UKRAINE LAUNCHES MILITARY OPERATION
Acting Ukraine President Olexandr Turchynov announced the launch of a military “anti-terrorist” operation in the northern region of Donetsk, The Kyiv Post reports. Speaking to the country’s parliament, Turchynov said that the operation “will be conducted step by step, responsibly, deliberately. The goal of these actions, I want to underline, is to defend the citizens of Ukraine.”
This comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov praised Ukrainian PM Arseny Yatsenyuk’s attempt to communicate with southeastern regions as “a step in the right direction, albeit a very belated one.”
In a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. President Barack Obama urged his counterpart to use his influence to convince pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine cities to “to depart the buildings they have seized.” Obama also warned Putin of further sanctions and costs if Moscow doesn’t change course of action, Reuters reports.
According to RT, members of the ultranationalist group Right Sector stormed the headquarters of Ukraine’s Communist Party in the northeast city of Sumy and in Rovno, in the west, while the standoff outside government buildings in Gorlovka continues. In Kiev, pro-Russian presidential candidate Oleh Tsarev was beaten up by a angry mob as he was preparing to attend a debate on television.
AFGHAN DEPUTY MINISTER ABDUCTED
Afghanistan’s deputy minister of public works was abducted by a group of gunmen in the capital of Kabul as he was driving to work this morning, AP quotes officials as saying. It is unclear who is behind the kidnapping, and a ministry spokesman said there had been no ransom demand yet. Meanwhile in Libya, the Jordanian ambassador to Tripoli was also abducted in a similar operation, just two days after the Libyan Prime Minister resigned after he and his family were attacked. Read more from AFP.
BOSTON COMMEMORATES BOMBING ANNIVERSARY
Today the city of Boston is commemorating the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, in which three people were killed and more than 200 injured. Vice President Joe Biden is expected to attend a tribute with local leaders and families of the victims. “Boston has learned much about itself,” The Boston Globe writes in an editorial today. “Like an individual confronting the death of a loved one or some other calamity, the city was set forth on an uncharted landscape of grief and renewal.”
The moon turned coppery red during a total eclipse Tuesday. According to NASA, the so-called “blood moon” is one of four total lunar eclipses to be seen over North America during the next 18 months.
WRITER GARCIA MARQUEZ IN “VERY FRAGILE” CONDITION
Colombian writer and Nobel Prize Winner Gabriel García Marquez is in “very fragile” condition, according to a statement from his family published by Spanish-language news agency EFE.
BERLUSCONI SENTENCED TO COMMUNITY SERVICE
Silvio Berlusconi must perform one year of community service following his conviction for tax fraud, a Milan court ruled this morning, ANSA reports. “There have been reports that he could be asked to work one half day a week at a facility for the elderly or the disabled,” the news agency reports. The 77-year-old will also have to respect a curfew and will be limited in his movements.
As Le Monde’s Pierre Barthélémy reports, the Norwegian child prodigy Magnus Carlsen is all grown up now, and became the world chess champion last year after defeating an Indian player old enough to be his father. “At only 23, Magnus Carlsen is already a dread-inspiring legend,” the journalist writes. “So much so that American Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura nicknamed him Sauron, the evil character in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of the Rings, represented in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation by a great lidless eye in the sky that sees everything.”
Read the full article: Magnus Carlsen, A Chess Child Prodigy Grows Up.
HEARTBLEED FIX TO DISRUPT INTERNET
Users should expect major disruptions to the Internet over the next few weeks as companies affected by the Heartbleed bug will attempt to fix their encryption systems, The Washington Post warns.
“Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government,” former NSA employee Edward Snowden said after The Guardian and The Washington Post were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on NSA surveillance. “We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation.”
SEITA, the country’s largest tobacco company in France, announced Monday that it was closing its Carquefou cigarette factory in western France to move production to Poland. The factory, France’s biggest, employs 327 people and produced 12.2 billion cigarettes last year — including Gauloises and Gitanes for the whole of Europe.
Burglars raided an Australian museum, stealing priceless artifacts that belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, including a lock of his hair, ABC reports. The robbers’ method for gaining entry to the museum is yet another blow to the French Emperor’s legacy: They entered through a window in the (water)loo.
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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