Geopolitics

Egypt's Military Brass And The Officers Who Stood With The Revolution

One year ago, several young Egyptian army officers made a very public showing alongside democracy protesters in Tahrir Square. They were swiftly arrested, and are currently serving prison time. As their families demand answers, other soldiers are quietly

The people and the army, in Cairo (Gigi Ibrahim)
The people and the army, in Cairo (Gigi Ibrahim)
CAIRO - Just one year ago, Egypt's ruling generals were faced with the first public collective act of defiance from within the ranks of the military.

On 8 April last year, 22 officers serving in the army, most of them in uniform, joined protesters in Tahrir Square to announce their support for the continuing revolution. The officers were arrested in a brutal military raid on the square that resulted in at least one civilian death, and are now serving two to three years in prison.

This first breaking of ranks, though perhaps the largest, has not been the last.

Since then, several other officers — who seem to have been unable to balance the revolutionary zeal that gripped the nation with the strict principles of obedience and political neutrality that govern their behavior in the army — have chosen to voice their political opinions, reflecting support for the revolution and criticism of their commanders, according to supporters of the officers and their lawyer, Mohamed al-Rayes.

The repetition of these acts throughout the year indicates growing resentment within the military, albeit among a limited number that doesn't threaten to create a real internal division, according to experts.

The April 8 officers announced that they decided to go down to Tahrir Square to prove to the people that they in fact stood with them, unlike the military leaders who announced that they were on the side of the revolution and acted otherwise.

Peers in the square

One incident that officers recalled is when Supreme Council of the Armed Forces member Mokhtar al-Molla addressed officers in a meeting with one of the units and said, "These are some kids that went too far and we will stop them," in reference to the revolutionaries.

"He forgot that these officers are the same as the youths of the country that he was talking about," said retired military officer Tarek Wadi", the father of one of the 8 April officers, Mohamed Wadi".

"They wanted to warn the people, to tell them the military council is not on your side — if they wanted any harm, they would have gone down with their weapons," he said.

However, the officers were criticized by many for having sought refuge amid an unarmed crowd of protesters.

Mohamed Wadi" has already served time for a poem that he wrote in 2010 in which he harshly criticized the leadership of the military and the country, hinting at corruption on both levels and warning of an imminent rebellion. In March 2011, Wadi" was pardoned of his one-year-sentence following the revolution, only to be arrested again three weeks later for joining protesters in the square in civilian clothes.

The officers were initially sentenced to 10 years in prison, though the sentences were later reduced to two and three years.

Nesreen, one of the founders of the Supporters of the April 8 Officers Movement, said the public apathy toward the officers' case is dangerous because it makes them easy prey for the military to pin more charges on them while they are in custody. The families also complain about the difficult conditions their imprisoned relatives face. After he continued writing poems from his prison cell and leaked them out, Wadi" was moved last month to solitary confinement in an Alexandria prison.

SCAF members Mohsen al-Fangary and Mahmoud Hegazy held a meeting with the officers' families last Thursday. Some parents said animosity toward their sons was apparent. "Our children are being punished, but those who stripped a girl of her clothes, the officer who conducted virginity tests and those who killed people with live ammunition are left free," said the mother of Wadi".

Crimes attributed to military officers have been publicized throughout the year. They include reports of virginity tests on female detainees, officers' running over protesters with military vehicles during an October march, and a widely circulated picture that showed soldiers stripping a woman naked at a December protest.

Read the full article at Al Masry Al Youm

photo - Gigi Ibrahim

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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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