Another China Rail Accident…Another Cover-Up?

A crash on Shanghai’s metro system injures 260 just two months after a deadly high-speed rail line collision and subsequent cover-up sparked national outrage. And scant TV coverage again.

Crash victims leaving the scene
Crash victims leaving the scene

Worldcrunch *NEWSBITES

SHANGHAI - A crash this week on the city's Metro Line 10, which caused 260 injuries, has sparked a chilling bout of local and national déjà vu two months after a deadly accident on a new high-speed rail line near Shanghai.

The first indication is that Tuesday afternoon's crash occurred after the metro system staff had switched to manual scheduling following a signal failure. Luckily the train had been running at low speed following several hold-ups between stations. Though 30 of the injured are in intensive care, including several with brain injuries, the toll could have been much worse if the train was traveling at normal speed.

On July 23, two high-speed rail trains collided near Shanghai causing 40 deaths and more than 200 injuries. As the public continues to wait for the findings of an investigation into that crash, this week's metro accident has incited renewed public outcry about China's public transport safety. Add to that another case this month of three Chinese railway staff accused of beating a passenger to death.

"We should all be wearing helmets from now on when taking trains," quipped writer Liu Hongbo, while another commentator, Zu Chong, asked "Whether when we leave home each morning means a farewell?"

Chen Qiwei, spokesman of Shanghai's municipal government, said an investigation team composed of experts will look into the metro system's technical and managerial aspects and produce a report. Mr. Chen promised an open and transparent follow-up.

Still, the prime time news network CCTV, the mouth piece of Chinese Communist Party, did not even mention a word about the metro crash in their 7:00 PM News Network broadcast.

The Chinese government seems to be responding to this accident in the same manner as was seen in the fatal July accident, when it tried to cover up the news as well as rushing to halt the search and rescue work for the victims.

This has aroused another wave of public anger and harsh criticism. Liu Hongbo pointed out that at the origin of the endless accidents on China's rail system is the transport officials' common disdain of life, as well as "regarding people merely as the source of the operation's profit."

Some have also pointed out that the two apologies issued Tuesday night by Shenton Group, Shanghai subway's operator, have since been pulled from its website.

Read coverage in E.O. in Chinese

Photo - Youtube

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

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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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