Look Who's Coming To Dinner: Cops Invite Themselves To Homes Of Young Criminals

In Switzerland, police officers and educators invite themselves to dine with kids under investigation, and their families, in a new effort to get both parent and child to understand the consequences of criminal behavior.

Swiss police (Kecko)
Swiss police (Kecko)
Catherine Cossy

ZURICH - You have to picture the scene. It's still early in the evening. The teenager is slouching a bit in his chair, avoiding eye-contact with his parents. The atmosphere is tense. Drinks and food have been served to the two guests who have taken a place at the family dinner table. Though the basics of the visitors are already known, everyone is now waiting for them to explain the exact purpose of their presence.

"My son hasn't done anything serious," the mother slips in once again. That's Martin Niederer's cue. He introduces himself: he's a police officer, a member of the Zurich juvenile division; his fellow guest is a representative of the prosecuting authorities. Niederer then asks the youngster to tell as accurately as possible what he did to find himself in the sights of justice.

The young man in question - in 90% of cases, they are boys - complies because he knows that this would be even more unpleasant if the two visitors were to tell the story in his place.

In Zurich, the police juvenile department and the youth court have been working together for the past two years on a new project. A policeman and an educator - responsible for conducting a background check on the juvenile delinquent's friends and relatives - go to the families of minors under investigation for violent behavior, including assault and battery, robbery, and other such crimes.

The purpose of this process? "We want to reach parents and get them involved in the proceedings. And also encourage them to take things into their own hands when it comes to the education of their children," says Niederer, who has participated in 25 such visits.

As it turns out, parents have usually heard only their kid's side of the story, that is, a somewhat watered-down version of what happened. For example, they know that things got heated on a Saturday night, and that a few punches and kicks were thrown. That the police came and that they asked a few questions.

"We don't know his friends'

The parents are usually in for a big surprise, and discover an altogether less inoffensive reality. Behind his small glasses, the 30-something, blue-eyed Niederer explains how it usually goes down. "When the son finishes his story, the father and the mother have a wide-eyed expression on their face. The mask disappears. Almost every time, that's when a visible change occurs. The parents, who were very suspicious at first, gradually open up and become more willing to discuss the problems they face with their son. ‘He always does what he wants anyway" and ‘We don't know who his friends are," are among the comments we hear most often."

Of course, the parents have been informed of the ongoing investigation, and were asked to show up – sometimes on several occasions -- at the police station. "But most of the time, we've got the feeling that they're not grasping just how serious the situation is. This may come from the way they were presented the facts, but it is mostly a psychological barrier. They want to believe that nothing really happened," the policeman says.

This protective shell is now shattered to pieces. Once the conversation is engaged, Martin Niederer, who practices martial arts, takes the opportunity to explain before the whole family the consequences of the blows that were dealt. Often, the young person went for the head, or even kept on hitting someone who had already fallen to the ground. In some cases, the injuries sustained are severe enough for the delinquent to be later sentenced to preventive detention.

"We give examples of cases that really happened, and it's all the more striking. Almost all the kids say they were unaware of how dangerous their actions were." The presence of siblings can also have a favorable effect. It is not uncommon for a big brother to assume a very active role. He sometimes knows more about the situation than the parents, and will better be able talk to his younger brother.

Going to the juvenile deliquents' homes is what makes this project original. "Everywhere, people agreed to welcome us, and some families had even prepared a meal for us. Both parents were always there, even in the case of divorced or fighting couples. It was a surprise to us. I mean, the State is basically sitting in your living room," jokes Niederer.

But the State is not there for investigation purposes. There will be no questioning of the young defendant. These visits are not seen as an intrusion into the private sphere. On the contrary, the parents – often of foreign origin - tend to greatly appreciate their presence.

Taking a first look back on the 25 home visits that took place over the past two years, it turns out that the families feel they have been taken seriously and are grateful that someone took the trouble to visit them. This helps build trust and eases the implementation of measures that can be ordered by the court: institutionalization of the child, therapy, family follow-ups, etc.

The City of Zurich has to decide in early 2012 if this project will continue. Martin Niederer, the only policeman in the juvenile division to conduct these visits, would love to be able to convince other colleagues to join him. Why is he putting so much effort in moving away from the classic image of a cop? "I really believe that for once, we can still change the way things are with young people."

Read the original article in French

Photo – Kecko

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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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