Hong Kong Arrests, India-Russia Nuclear Deal, Superbugs

Powerful gales and giant waves battered the coast of Wales for a second day Thursday.
Powerful gales and giant waves battered the coast of Wales for a second day Thursday.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bailiffs and police officers began a planned clearing operation of Hong Kong’s main protest site this morning, where the Occupy Central movement started more than two months ago. According to the South China Morning Post, dozens of protesters have been arrested, including radical lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who was dragged away screaming, "We will be back. Democracy will win." Apart from this core of protesters, the operation was met with little resistance, The Straits Times reports. Although it seems that this could be the end of the city’s pro-democracy movement that defied Beijing, The Wall Street Journal writes that “the movement’s legacy may lie not in the reforms it called for, but in the generation it pushed to act.”

Powerful gales and giant waves are battering the coast of Wales for a second day today as a "weather bomb" of low pressure works its way southward across the UK.

Brazil’s Truth Commission published its findings yesterday after nearly three years of study into the crimes of the dictatorship between 1964 and 1985. At least 434 people were victims of brutal torture, which went as far as being locked in a box with extreme temperature changes and having live animals introduced into their bodies, newspaper O Globo reports. Nearly 200 people died and more than 200 others are still officially missing. The commission recommended the 1979 amnesty law be partially revoked so that the military and foreign companies such as Volkswagen, which provided information to the regime, can face trial. The extent of the revelations left President Dilma Rousseff, who herself was tortured at the time as a Marxist guerilla, in tears as she presented the report.


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pleaded with Russia during a visit to Australia today.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced at a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia’s state-owned Rosatom would build at least 12 more nuclear reactors in India by 2035, Reuters reports. The two powers also signed a contract for Russia to export 10 million tons of oil to India every year for the next decade, as Russia continues to develop its commercial ties with developing countries. The ruble, meanwhile, hit record lows this morning even as Russia’s Central Bank hiked its interest rate to 10.5% in a move to strengthen the currency. Read more from The Guardian.

As Les Echos’ Paul Molga reports, one in three people around the world is overweight, and that ratio is growing. "Globesity" investors see that airlines, hospitals, car companies and others must adapt to meet the literally expanding needs. “According to researchers, more than half of this world's obese individuals live in China, India, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Pakistan and Indonesia,” the journalist writes. “This fattening of the planet is not about to reverse itself anytime soon, mainly because fast-food chains in emerging countries are peddling their recipe for success already established in the United States and Europe. In India, where 80% of the population doesn't eat beef in accordance with the Hindu religion, the Chicken Maharaja Mac has replaced the Big Mac in a market growing at a pace of nearly 30% per year.”
Read the full article, The Worldwide Rise In Obesity Is A Huge Business Opportunity.

Israeli and Palestinian officials have issued conflicting accounts of the events that led to the death of Palestinian Minister Ziad Abu Ein after a confrontation with Israeli Defense Forces yesterday, Al Jazeera reports. Israel claims that his death was due to a heart failure “brought on by stress,” which might be the result of a soldier grabbing him by the neck. Palestinian civil affairs chief Hussein Al Sheikh said that the autopsy showed the death had been caused by a beating from Israeli soldiers and the inhalation of tear gas, adding that Israeli soldiers had delayed his transfer to a hospital. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a “swift and transparent investigation.”


The United States has transferred its last prisoners in Afghanistan to local authorities and closed the controversial detention center near Bagram Air Base where the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques were used on detainees, NBC News reports. The Taliban, meanwhile, continued their bombing campaign, and a suicide blast this morning in Kabul killed at least six soldiers and left another 11 wounded. Data gathered by the BBC shows that 5,042 people were killed in 664 jihadist attacks across 14 countries in November alone, almost half of them attributed to ISIS.

An already complicated relationship between Google and Europe is about to get even more tense after the search giant announced it would shut down its news service in Spain starting in December 2016 ahead of a “Google tax” law that will come into force in January, El País reports. Arguing that “Google News itself makes no money,” Google News head Richard Gingras said the new legislation requiring online news aggregators to pay “fair compensation” to news outlets is “simply not sustainable.” Germany, France and Belgium have already passed similar legislation, but the Spanish law differs in that it declares the payment of the compensation “unavoidable.” In France, the search giant agreed last year to pay 60 million euros into a special fund to help media develop their online offerings.

A team of scientists believe that drug-resistant infections will kill close to 11 million people every year by 2050 if action is not taken, the BBC reports. Developing countries are the most at risk, with a chilling forecast of two million deaths in India alone. Presenting the analysis, economist Jim O’Neill said the necessary costs to prevent such an outcome would amount to $100 trillion. That’s more than 2013’s global GDP, which was just below $75 trillion.

In what is probably the most surreal news to date on U.S. attempts to spark change in Cuba, the AP reports that the U.S. Agency for International Development infiltrated the island’s underground hip-hop scene and recruited unwitting rappers to start an anti-government movement.

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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

"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.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

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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