BBC, THE GUARDIAN (UK), THE IRISH TIMES (Ireland)
EDINBURGH - Cardinal Kevin O’Brien has announced he will be stepping down as Archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrew’s following allegations of “inappropriate behavior” during the 1980s, reports the BBC.
The announcement comes three days before Pope Benedict XVI is slated to step down, and Cardinals will begin the process of finding his successor. Controversy has swirled in Rome over the past week amidst rumors linked to a supposed "gay lobby" that could have played a role in Benedict's historic decision to become the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years.
Three priests and one former priest had raised their concerns to the Vatican’s nuncio (ambassador) to Britain before Pope Benedict XVI announced his planned resignation earlier this month.
One of the complainants alleges that the most senior Catholic clergyman in Britain developed a relationship with him, resulting in his need for long-term psychological counseling, according to The Guardian.
Another said he was invited to spend a week “getting to know” Cardinal O’Brien at his bishop’s palace, where he, as a 20-year-old seminarian, claims he was forced to fend off unwanted behavior from him after a late-night drinking session.
Following these allegations, on Sunday the Irish-born cardinal pulled out of celebrating Mass in Edinburgh, where he had been scheduled to praise Pope Benedict XVI for his eight years in charge of the church, reports the Irish Times.
On Thursday, O’Brien gave a candid interview to BBC Scotland where he voiced support for priests being able to marry, saying that celibacy had not been a constant in the church and did not have the same standing as “dogmatic beliefs” opposing euthanasia and abortion.
The upcoming Conclave has already been overshadowed by allegations against a number of the cardinals who are taking part, over their connection with their handling of the Church's sex abuse scandal, including former Los Angeles Archbishop Cardinal Roger Mahoney. Canon law states that any cardinal who is eligible to vote - that is, under the age of 80 - cannot be prevented from doing so.
It is not clear whether O'Brien will participate. When questioned last week about Mahony’s intention to travel to Rome for the conclave he said: “I will leave it to him just to think and consider whether or not he has been guilty of such wrongdoing that would disqualify him from taking part in the papal election.”
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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