Sepp Blatter And FIFA, Switzerland Shamed Again

After Swiss banking scandals shook global finance, arrests at the Zurich-based world soccer body shine a light on what's wrong with business as usual in Switzerland.

End of a reign?
End of a reign?
Laurent Favre


GENEVA — The 65th congress of FIFA, soccer’s international governing body, is set to begin Thursday in Zurich’s famed Hallenstadium. The plan was to broadcast the festivities live online, which would end with the grand finale of Sepp Blatter’s re-election as president of the organization.

This lovely gathering of “soccer’s great big family” turned sour Wednesday morning, when at the request of U.S. authorities, Zurich police arrested six of FIFA’s top executives on charges of corruption.

Scandal has definitively stained the last moments of Sepp Blatter’s reign. The 79-year-old native of Valais, Switzerland who dreamed — and still dreams— of a fifth consecutive term leading what someone once called the “world’s biggest country” must now deal with the biggest crisis of his career.

See no evil?

It’s his own fault. Even if he is not implicated directly in the affair, which concerns mostly members from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean, Blatter is guilty of turning a blind eye far too long. Worse, his system of governance is based precisely on implicitly encouraging FIFA to just keep “feeding the beast,” and on a strong will to avoid putting his nose in other people’s business.

Many top executives in the world of sports entered the industry at a time when sports had little credibility, when leagues had to operate on the cheap. They were there when the money suddenly appeared, in the 1980s, when new TV channels proliferated and broadcast rights for sports exploded. They were there and they didn’t want to give up their place, having become quite comfortable. At the head of institutions, they didn’t have the will to modernize organizations, nor the courage to put in place safeguards when faced with temptation.

No modern man

Much like his predecessor, Brazilian Joao Havelange, Sepp Blatter is not a man of the modern era. At the turn of the 21st century, even while the Olympic Committee was struck by scandal and had to clean house, the Swiss chief found ways to not face the problems at FIFA head on, through political cunning and intellectual laziness. Now he is paying the price.

He will have to pay indeed, because American justice has intervened in its special way: aggressively. In Switzerland, the justice system and politicians have always given the Zurich-based FIFA the benefit of the doubt, the most convenient course of action for all.

In August 2011, Swiss president Hans-Jürg Fehr called on authorities to let FIFA keep its non-profit status — and the fiscal exemptions that go with it.

The Swiss Justice Ministry has now also opened a case against the organization for “suspicion of disloyal management and the money laundering surrounding the selection of the World Cups for 2018 and 2022.” But this is coming far too late. The net was cast in Switzerland, FIFA is based in Switzerland, and its president is Swiss.

Once again, the name of our country is associated the world over with a financial scandal. This one we could have seen coming.

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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

"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.

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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