Egypt’s Street Children Still Waiting For Signs Of Arab Spring

Street children in Egypt are easy targets for both criminals and police. Neglected and abused, they are still waiting for the promises of the revolution to trickle their way.

Kirsti Itameri

CAIRO -- While various groups in Egypt have been clamoring to have their say and influence the future of their country, one group has remained as voiceless as ever: street children. The country's streets are home to an estimated 150,000 to 2 million children. Numbers vary widely depending on how the children are classified.

Besides navigating perils like crime, violence, rape, drugs and prostitution on a daily basis, the children are also regularly arrested. "The police have quotas of children to arrest, the same way they have quotas for tickets to give," said Alia Mossallam, who has researched the topic extensively for both UNICEF and Human Rights Watch.

NGOs like the Banati Foundation or Hope Village Society, an Egyptian NGO, help these children reintegrate into society. Unfortunately, these types of comprehensive services reach only a fraction of those who need them.

Street children are frequently recruited by baltageya, or thugs, to do their dirty work. But the police themselves are also accused of abusing the children. "One example is that the police appoint children to work as guides or spies to report on drug deals or thug congregations," said Soheer Wahid, a social worker at the Banati Foundation, an NGO that serves street girls. According to Alia Mossallam, they are threatened with rape if they don't comply.

Soheer Wahid noted that these practices are still being reported even after the uprising. Many street children participate in protests – sometimes on the side of the protesters, who provided food and camaraderie, and sometimes as paid pro-Mubarak agitators. Some spent time in Tahrir Square and are acutely aware of the possibility of change.

Ramadan, a soft-spoken boy who comes to a reception center in Sayeda Zeinab run by Hope Village Society, says he has been arrested four times so far, both before and after the revolution, for playing in the street.

"Right when the guy said ‘I'll take you home" he took us to jail," he said. "When I walked in the door the officer hit me without asking any questions or saying anything."

Alia Mossallam describes the revolution as a "grand opportunity," noting that it's useless to work with the kids and NGOs when you can't change the practices of the Ministry of Interior.

"It is a social responsibility, not just a responsibility of the government and NGOs," says said Abla El-Badry, secretary general of Hope Village Society. "We need to think of these children as a part of the community."

Read the original article in full at Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - Adam Jones, Ph.D.

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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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