'Burn Them' - Egyptian TV Cheers Massive Death Sentence

"Clean and fair.." is how Egypt's judiciary was described across the airwaves after the decision to execute 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

An Egyptian student hugs his sister after he was sentenced to death
An Egyptian student hugs his sister after he was sentenced to death
Mada Masr

CAIRO While the decision to hand the death sentence to 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood on charges of storming and burning a Minya police station was met with condemnation from local and international rights watchdogs, Egyptian television had a different story to tell.

Most Egyptian satellite television channels, increasingly a mouthpiece for state institutions, particularly after last summer's ouster of the Brotherhood from power, celebrated the judiciary for the move.

Ahmad Moussa, who presents a show titled “Ala Masou'ouleyati” (On my Responsibility) at privately owned Sada al-Balad channel, opened his show expand=1] with a salute to the Egyptian judiciary.

“I salute the fairness and justice of our judiciary in defiance of those killers, and all those who attack it. Egypt's judiciary is clean and fair,” he said.

Moussa slammed human rights organizations for attacking the judiciary, saying that their job is to defend the human rights of the Muslim Brotherhood while forgetting about the people.

Responding to criticism of the death sentence being handed to hundreds in one go, he said, “May they be 10,000, 20,000, not 500. We are not sad, we are happy.”

“Burn them, burn their bodies, burn their clothes,” he continued. “The state will win under the law and not with violence,” he concluded paradoxically.

A less fired up and more smiley Rania Badawy, of “Fel Midan” (In The Square) show, broadcast on privately owned Tahrir channel, opened by saying, “Today, we got justice, the justice that we want. We are tired of your violence. We will build the country despite your war.”

Badawy used heavily religious language in her show to slam the Muslim Brotherhood by saying that they can do what they want, but God is there to protect us.

Badawy also featured the wife of the policeman killed in Minya in the aftermath of the violent dispersal of the Brotherhood sit-in in Rabea al-Adaweya last August. The policeman's death is one of the main charges for which the 529 defendants were sentenced to death.

While Moussa slammed human rights organizations for criticism of the ruling, Badawy singled out Washington, after the State Department expressed concerns about the verdict. In nationalist rhetoric, which is common nowadays, Badawy asked why the U.S. is ignoring the rest of the world and focusing on Egypt's judiciary.

She also criticized the response from Egypt's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which she deemed mild. “Egyptian diplomacy is too diplomatic in my opinion,” she said. Her advice to diplomats for how to address the U.S.: “Respond in a stronger way; choose your words; be cruel; take a position,” she said.

On privately owned Al-Qahera Wal Nass, Naela Omara, presenter of the show expand=1] “Hizb al-Kanaba” (The Couch Party), that triumphs those who countered or felt apathetic toward the January 25 revolution, also gave the news of the death sentence with a smile.

She began her show by praying for the prosperity of all Egyptians, “except for a few,” she said, a clear refererence to the Brotherhood.

“This is a judicial ruling, we shouldn't comment on it. But, we should understand it. We should remind the people of what happened and how Minya was the victim of Brotherhood violence following the dispersal of the terrorist colony of Rabea al-Adaweya,” she said.

She went on to cite police casualties in Minya following the sit-in dispersal, reminding her viewers of churches that were burnt, museums looted and police stations raided, allegedly by the Brotherhood.

Like Moussa and Badawy, she slammed all those who stood against the verdict. “The state cannot meet violence with violence? What should it meet it with? A wedding procession? Ball gowns?”

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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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