Thursday, October 23, 2014
CANADA “NOT INTIMIDATED”
Details of the suspected Ottawa gunman who killed Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa yesterday are starting to emerge. The Globe And Mail describes 32-year-old Michael Zehaf-Bibeau as “a man who had had a religious awakening and seemed to have become mentally unstable.” The Toronto Star portrays him as a small-time criminal with a long rap sheet. It appears that the suspect had failed to secure the required documentation for a trip abroad and was designated a “high-risk traveler.” After shooting the soldier, Zehaf-Bibeau turned towards the parliament where he also opened fire before being shot dead by Kevin Vickers, the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms. The Guardian notes, however, that “it remains unclear how the he made his way past the armed guards protecting the building.”
In a televised address to the nation last night, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said "we will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated." He added, "this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe." Although admitting these attacks show Canada is "not immune to terrorist attacks," he also insisted the perpetrators "will have no safe haven" in the country.
Yesterday’s attack came after another Canadian soldier was killed in a hit-and-run Monday by Martin Rouleau-Couture, a Muslim convert who had his passport confiscated amid suspicion that he might be trying to join a Syrian jihadist group. It’s unclear whether the two events are connected or related to Canada’s recent decision to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.
In a strongly worded editorial, The Globe And Mail asks “why these men, considered sufficiently high-risk to be denied the right to travel, were never charged” and wonders “whether Canada needs to change.” Replying to a tweet from New York Times columnist Roger Cohen — “When Canada goes, it’s all over” — the editorial concludes, “We have had a bad week. There is much loss to mourn. But we are still here. We are still standing. The True North remains, strong and free.”
ISIS ACCUSED OF CHEMICAL ATTACK
Kurdish officials and doctors in the Syrian border town of Kobani said yesterday that ISIS fighters had released “a sort of toxic gas” in eastern parts of the embattled city, though they lack equipment to say precisely which agent was used, Iranian Press TV reports. Meanwhile, the parliament in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region has approved sending Peshmerga fighters to Kobani to assist Syrian Kurds. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria have killed 553 ISIS fighters and 32 civilians, but the exact number of strikes is not known. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that moderate Syrian opposition fighters will be trained by the U.S. not to attack ISIS-controlled territory, but only to defend ground, an approach that some U.S. and allied officials consider “flawed.”
As German expat Beate Wild explains in Süddeutsche Zeitung, American microbrews are getting it all wrong. “As a Bavarian, I’m having a hard time getting used to the brews they call beer here,” Wild writes from California. “That may sound arrogant, but what can you do: I grew up with beers brewed in accordance with the German Purity Law. These beers are praised worldwide. (It is true that many of the beers mentioned here, like German beer made in accordance with the purity law, do not contain additives.) An informal poll among German expat friends here from Hamburg, Hesse and Saxony showed that they feel the same way about American beer as I do.”
Read the full article, In San Francisco Microbrew Mecca, Yearning For Bavarian Beer.
MEXICAN MAYOR WANTED IN CASE OF DEAD STUDENTS
Mexico’s attorney general has ordered the arrest of Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife, and accused the pair of being behind the killing of six students and the disappearance of another 43 after they clashed with police last month, EFE reports. Abarca and his wife, who are believed to be on the run, were accused of having ordered the police operation against the students on Sept. 26 to prevent protesters from disrupting an event hosted by the mayor’s wife. At least 52 people have already been arrested in connection with the case. Investigators are still working to establish whether 30 bodies found in a mass grave could be those of the missing students. The first tests returned negative, but further DNA samples have been taken by an Argentinian team, and the results are expected soon.
A rare Apple-1 computer sold for nearly $1 million at an auction in New York yesterday.
EAST JERUSALEM TENSIONS HIGH
A three-month-old baby was killed and seven people were injured when a car slammed into pedestrians at a Jerusalem light railway stop late Wednesday. Israeli officials have called the incident a terrorist attack, and it comes amid rising tensions in the city. The driver was shot by the police and died later in hospital. The Jerusalem Post reports that this morning that “Arab assailants hurled stones at a kindergarten” in East Jerusalem. After yesterday’s events, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas of encouraging “terrorist attacks.”
MOSCOW AIRPORT OFFICIALS RESIGN
The Director General of Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport and his deputy have resigned less than three days after a private jet crashed and killed four people, including the CEO of French oil giant Total. Russian news agency Tass also reports that four staff members have been arrested on suspicion of negligence. Among them is the man who was overseeing snow clearing on the night of the accident, Reuters reports. In an editorial, The Moscow Times writes that public safety in Russia “is compromised because of negligence on the part of the authorities tasked with upholding it” and argues that this crash is similar to that of MH17 in eastern Ukraine in that it will attract “international attention to what was previously seen as an essentially local problem.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
It’s that time of year again. As many as 50,000 new words have been added to the Collins Dictionary. Among them: photobomb, bakeoff, twerk and our personal favorite, adorkable.
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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