eyes on the U.S.

From Caracas To Pyongyang, Endorsing U.S. Candidates From Abroad

Clinton supporters in San Diego, CA, on June 2
Clinton supporters in San Diego, CA, on June 2

If foreign endorsements are any reflection of the quality of the U.S. presidential campaign, we are most certainly doomed.

Democrat Bernie Sanders, who is facing a do-or-die party primary in California on June 7, got the helpful support of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. The Latin American leader, himself facing angry calls for his ouster, has presided over an economic crisis in which his government has shuttered schools as well as cut water, electricity and phone service. Venezuela’s El Universal reports that the embattled president referred to Sanders, the self-declared socialist senator from Vermont, as "our revolutionary friend."

"If the elections were free, Sanders would be president of the United States … because the people are looking for a change," said Maduro, who knows a thing or two about people looking for a change.

Back on the campaign trail in California, Sanders could hardly be blamed for quietly ignoring the endorsement.

A day later, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump got a stellar endorsement from another quarter of the globe. North Korea â€" that bastion of democratic values â€" backed Trump, with propaganda website DPRK Today praising him as "not the rough-talking, screwy, ignorant candidate they say he is," but "actually a wise politician and a prescient presidential candidate."

Well, if North Korea said it, it must be true.

Ahead of the final round of primaries on Tuesday, here’s Worldcrunch"s roundup of what newspapers around the globe are saying about the upcoming U.S. elections from the UK to India and Italy and beyond.

Across the Atlantic, Trump has elicited strong reactions from Britons.

Stephen Hawking, British theoretical physicist and possibly one of the most intelligent human beings on the planet, said even he couldn’t explain the meteoric political rise of Trump. "I can’t," Hawking told ITV's Good Morning Britain program. "He is a demagogue, who seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator."

Others in the UK have been less charitable. "Britain needs a @realDonaldTrump visit like it needs a bucket of cold sick," wrote Sarah Wollaston, a senior lawmaker, on her Twitter page, after the Republican firebrand announced plans to visit the UK to open a golf course there this month.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, a conservative who nevertheless described Trump last year as "divisive, stupid and wrong," has no plans to meet Trump during his visit, Britain’s Daily Mail reports.

Careful Modi

Other world leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who ran on an "India first" platform well before Trump launched his "America first" campaign, declined, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, to challenge the Republican candidate’s proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the U.S. "As a part of the election debate many things will be said there, who ate what, who drank what, how can I respond to everything?" The Hindu quoted Modi as saying.

Others in India are feeling less generous toward Trump, who during a recent campaign rally used a faux Indian accent to mock call center employees. "The accent wasn’t even done well," Indian newspaper DNA grumbled.

Devils in details

Considering Trump’s vitriol about Mexicans and vows to build a "big wall" at the southern border of the U.S., there is no shortage of coverage from Latin America. But this past week, Chile’s La Tercera decided instead to dig deep into a profile of Huma Abedin, a longtime aide of leading Democrat Hillary Clinton, and wife of disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner.

It is just the latest sign of how close the world is following the battle for the White House. In Spain, for example, El País reports that establishment Republicans are slowly but surely lining up behind Trump. The latest convert is House speaker Paul Ryan, the highest ranking Republican official. But there are "final holdouts", including Mitt Romney, the party’s last presidential nominee, who may want to challenge Trump by fielding a third-party candidate in the November general election. Names being discussed include Romney himself, Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, New Mexico Governor Susana Martínez, and David French, an Iraq war veteran and National Review columnist.

Apple Daily, a publication in Taiwan and Hong Kong, offered some long-distance punditry, asking whether former U.S. president Bill Clinton was a help or hindrance in wife Hillary’s campaign.

Mio Amico Trump?

In Italy, the U.S. campaign was an opportunity for a minor cat-fight between some of the country’s top politicians. Back in April, leader of Italy’s right-wing Northern League party Matteo Salvini boasted of 20-minute private meeting with Donald Trump, sharing a photo on Twitter.

But Trump told the Hollywood Reporter last week that he hadn’t met Salvini, and distanced himself from the often racist stances of the Italian politician. The photo of the two together? Apparently Trump was just posing with an unknown fan. Rome daily La Repubblica gathered some glee from Salvini’s political opponents "Wow, what a slap," mocked Simona Malpezzi of the Italian Democratic party.

Trump meanwhile is featured ominously this week on the cover of Italian weekly Internazionale:

Creepy mask

Some are exploring alternatives to frontrunners Trump and Clinton. Les Échos, France’s leading financial newspaper, covered the presidential bid of third-party Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico. With the charismatic campaign slogan "I tell the truth, I am not a liar," Johnson says his party is more culturally liberal than the Democratic Party but more fiscally conservative than the GOP. It’s unclear if the Libertarian party is any clearer to French readers than it is in the U.S.

An altogether different take came from China, where some are already profiting from a potential Trump win. Chinese company Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory, is already manufacturing creepy masks of the Republican leader’s face. The carnival of the two party conventions are just around the corner.

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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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