In Turkey, A 100-Mile Show Of Hands Against First Nuclear Plant

Activists say earthquake-prone Turkey risks a Fukushima-style disaster if plans go ahead to build the massive Akkuyu power plant along the Mediterranean coast.

Construction set to begin soon on a nuclear plan along Turkey's Mersin coast
Construction set to begin soon on a nuclear plan along Turkey's Mersin coast
Ali Şen, Mehmet Okur and A. Rıza Eren

MERSIN – Holding hands to form a 100-mile human chain, thousands of anti-nuclear activists gathered in southern Turkey over the weekend to protest plans to build the country's first nuclear power plant.

Construction on the Akkuyu facility is set to begin next month in Mersin. Opponents worry that the plant could be prone to the same kind of disaster that has hit the Fukushima plant following the March 11 earthquake in northern Japan

Sebahat Aslan, a spokeswoman for Mersin Against Nuclear Power, said that accidents in nuclear power plants like Chernobyl and Fukushima threaten the future of the entire planet. "We want to thank all our friends, joining us and echoing the call that Turkey will not be another Japan," Aslan said. "We are here today to warn the government again, and tell them that we don't want nuclear power plants. Those who want to make a nuclear dumpster out of our country and produce nuclear weapons here will not reach their goals."

Turkey is crisscrossed by fault lines that produce frequent – and at times powerful – earthquakes. In March 2010, a 6.1-magnitude temblor near the eastern city of Bingöl killed more than 50 people. Eleven years earlier, a pair of large earthquakes – measuring 7.6 and 7.2 – killed more than 20,000 people in northwestern Turkey.

Following the rally and speeches, activists held hands and formed the human chain along coastal roadways to the town of Gülnar, with pedestrians and drivers waving and honking in support.

Zafer Taşdemir says his prostate cancer and his wife's breast cancer was caused by exposure to radioactive rain after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. "We don't want such dangerous power in Akkuyu," he said at the protest. "Other people should not be exposed to cancer like my family was."

‘Don't Touch My Strawberries ‘

Also over the weekend, there was another protest against the building of a thermoelectric, fossil-fuel burning power station in Adana, a city in southern Anatolia, and a major agricultural and commercial center. Shouting slogans such as "We don't want poisonous chimneys," the villagers said the power station would endanger the area's agricultural production.

Residents in Bartın also protested against a planned thermoelectric station in the region, driving a 75-vehicle caravan from Bartın to Amasra in northern Anatolia to raise awareness of an even bigger demonstration planned for April 22. Association members carried signs saying "Don't touch my strawberries," "No to the thermal power station" and "Go away poison traders." The mayor of Amasra, Emin Timur, declared: "Amasra is too precious to be sacrificed to greed and irresponsibility."

Turkey currently generates about 80% of its electricity with thermoelectric plants. Its other principal power source are hydroelectric dams. The $20 billion nuclear plant planned for Mersin, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, could eventually have an installed capacity of 5,000 megawatts (MW), equivalent to approximately 9% of the country's total generating capacity.

Photo - alanlpriest

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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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