An Invention Worthy Of Q: The Ultimate Self-Defense Umbrella

French umbrella manufacturer Veritable Cherbourg has unveiled a range of defense umbrellas straight out of a James Bond movie. President Nicolas Sarkozy's security detail has already put in an order for these high-tech gizmos.

An Invention Worthy Of Q: The Ultimate Self-Defense Umbrella
Florentin Collomp

It might look like an umbrella, but this is no ordinary umbrella. It protects its users not just from rain and hail, but also from stones, knives, fire and even acid attacks. The Parapactum, as this extraordinary umbrella is called, was unveiled last week at the Made in France show in Paris, and has already been adopted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy's personal security detail.

The umbrella is manufactured by Véritable Cherbourg (Real Cherbourg), a small company of 12 employees created 15 years ago in the Normandy region of Contentin in northwestern France. It is one the last remaining umbrella makers left in France. Most of the four million umbrellas purchased each year in France are now made in China.

But Jean-Pierre Yvon, a former photographer and businessman, decided to take his chances anyway. He chose the beginning of the Chinese manufacturing invasion to set up a French umbrella plant in Cherbourg from scratch, which he financed by selling his family's luxurious town house.

"It's always raining and windy in Cherbourg," says this unorthodox businessman. "So I wanted to create an umbrella as famous as Burberry's, and focus on quality rather than volume." He sells 10,000 to 15,000 umbrellas each year, for a turnover close to one million euros ($1.4 million). Handmade and elegant, and most importantly, resistant to the fiercest gust of wind, each item is sold at prices ranging between 100 and 350 euros ($150-500).

Like any other quality brand, Véritable Cherbourg has its fans and loyal buyers in France and globally as far afield as Japan. The company has long been supplying the presidential Elysée Palace with golf umbrellas. It was only natural then for Jean-Pierre Yvon and his son Charles, a graduate in physics, to answer the call of the French state's Technical Center for Interior Security to develop a model designed to protect dignitaries.

Jean-Pierre Yvon invested around 200,000 euros ($284,000) and won the support of the state-backed entrepreneurial fund the Oséo. The Parapactum took more than a year of research and has been tested to withstand winds of up to 168 km/h (104 miles). There were setbacks: "Every time I demonstrated a prototype, it would not open or would break," he recalls.

The special materials used in the production of the umbrella were developed with companies working in the defense industry and are top secret. French authorities have already ordered a dozen Parapactums at about 6,000 and 12,000 euros ($8,500-$17,000) a pop, depending on the design.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Nestor's Blurrylife

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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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