â€œWAR CRIMESâ€ ON SYRIAN HOSPITALS, SCHOOLS
France and Turkey have denounced the bombing of five hospitals and two schools in Syria, labeling them as war crimes, the BBC reports. At least 50 people were killed by yesterdayâ€™s strikes in the Aleppo and Idlib provinces, the UN has said. Different warring parties are blaming one another. Turkey is blaming Russia, while Doctors Without Borders, which ran one of the bombed hospitals, accuses â€œeither the Syrian government or Russia.â€ Meanwhile, Syrian ambassador to Moscow Riad Haddad claims the U.S. was behind the strikes. While Moscow has yet to respond to the allegations, the bombings could seriously hinder an agreed ceasefire set to begin this week. In a TIME interview published yesterday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Russia had no plans to cease bombing rebel positions until Moscowâ€™s allies in Damascus could achieve peace on favorable terms.
UN PROBES NEW RAPE CHARGES
The United Nations is investigating new allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, Jeune Afrique quoted UN spokesman Farhan Haq as saying this morning. Minors are reportedly among the victims. The UN said earlier this month it had already identified seven other cases of sexual abuse by its troops. In December, an independent review panel also accused the UN of grossly mishandling allegations of child sexual abuse in 2013 and 2014, Reuters reports.
â€œI feel a sacred responsibility to finish this show,â€ Eagles of Death Metal frontman Jesse Hughes told television network iTélé yesterday. The California band, which was playing at the Bataclan theater in Paris during the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, is set to perform in the French capitalâ€™s Olympia theater tonight for its first full concert since the tragedy that left 130 dead, including 90 at the Bataclan. Survivors of the Bataclan attack were given free invitations to tonightâ€™s performance. Hughes, a longtime gun rights advocate, also took aim at the countryâ€™s strict anti-firearm legislation. â€œDid your French gun control stop a single fucking person from dying at the Bataclan?â€ he said, adding that he wanted â€œeveryone to have access to them.â€
CAMEROON KILLS 162 TERRORISTS
Cameroon military forces retook Nigeriaâ€™s northeastern town of Goshi from the Boko Haram terror group over the weekend, killing 162 of its fighters, AP quoted the countryâ€™s communications minister as saying. About 100 people the group was holding were also freed. The three-day operation led to the destruction of several bomb factories and two Boko Haram training centers. Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed.
ON THIS DAY
Happy birthday to Valentino â€œThe Doctorâ€ Rossi! That and more in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history
BROTHER GEORGE PITCHES JEB IN S.C.
Former U.S. President George W. Bush made a return to the political arena last night, speaking to a South Carolina gathering to back his brother Jeb Bushâ€™s presidential campaign. He told a Charleston convention hall packed with more than 1,000 supporters that his brother Jeb, former Florida governor, had the temperament of a head of state, The Washington Post reports. â€œAmericans are angry and frustrated, but we do not need someone in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our frustration,â€ the 41st president said, tacitly referring to Republican rival Donald Trump, who has blamed George W. Bush in part for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Philippine government has agreed to auction the jewelry collection of late dictator Ferdinand Marcosâ€™ widow Imelda Marcos, which international experts say is worth $21 million, Filipino website Sun Star reports. The collection includes a 25-carat, barrel-shaped diamond worth at least $5 million and a Cartier diamond tiara that is now many times more valuable than the previous estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It was seized when Marcos and his family fled to Hawaii in 1986 from a popular revolt that ended his two decades in power.
BELGIUM ARRESTS 10 IN ANTI-ISIS RAIDS
In a series of raids in Brussels this morning, Belgian police arrested 10 people suspected of being part of an ISIS recruitment ring, Belgian news network RTBF reports. â€œOur investigation points to several persons having left for Syria to join ISIS,â€ Belgiumâ€™s federal prosecutors said in a statement. Computers and cellphones seized during the raids are currently being examined.
India is balking at Mark Zuckerbergâ€™s plans to offer free but limited Internet access, which is ultimately aimed at boosting Facebookâ€™s numbers. The question is whether the rest of the world will follow, Süddeutsche Zeitungâ€™s Johannes Boie reports. â€œThe Californian company is largely deaf to the protests, and keeps repeating that the program is about creating jobs, providing education and expanding communication. It is true, after all, that somebody has to connect the rural areas of India to the Internet, and the sooner the better. Indiaâ€™s authorities saw through Facebookâ€™s rhetoric, which happened to be missing some important facts: A billion Indians on Facebook would be a major new market for Facebook, whose growth is flattening in the U.S. and Europe.â€
Read the full article, India To Zuckerberg: We Donâ€™t Believe Facebookâ€™s Big PR Lie.
MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
A COLD BET
Seattle startup Swanluv is betting that more marriages will fail than prosper. The company gives couples up to $10,000 when they marry, but the money must be paid back â€" with interest â€" if they divorce. Co-founder Scott Avy told The Washington Post that the aim is to encourage couples to stay together. But with about one in two marriages ending in a divorce, it might just be the perfect way to get rich.
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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