May 28, 2011
Seventy-five years had to pass before the darkest chapters of the Spanish Civil War could finally come to light. A major chunk of the credit should go to British historian Paul Preston, whose recent book describes for the first time the numerous atrocities that were committed, between 1936 and 1939, far from the frontlines.
It is no coincidence that a British citizen – rather than a Spaniard – is investigating this topic. Even today, it is still impossible in Spain to have an unemotional debate about the Civil War, which left deep scars and created a rift in the population that has never completely healed. Even schools try to avoid the topic.
"Unlike Germany and Austria, which went through a process of de-nazification, Franco's legacy was left unquestioned, even after his death. His popularity with large parts of the public was far too great," British historian Preston explained at the launch of his book The Spanish Holocaust.
"I want to make a contribution that helps the two sides reconcile," said the 62-year old, whose 850-page book draws not only on the research of Spanish historians but also includes testimony from the few witnesses that are still alive. Preston took 10 years to finish his book.
The Spanish Civil War, which pitted followers of Francisco Franco against the defenders of the Republic, is arguably the greatest drama in Spain's history, tolling more than half a million people killed.
"In Spain, there are just too many mass graves and not enough documents," said Preston, the first historian to examine atrocities committed on both sides. Approximately 300,000 people died during the fighting. But as Preston reveals now, almost as many Spaniards died during ethnic cleansings far behind the front lines. Atrocities continued even after Franco's dictatorship had been firmly established.
"The war brought out the lowest instincts on both sides," said Preston. His motto was to sugarcoat nothing and, at the same time, try to include as much specific material as possible. The historian shows how crimes committed by each of the conflicting sides differ not only in terms of quantity, but also in nature. The Republicans killed about 50,000 Franco followers and rebel sympathizers, including many priests. The other side massacred about three times as many people.
Unlike the Republicans, Franco loyalists pursued a clear goal: the complete obliteration of the political enemy. Every method was acceptable to achieve this goal: random executions, torture and even mass rape.
Preston explains how African militias, fighting on the side of Franco, systematically tormented women and girls after they conquered a city. This was seen as the most important part in psychological warfare and was intended to break the last remaining resistance.
"The legionaries showed the Red cowards and their women what it means to be a man. This is justified because these anarchists and communists advocated free love," said Gonzalo Queipo de Llano, one of Franco's infamous generals.
The Republicans committed most of their crimes within the first five months of the Civil War, when the uprising of Franco loyalists effectively did away with the rule of law. In the chapter that deals with this phase, Preston meticulously details cruelties committed against priests and nuns.
"It was a spontaneous kind of violence that was designed to satisfy feelings of revenge. It was just as despicable as the kind committed by those on Franco's side," said author Marcos Ana, who was incarcerated in Franco's dungeons for 23 years. There, Ana saw how a priest hit an inmate with a bronze cross because the man refused to confess.
Franco's terror not only lasted until the end of the Civil War, but far into the post-war years. "They wanted to kill everyone who did not think like them," Preston explained.
Manuel Gómes Cantos, an officer with the para-military guardia civil, was a particularly brutal enforcer of this strategy. In his book, Preston describes how the gloating Franco follower shadowed a Republican doctor on his walks, taking note of every person who greeted him. Gómes then jailed all of the sympathetic acquaintances before ordering that the doctor himself be executed.
Amparo Barayón, the wife of Spanish novelist Ramón J. Sender, was arrested with her seven-month old baby because she dared to protest her brother's detention. In prison, she was tortured and executed. Her daughter was sent to an orphanage and given up for adoption.
"A Holocaust is a massacre of a people. After the war, another 20,000 Republicans were shot. And even more died from hunger and disease in work camps," said Preston. "Five hundred thousand fled into exile where they often ended up in French internment camps or Nazi concentration camps. In my opinion, all this constitutes a Holocaust."
Die Welt ("The World") is a German daily founded in Hamburg in 1946, and currently owned by the Axel Springer AG company, Europe's largest publishing house. Now based in Berlin, Die Welt is sold in more than 130 countries. A Sunday edition called Welt am Sonntag has been published since 1948.
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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.
Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra
October 22, 2021
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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