Migrant Lives

Mass Assaults On German Women, A Clash Of Cultures Exposed

A wave of violence rocked Cologne on New Year's Eve, when more than 100 women reported that men of Arab and North African appearance robbed, groped and raped them. Though shocking in Germany, such attacks are all too common in Arab countries, wher

Protests last year in Cologne
Protests last year in Cologne
Sonja Zekri


MUNICH â€" Hundreds of men banding together, assaulting, groping and even raping women. This kind of sexual violence that Cologne witnessed on New Year's Eve is entirely new in Germany. The country was shocked when scores of women reported that gangs of men of Arab and North African appearance harassed, robbed and sexually assaulted them. In many cases, the mobs thwarted police attempts to reach victims. Germany's justice minister has said that migrants convicted of these crimes could be deported if found guilty.

For the Middle East, instead, these kinds of horrific attacks against women are all too common, especially in Egypt. A study found that 99% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual assaults â€" at festivals, during Islamic holidays, in front of theaters and notably on Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Gathering on Cairo's central square has become a literal risk to life and limb for women. With each new gathering there, it seems the behavior of men becomes more animal-like. They push women, surround them, tear off their clothes, and even penetrate them with fingers, objects and knifes. Videos of these sickening assaults circulate on the Internet. Support groups distribute emergency numbers, patrolling to help women.

Some of the region's other countries are less notorious when it comes to assaults in public places. But from Morocco to Bagdad, the terrible violence against women goes on.

Even the veiled don't escape

What does this have to do with Cologne? A lot. The assaults are an expression of a deeply rooted aggressiveness against women, the fusion of sexual frustration and male power.

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker recommends women keep "an arm's-length distance" â€" a breathtakingly inadequate response that assumes keeping some distance is actually possible and, worse, that it's up to women to prevent these violations from happening. As if there are attack-proof clothes, the perfect street, the inviolate time to go about one's business. But experience demonstrates that nobody escapes these aggressions, not even the veiled Muslim women.

We don't know yet whether the aggressors in Cologne were refugees or have been living there for years. Nor do we know if there were maybe even some native Germans among them. Fantasies of sexual violence are not a specific feature of foreigners. But it's clear that cases of these kinds of extreme, and mass, cruelties are extremely rare in Germany. And they will remain the exception. The constitutional state has a duty to not only care for refugees, but also to protect Germans, men and women, and this should be made this very clear as quickly as possible.

What might take longer to overcome is centuries of culture based on misogynist education.

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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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