Geopolitics

Abkhazian Leader Dodges Yet Another Barrage Of Bullets

Russian military helicopters are searching the mountains of Abkhazia, a break-away republic of Georgia, for suspects in a Wednesday ambush on Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab. The leader survived the attack. Two of his bodyguards did not. Could Moscow

This is the fifth assassination attempt against Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab (YouTube)
This is the fifth assassination attempt against Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab (YouTube)
Anna Kasatkina, Pavel Taracenko, Georgiy Dvali

TBILISI -- The car of Abkhazian President Alexander Ankvab was ambushed by unknown assailants Wednesday morning as he was driving towards Sukhumi, the regional capital of Abkhazia, a break-away republic of Georgia. President Ankvab was not injured, but two of his bodyguards died from wounds and two more were seriously wounded. In addition to the machine-gun fire on the president's car, there were also several land-mines detonated.

Abkhazia considers itself an independent state and is recognized as such by Russia, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The rest of the international community considers it part of Georgia, even though it has operated with de-facto independence since the Georgia-Abkhazia war in the early 1990s. Russia continues to have a strong military presence, ostensibly for peacekeeping, in the break-away republic, which still engages in periodic violence with Georgia.

The Abkhazian embassy in Russia confirmed the news of the assassination attempt and said military helicopters have been deployed in an effort to catch the would-be assassins, who are presumed to be hiding in the mountains.

"It is very good that Alexander Ankvab once again stayed alive," Paata Zakareishvili, one of the Georgian opposition leaders, told Kommersant. The Abkhazian president has survived numerous assassination attempts. Zakareishvili described Ankvab as "a sensible politician, with whom we can and must work, including towards the regularization of the Georgian-Abkhazian relations."

Signs of "Moscow's hand"?

Authorities in Tibilisi, the Georgian capital, denied speculations of a "Georgian fingerprint" in this assassination attempt on Ankvab. David Avalishvili, an independent political scientist, explained that the assassination attempt took place "deep in Abkhazia" – in other words, far from the Georgian border. "In addition, it is more or less an ‘Abkhazian" region, by population. Almost 100% of the residents are Abkhazian. And a large group of Russian paratroopers is stationed at the local airport," Avalishvili explained.

Georgian observers tended to see "Moscow's hands' in the events. "Alexander Ankvab always stood out in that he defends his opinions very assertively. He is not a very convenient partner for Moscow," said Timur Mzhaviya, a former representative of the Supreme Council of Abkhazia, part of the Abkhazian government in exile that is located in Georgia. Mzhaviya struggled, however, to say exactly whom Ankvab might have angered in Moscow. "There are differences of opinion, but they are generally carefully hidden and only rarely come to light," he said. "It's possible that they just wanted to scare the Abkhazian leader, since the Russian special forces are professional enough to have finished off the job."

It is also worth noting that this is the fifth assassination attempt against President Ankvab, who previously served as the prime minister and vice-president of Abkhazia. Two assassination attempts took place in 2005 and one in 2007. In those cases, a jeep that Ankvab was riding in was shot at by unknown gunman, and he was lightly injured. Ankvab was also injured in an assassination attempt in 2010 when his home was shot at with grenade launchers.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - YouTube

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Geopolitics

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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