Geopolitics

Disputed Election In South Ossetia Reignites Tensions After 2008 Russia-Georgia War

After the Kremlin-backed candidate appears to lose at polls, the Supreme Court overturns the results. But Alla Dzhioyeva, who took 56% of the vote, won’t go down without a fight.

Alla Dzhioyeva casting her ballot during the first round of elections.
Alla Dzhioyeva casting her ballot during the first round of elections.

*NEWSBITES

Tskhinvali -- Three years after a brief but intense war between Russia and Georgia over the contested territory South Ossetia, tensions are rising in the small Russian-backed Caucasian Republic after last Sunday's election results were annulled by the Supreme Court.

The opposition candidate Alla Dzhioyeva appeared to have won, garnering 56% of the vote compared to the 40% by her opponent, Kremlin-sponsored Anatoly Bibilov. But the Supreme Court annulled the election results Tuesday, citing voting irregularities, and parliament set a new election for March 2012, barring Dzhioyeva from participating.

But Dzhioyeva, 62, is not going to go without a fight. Early Wednesday morning, she announced that she would would assume the presidency and begin forming a new cabinet in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. "We have always acted within the framework of the constitution and have never strayed from legal grounds," Dzhioyeva announced in an interview with Kommersant. "I am going to form a cabinet of 10 people to govern the Republic of South Ossetia."

The main responsibility of the cabinet is to control the executive branch of the government until Dzhioyeva's inauguration. She also declared that she would follow the will of the South Ossetian voters, and said that she holds current South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, also a Kremlin darling, responsible for the current tension.

The security forces in the small republic -- which is recognized as an independent state by Russia but considered part of Georgia by most of the international community -- have been on full alert since Tuesday's Supreme Court announcement. The breakaway republic provoked a month-long war between Russia and Georgia in 2008, during which time most of the Georgians in the region, previously some 30 percent of the population, fled.

Since then, Kokoity has made conflicting remarks about South Ossetia's plans for the future, sometimes saying the region would become an independent state, other times that it would become part of Russia. Georgia still insists that either option violates its territorial integrity.

"Written in black and white"

When asked why she decided to fight the election annulment, Dzhioyeva was not short on answers. "If there had been any kind of infractions at the polls, then it should have been announced on election day," she said. "I have in my hand 85 statements from the poll captains, and the election results are written clearly in black and white. These documents were signed by representatives of the electoral commission as well as observers from my opponent's campaign and from my campaign."

Dzhioyeva said that both international experts and the internal electoral commission have said that there was nothing to indicate irregularities in the elections. She added that she doubted all along that Kokoity would leave power "in a civilized manner."

In spite of the Kremlin's known support for her opponent, she plans to appeal to the Russian government, which supplies a large amount of aid to the area, to pressure Kokoity to respect the election results. If that fails, Dzhioyeva says she would reach out to the larger international community.

Although her opponent, Anatoly Bibilov, has made comments suggesting he might resort to force if he didn't prevail at the polls, Dzhioyeva says she's not worried about a military confrontation. The Kremlin may have supported her opponent, but she thinks that Russia's interests would not be served by renewed violence in South Ossetia.

Read the interview with Alla Dzhioyeva in Russian

Photo - wikipedia

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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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