After Election Upheaval, Putin Brushes Off “Party Of Cheats And Thieves” Charges

Following his United Russia's narrow parliamentary victory, Putin responds to allegations of voter fraud, which have led to demonstrations and hundreds of arrests. Amongst party loyalists, the Russian leader stands his ground with a mix of imperi

Putin and his Akita guard dog
Putin speaks about the Russian election results
Andrei Kolcnikov

MOSCOW - Following the widely contested parliamentary elections, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has offered his most extensive comments on this week's events during a meeting at Moscow city hall with top members of his political party, United Russia.

Putin began his remarks in front of the regional party leaders by congratulating everyone on the parliamentary elections. "Although there were some losses," he conceded at the Tuesday evening gathering.

The Prime Minister mentioned that the results were particularly good in light of the irregularities in the elections that most parties have admitted existed. Putin specifically addressed the protests against alleged election violations. As usual, he found something to compare it too. "In Europe and in the rest of the world, there are millions of people protesting in the streets!" he said.

Putin obviously did not mean that millions of people worldwide were protesting the Russian election results. He was referring to millions of people demonstrating against the difficult economic situation; and here in Russia, he seemed to be saying: Well, there are just a couple thousand protesters, and it's not even clear why they are protesting.

Putin then went on to make further favorable comparisons between Russia and Europe: our inflation rates are decreasing, he said, while theirs are rising; we have a budget surplus, and let's not even talk about their budget problems.

Slated to run in March elections for a return to the Russian presidency in March, Putin also made reference to the latest protests against his political party, United Russia. "People are saying that the party in power is connected with election-stealing and corruption. But that is not the mark of any particular political party, that is the mark of power in general! It is something that those in power should fight, within society and among themselves."

The Prime Minister nevertheless admitted that it was not the first time that United Russia was called "the party of cheats and thieves." In fact, he said, it would be strange not to hear such criticisms. In the end, every ruling political party is accused of corruption, Putin said. Who else would have the chance to be corrupted?

Putin also called on the mass media to contribute to the fight against corruption, allowing himself one jab, saying that media, like any part of society, was also vulnerable to the same flaws as everyone else.

Adoration and advice

One of the party representatives, from the southern Urals, asked Putin how the party leadership could become as popular as Putin himself has become. "Although of course," added the politician, "it would be impossible to reach your level."

Putin responded, "Never promise something that you can not deliver. Never promise something that would cause the whole system to collapse. And always tell the truth."

The United Russia representatives spoke of the importance of keeping order in the Duma, saying that "The more we laugh about what happens in parliament, the sadder we will be in the end."

Which begs the question: does that mean that the people who are sad about the state of the Russian Parliament now will laugh last?

After several more flattering conversations with his foot soldiers from around the country, Putin ended the evening with a visit to the Carravagio exposition at the capital's Pushkin Art Museum. The Russian leader seemed particularly taken with Caravaggio's biblical masterpiece, Adoration of the Shepherds. The museum's director described the painting, noting "such tenderness in their gaze, such feeling! Completely united in their love of Him."

Putin looked over the painting. He liked it. Perhaps it reminded him of his meeting with the United Russia representatives.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - PBS

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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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