Brazilian Cyclists Take On Motorists With Help Of Hidden-Camera Helmets, YouTube

Bikers of the world unite!
Bikers of the world unite!
Cristina Moreno De Castro, Bruno Benevides and Fernanda Kalena

SÃO PAULO - Eight cyclists surround a black car stopping at a red light on Paulista Avenue, a major thoroughfare in São Paulo. The driver, who the cyclists had spotted committing traffic infractions, is told that he is being expand=1] filmed. He immediately speeds away from the bikes -- running the red light. He hits a moped, which crashes, and continues his escape without checking what happened.

The one-and-half-minute video has begun to circulate on the Internet and across social media in Brazil. It zooms in on both the driver’s face and his license plate. It was recorded with a small camera attached to a cyclist’s helmet, a feature that is becoming more and more common among the bike-riding contingent of São Paulo.

According to cycle-activist Daniel Labadia, from Institute CicloBR, cameras have suddenly become popular in the past two months, catching on to a technique used by bicycle riders elsewhere. “The main goal is to unveil drivers’ infractions against cyclists,” he says. The equipment costs about 900 reais ($450).

Cases of traffic accidents that kill cyclists are well-known in São Paulo. In March this year, a biologist was run over by a bus in Paulista Avenue.

Some specialists say this use of cameras risks shaming drivers and causing an overall increase in aggressive behavior on the road. "Trying to impose good manners on the drivers doesn’t lead to good results," says José Almeida Sobrinho, from the Brazilian Institute of Traffic Sciences.

Privacy claims don't hold up

Folha checked some videos and noticed most of them show faces and license plates, but only one of them showed the actual infraction.

Ademar Gomes, president of Acrimesp (Association of Criminal-Law Attorneys from Sao Paulo State), considers it legal to film drivers and expose them on the Internet. "If the driver was responsible for the accident and did it in public space, I see no problem. In case he sues the cyclist, he will lose, because he was on the streets," he says.

Among the cycling video activists are:

*Blogger Silvia Ballan, 40, a cyclist for 25 years, has posted more than 30 videos on YouTube, but she avoids showing license plates.

*Marketing manager Caio Spinola, 28, who filmed the Paulista Avenue scene referred to above, has carried his camera for eight months, but posted this video only in an attempt to help the hurt moped rider.

*University student Rafael Darrouy, 26, from Vitória (Espírito Santo state), created the Web page "Ciclista Capixaba", where he has posted 32 videos. He had the idea after being hit by a car, which ran over his bike. "I thought: if I had a camera, I would have evidence for suing him." Since then, he has taken one driver to court.

*Laura Sobenes, 25, who used her cell phone camera to record a bus driver who ran a red light and then threatened her: “You are the one who’s going to die; I will just have to sign the police report.” The case became notorious, and the driver was suspended.

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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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