Geopolitics

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing

ARABICA - A Daily Shot Of What the Arab World is Saying/Hearing/Sharing
Kristen Gillespie


A R A B I C A
ارابيكا

PALESTINIAN FEUD
One of the most powerful men in the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Dahlan, is under investigation on murder and corruption charges. Palestinian security forces raided Dahlan's home near Ramallah on Thursday, seizing 16 weapons and 12 vehicles, and detaining 12 "illegal" armed men, Al Jazeera reported. A government spokesman said that having armed personal bodyguards violates a law stating that a citizen cannot do so "without the consent of the security services."

Dahlan, who in 2003 then-President George W. Bush called a "good, solid leader" is widely referred to as a "strongman" who sought to crush Hamas in Gaza in the 1990s. Last month, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, broke off ties with Dahlan, who still maintains parliamentary immunity as an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

SYRIAN CHESSBOARD
Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat reports on a meeting between Jordan's King Abullah and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Sources "familiar" with the meeting confirmed Sarkozy as saying "there is no longer any hope for the Syrian regime." The king, citing the totalitarian nature of the Syrian regime and its ubiquitous intelligence services and military structure, said "there is no alternative now to Assad," and expressed hope that Turkey would have a positive influence on events in Syria.

SYRIAN MAP
As the Syrian revolt intensifies, the multiplying locations of uprisings across the country appear to outpace the military's efforts to be everywhere at once, to stamp out protests. The tally of unrest reported in 24 hours is long and detailed, with Syrians in cities and towns continuing their efforts to unseat the Assad regime. In Kanaker, a suburb of Damascus, it was "a bloody day," wire agencies reported, with 11 civilians killed, two of them children, ages 7 and 11. In Hasrata, "security forces and the army were deployed in the streets, arrested hundreds, demolished the walls of houses and cut off electricity, water and the Internet." The southern town of Daraa, where the uprising began in March, is "in turmoil" with "widespread, intense security in key areas." The list goes on.

SYRIAN VIDEO
The Syrian Revolution Facebook group posted a video called "The Syrian Arab Army: what it was and what it is now." You don't have to speak Arabic to understand through the montage of clips that the soldiers are perpetrating atrocities against unarmed prisoners.

July 28, 2011

photo credit: illustir

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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

"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.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

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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