SPOTLIGHT: VENEZUELAN POLITICAL CRISIS INTENSIFIES
Stories about Venezuelaâ€™s toilet paper shortage are no laughing matter, especially when people are also struggling to access basic food supplies and medicine, and face soaring crime rates and rolling blackouts.
But rather than work together to help alleviate the crisis, President Nicolas Maduro and the political opposition, which controls the legislature, are at each otherâ€™s throats. Opponents are pushing for a referendum to oust the president. Maduro is using his influence over the Supreme Court to fight back. The high court annulled several parliamentary rulings in recent months. It also denied the opposition the two-thirds â€œsupermajorityâ€ it won in Decemberâ€™s elections by blocking three lawmakers from taking their seats.
On Friday, the legislature took matters into its own hands and reinstated the missing lawmakers, bypassing the Supreme Court. Furious, Maduro accused his adversaries Monday of carrying out â€œa parliamentary coupâ€ against the judiciary. He upped the ante Tuesday by threatening to block funding to the legislature. â€œWe canâ€™t use public monies on institutions that disregard the law,â€ Maduro said.
The tit-for-tat is doing nothing, sadly, to improve the plight of everyday citizens. Conditions are so dire that an increasing number of young women are opting for sterilization, according to news reports. Desperate times indeed.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY
- Hurricane Earl is expected to churn toward northern Guatemala or southeastern Mexico later today after making landfall in Belize this morning.
- U.S. President Barack Obama turns 55.
LONDON KNIFE ATTACK
Police are trying to determine what motivated a 19-year-old man to carry out a knife attack yesterday that killed one woman and injured five other people in Londonâ€™s Russell Square.
INDIA OVERHAULS TAX SYSTEM
India passed a bill to revamp its tax system â€" one of the worldâ€™s most complex. The Goods and Services Tax would streamline a patchwork of central and state taxes into one unified economic zone, making it one of the most important economic measures the country has taken since it opened its markets in 1991, The Indian Express reports.
â€" ON THIS DAY
How about a bit of Satchmo today? Check out your 57-second shot of History here.
TURKEY DETAINS 20 ISIS MEMBERS
Turkish news agency Dogan reports that police took into custody 20 suspected members of the Islamic State terror group while conducting simultaneous raids on 22 addresses this morning in the southern city of Adana.
â€" MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
The End Of The End Of The World â€" La Rabida, 1968
POKEMON GOES TO LATIN AMERICA
â€œWhen Voluspa Jarpa got her hands on piles of court papers and declassified CIA documents linked to Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, she saw an opportunity to make art,â€ Ivanna Soto writes for Argentine daily Clarin. Take a tour of her cryptic exhibition in Buenos Aires by reading the full article, Artist Turns CIA Papers Into "Mosaic" Of U.S. Role In Latin America.
AIRSTRIKES HIT ALEPPO HOSPITALS
Six hospitals in and around the Syrian city of Aleppo were hit by airstrikes in just a single week (July 23 to 29), reports NBC News citing Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based rights group.
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The International Olympic Committee approved the addition of five sports to the program of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing.
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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