Society

French Cave Is Refuge For 'Electro-Hypersensitive,' Victims Of Mega-Connected World

Physically allergic to the electro-magnetic waves of wi-fi coming from mobile phones and high-tension wires, two "electro-hypersensitive" women find refuge deep inside a cave tucked in southeastern France. A dark tale of a very modern ai

Walking in wi-fi waves in Paris (Banalities)
Walking in wi-fi waves in Paris (Banalities)
Doan Bui

BEAUMUGNE – Here on the edges of the Vercors plateau range, in southeastern France, two women live tucked away in a cave high in the hills. Anne Cautain and Bernadette Touloumond say they are "electro-hypersensitive," physically allergic to electro-magnetic waves (EMWs).

On the hillside, a sign reading "Mobile Phones Prohibited" warns visitors to turn off their mobile devices. "I can't take any sort of electro-magnetic waves, whatever they may be: wi-fi, mobile phones or high-tension wires," says Anne Cautain, 52. "It causes burning that is unbearable."

To gain access to the refuge outside the small town of Beaumugne, one must climb a ladder while clinging to a rope – a rather risky endeavor on a wet and slick winter day. It is here where Anne and Bernadette feel best. And yet, deep inside the cave, they are far away from actual fresh air. "Now, with so many antennas going up, we have a hard time even outside here," Cautain says. The inside of their cave quarters is dark and damp, with planks on the floor, allowing them to move around and keep their feet dry. On the ceiling of the would-be living room, plastic sheets keep the humidity out. The furnishings are basic: two beds, a table to drink tea, candles. There is no electricity.

"It began with the burns," says Cautain. "I could no longer stand being at work or in my apartment." A former employee at the University of Nice, Cautain is spending her third winter in the cave. She became allergic to the waves in January 2009 just after the installation of wi-fi at the university. From then, like "a hunted animal," she began to search for escapes from the modern world, looking for "white zones," devoid of all GSM antennas, high-tension wires and wi-fi boxes.

"I was sleeping in my car wrapped up in covers to stay alive. I found a parking lot in the suburbs of Nice, where I was more or less fine. But at night, I was afraid," she says. But soon, the parking lot wasn't enough. The problem was the wi-fi boxes installed throughout the neighborhood, in addition to the proliferation of antennas.

My mother is not insane

So is electro-hypersensibility (EHS) a real syndrome or an imaginary illness? Cautain's daughter Laure, 23, says : "People think my mother is crazy, but her symptoms are real. Are telecom companies so powerful as to make the law themselves?"

Electro-magnetic hypersensibility is no longer considered a crank illness in France, ever since Roselyne Bachelot, then health minister, sought in 2009 to "take into account the suffering of people hypersensitive to electro-magnetic fields."

Though a public study was launched, and the suffering of EHS is officially recognized, its causes are less clearly defined. A report by the National Agency for Health Security noted in 2009: "No scientific proof of causality exists between exposure to radio frequencies and electro-magnetic hypersensitivity."

The oncologist and founder of the Association for Anti-Cancer Research Therapy, Dr. Dominique Belpomme is leading the charge against skeptics of the condition. It was while returning from a consultation in Paris that Anne Cautain made a stop in Burgundy, to a cave explored by spelunkers. There, miraculously, she felt better. A gathering for EHS sufferers took place shortly thereafter in Beaumugne, where she went with her daughter.

Since Cautain set her sights on this rocky opening, she has not left, even quitting her job. "I had been on leave from my job for more than a year because of the illness," she says. "Doctors came to visit me in the cave and put me in the Invalid 2 category." Since then, she receives a monthly pension of 700 euros. "It is fine because we have very few needs. What I miss is not being out in the sun enough," she said.

The cave has become something of a sanctuary for people such as Anne and Bernadette, 66, so much so that they are rarely alone. Laurence came from Grenoble to pay them a visit. "I could no longer take the awful migraines," she said. "A few days here and I was able to sleep." She leaves for her apartment, which is covered with sheets of aluminum, a metal shield of sorts to protect from the waves. The town's mayor hopes the two woman also find a more suitable place to live. But for now, the cave is the only refuge.

"I don't say I enjoy the conditions of my life," sighs Cautain. "But I have no choice. Everywhere else, it is hell."

Read the original article in French

Photo - Banalities

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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

"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.

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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