S.O.S. By Fax Blamed For Death Toll In Italy's Cyclone

Cyclone Cleopatra killed 16, including four children
Cyclone Cleopatra killed 16, including four children
Julie Farrar

OLBIA — Twelve hours notice. Forty-four centimeters of rain in 90 minutes. Sixteen dead, including four children. And, now, a fax alert. The blame game has begun in Sardinia after the tragic Cyclone Cleopatra hit the island earlier this week.

Antonio Sanò, head of the weather website, said that Monday’s storm had been forecast as early as last Thursday, and that the alarm had been raised too late, writes Corriere della Sera.

Off the coast of Sardinia. Photo via Twitter.

The mayors on the island say that a fax came through with the warning on Sunday afternoon, but as the municipal offices were all closed, the news was not received by some until Monday.

The fax was sent out two hours after the Civil Protection Center issued the critical warning — the highest on the scale. Later in the evening, a short SMS message was sent out to each mayor. At 8 a.m. the next morning each municipality organized to meet, yet nobody foresaw the scale of the forecast.

Video by kaym4n via Instagram

The head of the Civil Protection services who issued the initial warning, Franco Gabrielli, shot back after being criticized: “Enough with the allegations. We sent the warning to Sardinia on Sunday at 14:12 (2:12 p.m). The region issued the warning to the local municipalities two hours later and some were equipped, some were not. There is a clear chain of responsibility as well as regional laws that detail what mayors are to do. I challenge anyone to tell me what I did was wrong.”

Mayor of Olbia Gianni Giovannelli, whose city was one of the hardest hit on the island, told Sky News 24 the storm was “apocalyptic,” with bridges felled and water levels reaching three meters in some places. He described the intensity of the storm’s rains as a “water bomb.”

Giovanelli defended the civil protection’s alert system, warning against finger-pointing, saying evacuation orders had been issued, and ignored, and that no weather forecast could have predicted the degree of devastation.

Photo by @LiaCapizzi via Twitter

Italy has a reputation for its municipal systems being archaic, and if a fax machine warning is to blame, surely this must be a wake-up call for the country to update to the 21st century.

Antonella Dalu, mayor of the Comune di Torpè, is resentful that the blame has been placed on the officials: “I get warned of this same ‘critical level’ message 20 times a year. In the past, we have evacuated everyone because of this level of alert yet nothing has ever happened. How were we to know that this time it was going to be different?”

According to La Repubblica, two investigations are now underway, including one against the province of Nuoro for manslaughter.

The Olbia-Tempio motorway on Thursday. Photo by @antoguerrera via Twitter

The manslaughter charges against the province are for the death of Luca Tanzi, a police officer who was escorting an ambulance in a jeep with three colleagues when the bridge they were driving on gave way.

A civil protection emergency shelter in Olbia. Photo by guinness81 via Instagram.

The latest reports say that more than 500 people are still displaced, with problems continuing and municipalities remaining without running water, reports La Stampa.

On Thursday, a national day of mourning was held.

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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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