Governments across the continent are busy taking measures to enhance security against a growing threat of similar coordinated terror assaults.
French authorities carried out anti-terror raids in Paris, Toulouse, Lyon, Grenoble, Calais and on the Belgian border in the early hours of Monday morning as they continued their manhunt for the surviving Paris attackers and any accomplices.
The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the horror in Paris that left at least 129 dead. After President François Hollande called the attacks â€œan act of war,â€ Le Monde reported on the details of the French military launching its largest bombing raid to date in Syria, focusing on several targets in Raqqa, the Islamic Stateâ€™s Syrian stronghold.
A Belgian-plated car used in the shootings was found in an eastern Parisian suburb on Sunday, and authorities in Belgium scrambled to organize a manhunt for Salah Abdeslam, identified by French police as the man who rented one of the cars. Brussels-based daily Le Soir writes that over the weekend Belgian police conducted raids in Brussels and in the suburb of Molenbeek-Saint-Jean â€" a hotspot of extremist activity in the past â€" and arrested seven people linked to the attacks.
The ongoing investigation has established the assault was planned in Belgium, which has become a significant â€œrear baseâ€ for terrorists seeking to strike Europe. The weapons used in Augustâ€™s foiled shooting on a high-speed train traveling from Brussels to Paris and in Januaryâ€™s Jewish supermarket shooting in the French capital were obtained in Belgium, and there are 500 Belgian citizens fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
As news spread across Europe that a Syrian passport had been found at the scene of the bombings at the Stade de France, political opposition to the migrant flow into the continent began to swell. French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira announced the passport was fake, but Greek authorities reported the passport holder had passed through the Aegean island of Leros in early October, meaning ISIS militants could have infiltrated the migrant route on their way to Paris.
Madrid-based newspaper El País reports that French police alerted the Spanish government that Abdeslam may have fled to Spain. Madrid stepped up security in response to the manhunt and a string of recent ISIS threats to strike Spanish territory.
Rome on Nov. 15 â€" Photo: Danilo Balducci via ZUMA
While Paris prepares to host the United Nations Climate Conference, Rome has also been a frequent target of ISIS propaganda. Turin-based daily La Stampa reports Italy has heightened security measures ahead of next monthâ€™s Catholic Church Jubilee celebrations, organized by Pope Francis. Italian authorities recently made several arrests dismantling a large ISIS-affiliated militant network, and 700 soldiers have now been deployed to Rome while special forces units are securing the countryâ€™s 15 largest cities.
Leading German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that Chancellor Angela Merkelâ€™s political allies in the key state of Bavaria are forcefully insisting on tougher refugee policy after local police arrested a Montenegrin man driving to Paris with a cache of explosives and weaponry last week. The Bavarian finance minister urged Merkel to admit that â€œopen borders were a mistake," and officials in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also expressed doubts about the European Unionâ€™s migrant relocation plan since Fridayâ€™s events â€" casting doubt on the blocâ€™s ability to face the challenges of terrorism and rising migration.
The United Kingdom also increased security at its major ports and cities, and British security services joined the French and Belgian investigation into the attacks. A prominent British ISIS fighter known as â€œJihadi Johnâ€ was reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike in Syria earlier last week, according to The Daily Telegraph, and thousands of troops and special forces have been placed on standby to defend cities in case of a retaliatory Paris-style attack on the UK.
TURKEY, G20 AND BEYOND
Over the weekend world leaders traveled to the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, a country still reeling from a series of bombings allegedly committed by ISIS, including one in Ankara that killed 102 people in October. Istanbul daily Hürriyet writes that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Barack Obama discussed further strategies to defeat ISIS in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, just one day after global diplomats in Vienna agreed to a peace plan for Syria.
The plan â€" negotiated by the U.S., Russia, China, the EU, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other Middle Eastern nations, but no party from Syria â€" calls for a transition government in six months, followed by elections within eighteen months. Despite the worldâ€™s major powersâ€™ agreement on the deal, Syrian opposition leaders flatly rejected the proposal.
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.
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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