The Berlin 'Forest Boy” Mystery Is Solved

The Forest Boy was neither from the forest, nor a boy. With patience and police work, the inexplicable scam was destined to be revealed.

Not out of the woods (B.H.)
Not out of the woods (B.H.)

BERLIN - On September 5, 2011, a young man speaking English checked in with Berlin authorities saying that his name was "Ray" and that his date of birth was June 20, 1994, which made him 17 – a minor. These two things, the boy claimed, constituted the only information about himself that he remembered aside from the fact that he'd spent the past five years in an unknown forest location with his father "Ryan," who had died and whom he had buried under some rocks in the forest. His mother "Doreen" had died earlier in a car crash.

German media leapt on the tale, dubbing Ray the "Forest Boy."

Meanwhile, on September 2, 2011, a missing person alert had been issued in the Netherlands for a 20-year-old Dutch man named Robin van H. from Hengelo. This was the day Robin van H. disappeared in the company of a friend who returned a few days later after their money ran out, saying they had gone to Berlin. Robin van H. sent a letter with no return address to his parents saying that he had decided to stay in Berlin, and for Dutch police the matter was resolved: at 20, Robin van H. was an adult and could live wherever he chose.

After successfully leading Berlin police around for nine months by posing as "Ray," it has now been established that his real identity is Robin van H. Missing minors enjoy special protection, and "Ray" had declined to cooperate with authorities, refusing to be examined by psychologists, to hold a press conference or have pictures of himself released. Finally, Berlin authorities were able to send out a picture of him last week, which is when his real identity was bound to become quickly apparent.

It is as yet unclear if Robin van H., who has now admitted to his real identity but who is in any case due to be DNA-tested by police, has any intention of returning to his hometown.

An acquaintance, Mo Rahimi Rigi, 21, who had shared an apartment with Robin van H., told the Belgian paper de Standaart that his friend had studied PR and marketing, but was unhappy in Hengelo and wanted to get away to the exciting life of a big city to find himself. He stated that Robin van H. was in no way stupid or confused. He also believed that Robin van H. had personal and financial problems.

Berlin police, meanwhile, are examining possible grounds on which to bring charges against Robin van H., and say that his nine-month Berlin visit, including being put up at state expense in a facility for teens, cost 30,000 euros – money Robin van H. will presumably have to pay back.

*This is a digest item, not a direct translation.

Read the full stories here and here. Original articles by Rob Savelberg and Cordula Schmitz.

Photo - B.H.

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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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