King Juan Carlos, Charlie Chaplin And Calling It Quits

Juan Carlos I of Spain in 2011
Juan Carlos I of Spain in 2011
Ricardo Roa

Geraldine Chaplin once recalled her famous father's resilient humor, which persisted even onto his death bed.

At 88, Charlie Chaplin's health was failing, and as doctors and relatives observed him, his eyes closed and barely breathing, Geraldine's mother audibly declared that the "final moment" had come.

"I'm just playing dead," Chaplin muttered back.

He remained to the end the energetic, lively man he had always been. He married four times and had 11 children. Yet one of them, the actress Geraldine Chaplin, has said on a current visit to Buenos Aires that at the age of 69 she feels "like 97." She insists she has felt old since turning 50.

Geraldine is a talented actress. She was and remains a beautiful woman, as as our own recent picture of her shows. But does what she says reflect how she is, or how she wants us to see her?

Old age can take several forms. An old man can feel young, and a young man old. Geraldine may have inherited her father's lively genes, but the desire to live happily is something we gradually construct, in spite of passing time or bumps along the way.

Geraldine Chaplin in 2012 — Photo: Odessa International Film Festival

Geraldine complains that the human life is "poorly made" when the body ages and youthful desires remain. There is, alas, no rewind button.

Blame the son-in-law

King Juan Carlos's abdication announcement on Monday is also undoubtedly linked to time and age, but perhaps more so to something very different: an unfortunate thing called corruption.

The king is 76 years old now. History will remember him as the monarch that helped steer Spain toward democracy after the death of General Francisco Franco. He helped save it in 1981, intervening against an attempted coup. Franco had anointed him successor, but he chose to confront the past and look to the future. He had a key role in modernizing Spanish politics and democracy.

But all this seemed to have faded in recent years — or at least become partly eclipsed by the failings around him. No, we are not referring to his love affairs, but to the corruption, above all a scandal involving his daughter and son-in-law, which stained the monarch's image and made him the object of increasing suspicion about his reign.

A few years ago, the monarchy was the country's most esteemed institution among Spaniards. Now it ranks sixth. Complicated interpretations aside, we can say that the King is passing on power to his son Prince Felipe not because he feels too old to do what he is doing. He just knows that it is time to go.

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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

"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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