FRANCE FOOTBALL, AFP (France) LE SOIR (Belgium)
PARIS – When Qatar was chosen as the site for soccer's World Cup in 2022, the sports world let out a collective: What?...Where?? But for the more cynical, the real question has always been: How?
According to Paris-based sports weekly France Football, the answer to that last question is: corruption. The French magazine published a 20-page investigation this week delving into the decision two years ago "outside any logic" by FIFA, soccer's international governing board, to award the World Cup to the wealthy Gulf emirate.
"Should we re-vote for the 2022 World Cup?" titles France Football. That Qatar is such a weak soccer country (ranked 106th in the world) was the first reason many observers believed something was not right in its being chosen the 21st host of the World Cup.
But now, the respected French soccer weekly, which many in the sport know for its annual awarding of the Ballon d’or (Golden Ball) for the world's top footballer, is detailing specific allegations for how Qatar essentially paid its way to hosting the event.
Top soccer personalities were allegedly paid large sums to praise the country’s qualities at FIFA conventions -- the magazine says 11 million euros was the price for French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane, and a reportedly hefty check also to FC Barcelona’s coach at the time, Pep Guardiola.
Guido Tognoni, a former FIFA member, qualified the soccer federation “a little mafia.”
“It’s hard to talk about buying votes (per se), but rather the arrangement of votes thanks to agreements and the exchanging of favors,” Tognoni told France Football, according to a rundown of the accusations in the Belgium daily Le Soir.
France Football cites a meal in November 2010 at the French Presidential palace hosted by then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with Qatari Prince Al Thani and French football legend Michel Platini, who is a key FIFA board member and head of European soccer's governing board. France Football says the Qataris wanted to negotiate for Platini’s vote for the World Cup selection bid in exchange for the creation of a sports satellite TV channel and the purchase of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) soccer club.
PSG is now owned by the Qatar Investment Authority, which also runs Bein sports TV network in France. Platini lashed out at the accusations, telling AFP: "I made my choice with complete independence following a simple logic... opening up countries who have never organised major sporting events....With the same concern for transparency, it was me who revealed to the media that a few weeks before the vote I was invited to dinner by Nicolas Sarkozy."
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.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
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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