Donald Trump won't be in Paris on Tuesday. Following his decision to unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, French President Emmanuel Macron didn't invite him to the two-day One Planet Summit opening in the French capital. Gathering 50 world leaders and dozens of international business leaders, the conference coincides with the two-year anniversary of the landmark Paris climate accord, with a specific focus on how to finance the fight against global warming. Though some U.S. organizations (states, cities, NGOs and businesses) are attending the event, the utter absence of any representative of the federal government is yet another sign that, under Trump, the age of outright American leadership is over.
Trump's absence — both literally and figuratively — regarding the crucial issue of climate change, has left Macron with plenty of room to fill that leadership vacuum and push ahead with his "Make Our Planet Great Again" agenda. The clear jibe in the name already says it all. And as Le Figaro writes, the ambitious 39-year-old French president now has free rein to "put on his savior-of-the-planet costume."
It's a strange reversal of fate.
Trump was also notably absent from Syria yesterday, where it was Russia's Vladimir Putin proclaiming victory over "the most battle-hardened group of international terrorists." This triumphant scene couldn't be more timely for the Russian president, who can bring back home a "significant part" of Russian troops — a move that will go down well with voters ahead of this spring's presidential election, where Putin is aiming for a fourth term and an even bigger place in Russian history. His appearance yesterday alongside Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and later in Egypt and Turkey, amounts to a "promotional tour" intended to show Putin "parading himself as a global leader," Swiss daily Le Temps writes today.
It's a strange reversal of fate, 30 years after the U.S." final triumph over the Soviet Union was hastened by Moscow's quagmire in Afghanistan and Washington's victory in the first Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait. Today, the man in the Kremlin, fortified by his victory in Syria, has supplanted the man in the White House as the leading actor in the region. Compared to Trump's latest provocation of recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the contrast between Moscow's current influence in the Middle East and Washington's has seldom been starker.
Seen from that angle, Trump's big announcement yesterday of new manned missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars could be read as another sign of American leadership on the wane. With terrorism and climate change burning down here on Earth, this can sound less like the challenge of a new space race, and more like a nation making the ultimate retreat.
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.
"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.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
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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