Geopolitics

Did Iran Strike ISIS?, Egypt Mass Death Sentence, Hawking Warning

At the 2014 Kuala Lumpur World Youth Stamp Exhibition.
At the 2014 Kuala Lumpur World Youth Stamp Exhibition.
Worldcrunch

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

DID IRAN STRIKE ISIS IN IRAQ?
Iran denied claims made by Al Jazeera and confirmed by the Pentagon that Tehran’s warplanes had launched strikes against ISIS in eastern Iran. Reuters reports that the unnamed senior Iranian official also said that “any cooperation in such strikes with America is also out of question for Iran.” Iraq’s Interior Ministry meanwhile also denied yesterday’s reports that a wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was being detained in Lebanon, saying instead that the woman is in fact the sister of a man convicted of bombings in southern Iraq.

UN CONVOY ATTACKED IN SOMALIA
A new attack believed to have been carried out by the al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabab targeted a UN convoy near the airport in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing at least four people, AFP reports. Following the group’s recent deadly attacks in neighboring Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta replaced his interior minister and police chief. But opposition leaders have urged Kenyatta to “perform his duty” or resign, according to newspaper The Nation.

UKRAINIAN P.M. REVEALS NUCLEAR ‘ACCIDENT’
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said a recent accident had occurred at the Zaporizhye nuclear power plant in the southeast part of the country, Reuters reports. Yatsenyuk offered few details, indicating that the incident was more of a threat to Ukraine’s ongoing energy problems than to the health of nearby residents, and called on the energy minister to hold a news conference. History’s worst nuclear power accident, measured in both costs and casualties, occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in northern Ukraine.

VERBATIM

And more disturbing predictions from another scientific field, as Professor Stephen Hawking is warning us of the danger of creating "thinking machines."

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
Swiss daily Le Temps reports on an unusual global “convention” held secretly last month in Geneva. “The three-day meeting convened by Geneva Call was discreet enough that it wasn't reported on until days later, once the participants had already left Switzerland...the only real possible location for such a complicated encounter, as it is the only Western country that has not listed any of these groups as terrorist organizations.”
Read the full article: Inside Geneva's Secret "Guerrilla Convention."

SNAPSHOT
Some 700 frames, each filled with dozens of stamps from more than 300 international collectors, are on display at the world’s biggest stamp exhibition in Kuala Lumpur.

ISRAEL TO VOTE IN MARCH
Early elections in Israel have been fixed for March 17. The national vote was triggered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to fire two top minister from centrist parties after days of escalating tensions inside his coalition, The Jerusalem Post reports. The daily Haaretz writes that the vote will be tantamount to a referendum on Netanyahu and whether he should be allowed to continue as the country’s leader for a fourth term.

Tzipi Livni, who was fired from her post of Justice Minister yesterday, reacted to the upcoming election by saying that it’s “a problem that the Prime Minister lies” and accused him of being “hysterical and afraid.” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he hoped that whatever government is formed will “negotiate and move towards resolving the differences between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Following in the recent footsteps of other Western countries like Sweden and Spain, the French lower house of Parliament passed yesterday a non-binding vote urging the government to recognize a Palestinian state. Israel’s Foreign Ministry criticized the symbolic vote, arguing that it “will only distance the chances of reaching an agreement” between both parties.

FAREWELL
Bobby Keys, the Texas-born musician best known as the main saxophone player for the Rolling Stones, died Tuesday at age 70.

HONG KONG PROTEST LEADERS SURRENDER, RELEASED
The three co-founders of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement and dozens of their supporters have been released without charges by the police after they surrendered as planned, the South China Morning Post reports. Opponents of the protest movement waited for the three activists outside the police station when they surrendered and booed them, chanting “go to jail immediately! Rubbish! Shameless! Sinners!”

$5,600
Christmas came early this year: Amazon mistakenly delivered $5,600-worth of gifts to a 22-year-old British student. He may keep everything.

EGYPT CONDEMNS 188 TO DEATH
A criminal court in Giza, Egypt, has condemned 188 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to death, sentencing them over the deadly attack of a police station outside Cairo in August 2013, Mada Masr reports. As by Egyptian law, the Grand Mufti, the highest Muslim authority in the country, will have the last word on the death sentences. The final verdict will be pronounced on January 24, after which defendants will have the possibility to appeal. The sentences came hours after the country’s public prosecutor announced he would appeal Saturday’s decision to drop charges against former President Hosni Mubarak, his Interior Minister and six of his aides.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


ANTARCTICA MELT RATE ACCELERATING
The melt rate of glaciers in the fastest-melting region of Antarctica is three times higher than it was just a decade ago, a 21-year study by NASA and the California Institute of Technology reveals.

THE ONLY UN
Kim Jong-un doesn’t like namesakes. In the latest show of what is perhaps the pinnacle of the North Korean leader’s cult of personality, a South Korean official said that Pyongyang had forbidden anybody from using Kim Jong-un’s name.

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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

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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