Geopolitics

Down With The Olympics And Their Twisted Values!

LE MONDE (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), THE GUARDIAN (UK)

Worldcrunch

PARIS - Do you find yourself cheering like mad for an athlete whose name you just heard for the first time? Are you passionately tuning into sports you never knew you cared about? And though the endless ads and omnipresent sponsors can be a drag, are you wise enough to understand it is necessary to put on such a spectacle where we can all learn the value of striving “to be the best we can be?”

Most would say you have been struck by the Olympic spirit. Others, it turns out, would just call you a sucker of Olympian proportions – and the Games themselves the purveyor of all the wrong values.

“The Olympics put competition at the heart of our values, where solidarity and cooperation would be welcome,” Pierre Guerlain, a professor at the University of Paris-Nanterre, wrote recently in Le Monde.

Billions that could be spent on the poor or the homeless go instead to sponsor-driven sporting competitions, with an extra shot of pure patriotism every four years, argues Guerlain, who specializes in the study of American society and foreign policy.

France seems to be quite well equipped at throwing water on the Olympic flame just in time for London 2012. French writer and intellectual Marc Perelman recently published a book called “Barbaric Sport: A Global Plague,” that has been touted as the manifesto of a simmering “anti-Olympiad” movement.

Meanwhile Alain Cohen-Dumouchel, a leftist French politician, writes that the principles that democratic leaders usually champion are quick to be forgotten come Olympic time. The rule of the strongest, especially in finance, is something politicians have been actively criticizing in recent months. But since it’s sports, all hail a “may the best man win” ethos, notes Cohen-Dumouchel in a piece for the news website Rue89.

The deeper risk is a slide toward elitism bordering on an ideology of superiority. “The athlete’s healthy body is a reflection of the health of the nation. Genetics and nationalism may have a disturbing ring, but the leaders don’t care. The athletic opiate thrills the masses, brings the nation together and makes you forget the economic crisis for a while.”

Olympic bashing of course is not only a French sport. Italian comedian-turned-political-activist Beppe Grillo was not impressed by Italy’s sharp performance in fencing. “I don’t know and have never known anyone in my life who practices foil or sabre, but at the Olympics I must be proud if my country finishes on the podium. Then for the next four years, I don’t give a damn,” Grillo wrote. "The athletes don’t win, the nations do. It is the triumph of nationalism.”

Not to be outdone, British singer Morrissey – who had already chafed about his group The Smiths not being included in the opening ceremony, came out for a second heat of Olympic sniping, writing to his fan club members about the “blustering jingoism” of the Games.

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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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