eyes on the U.S.

Occupy Wall Street: America’s ‘Indignados’ Beginning To Garner Global Attention

After this weekend’s arrest of some 700 activists in New York, the so-called Occupy Wall Street squatters appear to be gaining strength – and media interest. France’s Le Monde notes the parallels with Spain’s ‘Indignados’ movement.

New York protestors take aim at America's richest 1%
New York protestors take aim at America's richest 1%
Sylvain Cypel

NEW YORK -- "It's growing," reads one placard. That certainly does appear to be the case. On Sunday, some 1,500 people gathered in what the Occupy Wall Street movement is calling ‘Liberty Square," a tent city located just two blocks from the U.S. Stock Exchange in New York City. The latest crowd was about three times the number of protestors present during the previous couple of days.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a lot to do with the new turnout. The day before, he sent police to arrest between 600 and 700 activists who had set out to cross the nearby Brooklyn Bridge. Within hours images of the arrests began making the rounds on the Internet. All of a sudden, media interest in the issue jumped several notches. One Fox News host accused the demonstrators of having "no purpose or focus in life."

Kyle Kneitinger, 22, was there. A large contingent of police, he explains, was on hand when the protestors arrived at the bridge. The police followed the group part way across the bridge – until the marchers realized that another group of police were advancing on them from the opposition direction. It was a trap.

Were they trying to disrupt traffic? "That wasn't our goal, but that is what happened," said Kneitinger. "We didn't know what else to do: some people sat down, others took off running. That's when they began beating us."

The brutality didn't last long. Once Kneitinger realized they were all going to be arrested, he approached a police vehicle to "turn himself in." His hands cuffed behind his back, he next found himself locked in a cell. "There were about 40 of us. We were all new to the movement." Police charged the electrical engineering student from Buffalo with "disrupting the peace, resisting arrest and blocking traffic." He was released, together with his companions, eight hours later.

By 11 a.m. Sunday, Kneitinger was back in Liberty Square. "What's happening here is wonderful," he said. Occupy Wall Street organizers have already found their rallying cry: "We are 99%." The movement considers its sole enemy to be the richest 1% of the American population and their lobbyists. "They feel invincible. All they're good for is earning profits' – while for the other 99%, daily life conditions are deteriorating, Kneitinger explained.

Spreading across the country

Today, the movement is undeniably expanding. Occupy groups have established a presence in the financial districts of more than 100 cities, from Houston to Chicago, from Philadelphia to San Francisco. In Boston, the American "indignados' (indignant ones) are camping out in front of the Federal Reserve building, America's central bank.

In New York, activists gather in a general assembly twice a day. They've organized into committees: one is in charge of finances, another oversees relations with Occupy groups in other cities. They've even set up an emergency health clinic, and come up with their own newspaper: the four-page Occupied Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, the makeup of the movement is evolving. Young professionals, not all of them with jobs, and university students now outnumber the original core of more hard-core activists. The movement is attracting growing interest among some of the country's better known progressive figures.

In Boston, protestors have met with Michael Moore and Cornel West, a well-known Princeton University philosophy professor. In New York, the Occupy Wall Street movement has invited economists Jeff Madrick, author of the recent best-seller "Age of Greed," and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner, to speak before them.

Also welcome are any and all comparisons to Cairo's Tahrir Square revolution, and Spain's indignados movement.

Read the original story in French

Photo - _PaulS_

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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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