Meet The Swiss Gold Hunter With No Plans To Get Rich

Patrick Jan barely scratches out a living. He is too busy making his childhood dream come true.

Patrick Jan panning for gold
Patrick Jan panning for gold
Xavier Lambiel

AUBONNE â€" Patrick Jan works with monk-like patience to carefully pick out gold flecks with the tips of his fingers and place them in a small flask where they sparkle in the sunlight. Since childhood, Jan has been dreaming of gold.

And yet, years of hunting the precious metal have not made him rich. In fact, Jan admits that he barely ekes out a living. After a hard day's work here in western Switzerland, he harvests around one gram of gold, which is worth about 40 Swiss francs ($41.73)

To make some extra money, Jan guides people curious to hunt gold as a summer activity in the hilly river beds of Switzerland. He's able to share the knowledge he has accumulated, especially over the past eight years of professional gold panning that involves sifting rivers and streams with his feet. "I don't earn much, but I've got a beautiful office."

Wild West nostalgia

The most important part of the technique is the wrist movement, Jan explains, slowly whirling his pan. Thanks to the rotating movements, flecks of gold appear among ferrous sands, lighting up the lone miner's eyes.

Raised with spaghetti westerns, Jan remembers first dreaming of gold when he was six years old. Only later did he realize he was born too late, long after the great California and Klondike gold rushes. So he had his hand at many other jobs: roofer, painter, and delivery man.

Just before he turned 30, a friend showed Jan a press clipping of a fortune seeker who had found a gold nugget of 123 grams in the Swiss canton of Grisons. The two men set off toward Disentis, a municipality in the canton. In the first few days, Patrick tried with a gold-mining pan that he'd made himself. Then he bought a professional tool, but they were "too much in a hurry" and came up empty. But on the second trip, near the town of Aubonnes, Jan founded 4 grams of gold. A subsequent visit to Grisons, and some "beginner’s luck," netted eight more grams. Jan was permanently afflicted with Gold Fever.

Switzerland’s slim reserves

Switzerland is considered to have poor gold deposits, and there are virtually no miners working in a professional capacity. Near the French border, the loamy river waters of the Aubonne municipality originate from the Jura mountains, and Patrick extracts about 20 flecks of gold that measure one square millimeter. If you want to grab more gold, he says, it’s better to go a bit farther north.

These are hard times all around for gold-dreaming fortune seekers. They are accused of disrupting rivers' ecosystems. The municipality of Neuchâtel, a longtime gold-mining destination, has banned the activity since 2008. Geneva recently began requiring a permit to explore the waters of the Allandon river, even for short periods of time.

Patrick Jan often feeds his golden fever in the Grisons, the only real potential Eldorado in Switzerland. In 2001, someone found nearly one kilogram of gold, embedded in quartz, in a secret location in the Surselva Valley. Patrick Jan is now 48. He spends his winters making and selling chocolate and candies, but confesses that he still holds out hopes that one of these summers he might come upon his treasure of a lifetime.

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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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