Gaza Ceasefire Cracks, Yukos Verdict, Hygienic Fist Bumps

"Shadows of war" in Gaza
"Shadows of war" in Gaza

Monday, July 28, 2014

The UN Security Council agreed on a statement during an emergency midnight meeting calling for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas that has killed more than 1,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 40 Israeli soldiers in just three weeks, the AP reports.

Gaza fighting had in fact eased over the weekend, including a 12-hour truce on Saturday, followed by pressure from the United States and the UN to extend it. Hamas has requested a 24-hour truce to mark the three-day Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which starts today.

Both in statements to the press and at the UN, Israeli officials were skeptical about Hamas respecting a ceasefire.

Israeli jets struck three sites in Gaza today, the AP reports, with military officials telling the news agency the strike was a response to a rocket launched at Israel.

Reuters has a video of a Palestinian baby delivered this week from a mother killed by an Israeli air strike.

The UN’s top human rights official said in a statement today that shooting down Malaysian Flight MH17 — which crashed in eastern Ukraine July 17, killing all 298 people aboard — may amount to a war crime, The New York Times reports. As the newspaper notes, the UN official, Navi Pillay, did not ascribe blame for the deadly attack. Her assessment came as the UN issued its fourth monthly report on the chaos in eastern Ukraine, which estimates that at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded there since mid-April. News reports today said that in the latest weekend fighting at least eight civilians were killed in the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Young survivors of April’s South Korean ferry disaster testified today in the trial of the 15 crew members charged with abandoning the vessel, saying passengers were told to stay onboard and were left to rescue themselves, ITV reports. “We said to ourselves, ‘Why aren't they coming in?’” one student testified. More than 300 people died, including scores from a single high school.

As Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Norbert Meiszies writes, Route 66 may have gone the way of the largely abandoned as interstates became faster and easier for U.S. travelers. Still, the stretch of 2,448 miles between Chicago and Los Angeles has since evolved into a clichéd symbol of freedom and independence. “Most of the businesses, hotels, gas stations and diners that used to exist along Route 66 didn’t survive the change,” the newspaper writes. “They had to close, and have since been quietly falling into decrepitude. The Mother Road herself has suffered: Tufts of grass grow through cracks in the asphalt, while the wind and weather do the rest. Route 66 now survives because of the charm of disuse — and pretty well in some cases, such as New Mexico's 66 Diner in Albuquerque and the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, both of which have achieved cult status.”
Read the full article, Route 66, Cruising The Most American Road Of Them All.


The Hague’s arbitration court ruled today that Russia must pay $51.6 billion to shareholders of the defunct oil giant Yukos for expropriating its assets, “a big hit for a country teetering on the brink of recession,” as Reuters characterized the decision. The group won less than half of their $114 billion claim, which will help them recover some of the money lost when the Kremlin seized the company.

According to an investigation by French online journal Mediapart, at least 20% of elected members of Parliament have given jobs to close relatives to be paid with public money — including 52 wives, and dozens of children.

Boko Haram militants in Nigeria kidnapped the wife of Cameroon's vice prime minister and killed at least three people Sunday in the northern town of Kolofata, Reuters reports. A local religious leader who also serves as the town mayor was also kidnapped along with five members of his family.
Die Welt has more on the Islamist extremist group in this Worldcrunch piece, How The West Underestimated Boko Haram.


Vincenzo Nibali won the Tour de France, cruising into Paris on Sunday, to become the tenth Italian to win the world’s top cycling race. The 29-year-old is just the sixth rider in history to have won all three grand tours, adding to his wins at the Vuelta a España in 2010 and Giro d'Italia in 2013. Read more from ESPN.

The traditional handshake is so square and old-school — and can, you know, spread disease. According to a new study published today in that bastion of light reading, the American Journal of Infection Control, the fist bump of the sort Barack Obama is so fond is a much safer way to greet people. “If the general public could be encouraged to fist-bump, there is genuine potential to reduce the spread of infectious disease,” says researcher Dave Whitworth. Read more from the Washington Post.

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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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