Over the past week or so, it's been hard not to feel disoriented by what is constantly being thrown at us, in this hyperconnected planet of ours, and not to get the feeling from our social media feeds that the world might just be going mad.
Let's begin with the open letter signed by Catherine Deneuve and 99 other prominent French women to condemn the "puritanical," "witch-hunt" aspect of the #MeToo movement. I, for one, happen to agree with what this letter denounces, though I'm very much opposed to some parts of it, especially when the signatories seem to casually dismiss women being rubbed up against in public transport as a mere "freedom to bother." But the paranoia, the outrage, and the frenzy the letter seems to have provoked worldwide is beyond all proportion.
The same could be said for the ripple effects of the Weinstein scandal, as evidenced the story of the British mother calling for Sleeping Beauty to be banned from primary school because the kiss is non-consensual, or by the ridiculous accusations recently thrown at Aziz Ansari.
Not that we should be surprised. Ours, after all, is a world whereFriends (The Hollywood Reporter"s all-time favorite TV show) has suddenly become homophobic, sexist and fat-shaming. Yes, you read that well. According to The Independent, some millennials — who are just discovering the show now, courtesy of Netflix — are "shocked" by the storylines and "uncomfortable" by the obvious "homophobia" of Chandler and Ross.
They also take issue with the show's "lack of diversity," because, as everyone knows, the quality of a work of fiction is equally proportionate to the number of minorities it positively represents. Star Wars: The Last Jedi taught us that much, right? As Chandler himself would say: Seriously, could this BE any more insane?
Well, turns out that in Switzerland, it can. Though the scientific jury is still out on whether lobsters can feel pain, the Swiss Federal Council decided last week to give the popular and delicious crustaceans the benefit of the doubt and issued an order that bans cooks from placing them alive in boiling water. The government considers "knocking them out first" — either by electrocution or "mechanical destruction of the brain" — a more "humane" way to kill them, according to Swiss broadcaster RTS.
Not that we should be surprised.
We are reaching a point where any idea that, as far-fetched as it may sound to most, may very well turn into a genuine activist battle royale a few years in the future. Can anybody be certain there won't be, at some point, campaigns to raise awareness about the pain trees may feel when farmers shake them to harvest olives? Or that there won't be calls, at some point, to ban lawn mowing on grounds that it's an inhumane, barbaric practice?
Personally, I'd be tempted to wager that in the not-so-distant future, we'll see the emergence of groups — let's call them "non-walkers' — who will try to convince us to stop walking on grass because it risks killing insects. If you think that's crazy, just look at how a number of Parisians reacted to the city's response to its worst rat crisis in decades: They denounced it as a "genocide."
Naturally, all these excesses stem from genuine and legitimate battles: against sexual harassment, discrimination and animal abuse. But the response to these issues has to be proportionate and reasonable. Defending genuine sexual harassment makes no sense. Why would anyone even try? But I find it equally preposterous to argue that a man complimenting a woman's looks is harassment.
Surely there's a more balanced position to be found, one that won't lead to more estrangement and resentment in female-male relationships. The same goes for the rest, lobsters and all. More and more, reason and temperance seem to never show up in our social media feeds.
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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