s 20 points behind Sanders on average. Among Republicans, Trump still holds a substantial lead, but support for Cruz and Rubio is rising, The Wall Street Journal reports.


45%

A YouGov poll published in The Times shows that 45% of Britons support the country leaving the EU, with 36% opposed to the idea of a so-called Brexit. It’s the Vote Leave campaign’s biggest lead yet ahead of a referendum scheduled to take place by the end of 2017. The poll found that 17% were undecided and 2% planned not to vote at all. The results represent a blow for Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently presented the outline of a deal to keep the UK in the EU but with “substantial changes” to Britain’s membership terms.


FIRST PREGNANT EU WOMAN DIAGNOSED WITH ZIKA

Photo: Diego Herculano/Xinhua/ZUMA

Authorities in Catalonia, Spain, confirmed yesterday that a pregnant woman had been diagnosed with Zika, the first such case reported in Europe, according to El País. The 41-year-old woman is between her 13th and 14th week of pregnancy and is said to have contracted the disease during a recent trip to Colombia, where three patients have died. A total of six people have been diagnosed with Zika in Catalonia.

For more, read this Folha de S. Paulo/Worldcrunch piece, Zika Outbreak Exposes Brazilian Incompetence.


FAREWELL SHINING STAR

Maurice White, co-founder and singer of Earth, Wind & Fire, has died at the age of 74, after more than two decades with Parkinson’s disease.


HISTORIC MEETING FOR POPE AND RUSSIAN PATRIARCH

Pope Francis and his counterpart from the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, have confirmed an unprecedented meeting of the leaders of two branches of Christianity that have been separated since the Great Schism of 1054, Rome-based daily La Repubblica reports. The Feb. 12 meeting in Havana will include Cuban President Raul Castro to serve as a go-between for a ceremony that will include a handshake and signing of a joint declaration, said a Vatican spokesman who gave details of what he called “good news.” Francis will stop off in Cuba on his way to an already scheduled one-week trip to Mexico.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Niki Lauda is a Formula 1 legend. After the accident at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring nearly killed him, Lauda was back in the driver’s seat seven weeks later. In an exclusive interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, the son of Austrian industrialists speaks about his family’s attempt to derail his career, living with the daily risk of death on the job and the loneliness of a life in which, at the age of 66, his only real friend is his wife.

Read the full article, Formula 1 Icon Niki Lauda: No Friends If You Want To Finish First.


ASSANGE’S FATE UNCERTAIN … FOR THE MOMENT

A press conference with Julian Assange and his legal team began at noon in London, as television cameras (and British police) waited to see if the WikiLeaks founder would walk out of the Ecuadorian embassy today as he has pledged to do, risking arrest. A UN panel has ruled that Assange has been “arbitrarily detained” by the UK and Sweden, confirming a report published yesterday by the BBC. Assange, who’s been staying at the embassy in London since mid-2012 to avoid being arrested and deported over sexual assault charges in Sweden, should also be entitled to “an enforceable right to compensation,” the panel said. Britain’s Foreign Office said it “completely rejects” the ruling, and Swedish authorities released a similar statement.


ON THIS DAY


It’s soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo’s 31st birthday and the anniversary of the largest gold nugget ever discovered. See what else we’ve got for you in today’s video shot of history.


OBAMA UNVEILS OIL TAX PLAN

U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a $10 tax per barrel of oil yesterday in a bid to create “a clear incentive for private sector innovation to reduce our reliance on oil and at the same time invest in clean energy technologies that will power our future,” The White House said in a statement. Though the fee is meant to be paid by oil companies, White House economic adviser Jeff Zients admitted that the companies “will likely pass on some of these costs” to customers.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



JAPANESE VOLCANO ERUPTS

Mount Sakurajima, a volcano that overlooks the city of Kagoshima and is located 30 miles from a nuclear power plant, erupted just before 7 p.m. local time today with a fiery blast that sent lava rolling down its slope, Japan Today reports. There were no immediate reports of injuries, but the Meteorological Agency expanded a no-go zone around the volcano and warned that areas near residential districts could be affected.


SOUTH AFRICAN MINERS TRAPPED

About 87 people are trapped after a building collapsed at a gold mine in eastern South Africa, AP reports. A miners union spokesman said that 80 people had already been rescued and had no serious injuries.


THE JOHNNY CASH TARANTULA

“It's a perfect name. It fits the spider â€" it's found around Folsom and the males are predominantly all black, so it fits his image.” Meet Aphonopelma johnnycashi, one of 14 new species of tarantulas.

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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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