On the fourth anniversary of the death of the journalist and peace activist, thousands gather in Istanbul to demand justice.
Hrant Dink (open democracy)
By Mustafa Kucuk, Selcuk Yasar, Orhan Saat
Dink was shot outside the Istanbul offices of the Armenian newspaper Agos, where he was chief editor, after weeks of anonymous death threats and intimidation by state officials. A teenager confessed to the shooting, but an ongoing trial drags on without a verdict. Dink's family and lawyers are demanding that questioning be extended to high-ranking security officials who they suspect may have colluded in planning the murder.
ISTANBUL - At exactly 3 pm January 19, 2011, the day and hour of his death, Hrant Dink was commemorated at the site where he was gunned down. Thousands of people gathered for the ceremony, and many wept as it opened with a recording of his voice.
At 2:55, Dink's wife Rakel, his children Delal, Arat and Sera, and other family members gathered on the street where the slain journalist was killed. A minute of silence was held on the hour, and a voice recording of an interview with Dink was broadcast.
"It is true, Armenians have an eye on this country and this land," said Dink in the recording. "President Demirel once said something like ‘We won't even give the Armenians three pebbles'. So, in reply, I wrote: ‘Yes, we Armenians have an eye on this land because this is where our roots are. But don't worry. Our intention is not to take this land away. It is to come to this land and be a part of it.""
Speaking on behalf of the Collective Memory Platform, Nükhet İpekçi, daughter of Abdi İpekçi, a Turkish journalist gunned down in 1979, said: ‘We are a giant family gathered here for the fourth year running. As our sister Rakel has said: ‘They united us in our pain". Hrant Dink was robbed of his life as the result of an orchestrated plan by official institutions and people - can we defend Hrant Dink's right to live from where we stand? We might think we can, but it would be just words. We now need more than words."
Police officials could be brought before court
Charges of neglect in the investigation of Dink's murder against Resat Altay, the former police chief in the Black Sea city of Trabzon where Dink's teenage gunman hailed from, and lead investigator Levent Yarımel could be revived. Trabzon's prosecutors had previously refused permission for the two to be questioned, but Dink's lawyers appealed and the court in the neighboring Black Sea city of Rize has sent a request to the prosecutors asking that Altay and Yarimel be heard.
The commemorative ceremony, attended by some 10,000 people, included many writers, artists and fellow journalists. Protestors carried black and white placards which read: ‘For four years, there has been no justice", ‘Parliament has been absent for four years' , ‘The killer state will one day have to pay" and ‘We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian".
Dink's wife Rakel did not speak at the ceremony. She waved from the balcony of the Agos newspaper offices, and later left a bouquet of carnations at the exact location on the street below where he was shot.
Read the original article in Turkish
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.
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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