This week we shine the spotlight on Indonesia:
FLYING â€œARMY AIRâ€
An investigation into a military plane crash that killed 141 people near Medan on June 30 is ongoing, with new details sparking controversy. The C-130 Hercules that took off from Seowondo Air Force base in Sumatra was carrying several civilian passengers who may have paid to access the supposedly military-only flight. Jakarta-based daily Kompas reports that both Vice-President Yusuf Kalla and Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu defended the practice, saying the military has a duty to support citizens, especially those living in remote corners of the vast archipelago. But the Air Force flatly opposes the â€œcommercializationâ€ of its flights, vowing to punish any commander who allows it. The Armed Forces are known as the TNI in Indonesia, and local media have started to satirically call the Air Force â€œAir TNI.â€
The transportation ministry allocated 36 billion rupiah ($2.7 million) to provide free transport for motorcyclists returning home for Lebaran, writes Antara, Indonesiaâ€™s national press agency. The national holiday of Lebaran or Idul Fitri marks the end of Ramadan and the fasting period, and the yearly celebration brings with it a mass exodus known locally as mudik. Indonesians leave the cities en masse to visit their families in the countryside, further congesting a limited road network and causing a spike in accidents. National police statistics show that 163 people died during last yearâ€™s mudik, down from 232 in 2013. Government officials hope that by providing transport on ships, trains and trucks, they can limit the number of motorcycles on the roads and reduce casualties.
After the murder in Bali last month of an adopted Indonesian girl, Indonesiaâ€™s child protection agency called for a moratorium on foreign adoptions, the English-language newspaper Jakarta Globe reports. The eight-year-old victim, Engeline, was illegally adopted at birth by an Indonesian woman married to a foreigner. Asrorun Niam Soleh, head of the commission for child protection, said foreign adoptions â€œhurt the countryâ€™s dignityâ€ and should only be a last resort. But the man who confessed to killing the child is an Indonesian national, as was the childâ€™s adopted mother, raising doubts as to whether the proposed ban would have much of an impact.
SHUFFLING THE DECK
Faced with a slump in economic growth and a faltering currency, businessmen and the public alike are pressuring President Joko Widodo to change his economic team. According to Surabaya-based daily Jawa Pos, the president is considering a complete reshuffle of his cabinet to regain public trust and revive the economy. Jokowi, as he is commonly called, has seen his approval ratings fall significantly since his landmark election victory in 2014, when he defeated former general and establishment favorite Prabowo Subianto. In a meeting with senior economists, the president expressed anger at the governmentâ€™s economic performance and a desire to bring in some new faces to his administration.
The Indonesian weekly magazine Tempo reports that a new Google Maps update provides real-time traffic information for 23 cities across the country, including the largest urban areas. The app also indicates the intensity of traffic and alerts users to accidents, road closures and renovations. Traffic is a significant issue in most Indonesian cities, as public transport is virtually nonexistent. The capital, Jakarta, is the largest city in the world without a rail mass transit system despite being the second most populous urban area on the planet. Although an underground metro is currently under construction, Jakarta still holds the world record for the worst traffic, with 33,240 stop-starts a year, according to the 2015 Castrol index.
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.
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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