Actions By Ukrainian Right-Wing Politicians Turn Ugly

Nina Sokolova

KIEV — In a widely viewed video, the head of Ukraine’s National Television channel can be seen being beaten by right-wing members of the Ukrainian Parliament for allowing the ceremony celebrating Crimea’s entrance into the Russian Federation to be broadcast live on television.

Television executive Aleksander Panteleimonov was grabbed by his necktie, strangled, hit on the head, shoved into a car and apparently only released when he signed a “voluntary” resignation announcement. After discovering what had happened to Panteleimonov, journalists demonstrated outside of the prosecutor’s office in Kiev and outside of the far-right Svoboda (“Freedom”) party offices. The two parliament members seen on the video roughing up Panteleimonov are both representatives of the party.

“There’s a feeling that Svoboda is intentionally helping the enemies of the Ukrainain government,” says television journalist Darka Olifer.

Earlier she documented the protests in Maidan Square, and now she is joining journalists protesting against radicals. “Igor Miroshnichenko, the deputy who beat up my colleague, used to work as a journalist. Bogdan Benyuk, the other member of parliament who appears on the video, is a well-known actor,” Olifer says. “When Benyuk strangles Panteleimonov in the video, you almost think they’re filming a movie, and you wait to hear ‘cut.’ ”

From the video (see below), it seems that the freedom party members behind the attacks on Panteleimonov filmed themselves, taking pride in their actions. When they entered the national television company’s building — as a “parliamentary delegation” — they began by condemning famous Ukrainian television star Olga Sumskaya because her daughter is planning to get Russian citizenship. They expressed their disapproval of a Sumskaya portrait hanging in the television company’s corridor.

Then they proceeded to the office of the television channel’s director. “They dragged Panteleimonov out after beating him up, cursing,” says Mark Gres, an employee at the station.

Ukrainian politicians seemed mildly exasperated at the behavior of the deputies. “That’s not our approach,” announced Ukrainian government leader Arsenii Yatsenyuk, who was supported by politicians from other political parties. “The cabinet of ministers should be the only ones to judge the actions of the National Television company.”

Even members of the “Freedom” party weren’t entirely happy with their colleague’s actions. Party leader Oleg Tyagnyibok says he doesn’t condone the actions, but only because, “We are part of Ukraine’s government now, and we have other means at our disposal to deal with Ukraine’s enemies.”

Miroshnichenko defended himself from the journalists’ protests, saying that his actions were appropriate given the situation.

A federal prosecutor announced that there would be an investigation into the incident, and charges of inciting inter-ethnic hatred.

“The beating of a journalist should be a catalyst for bringing the situation under control, disarming the Maidan self-defense forces and forcing radicals to obey the law,” says Aleksei Poltorakov, a political scientist from Kiev.

At the moment, he says, Ukraine’s cabinet posts are occupied by “Revolutionary Commissars,” who have “absolutely no experience governing, combined with a singular talent for chopping firewood.”

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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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