Geopolitics

Inside Gaddafi’s Surreal Bubble As The Bombing Begins

The full-moon view from one of the foreign journalists accredited by the regime to report from Tripoli.

Delphine Minoui

TRIPOLI - "Message to the press: you are invited for a tour of Bab-el Aziza. Please gather at the entrance hall of the hotel as soon as possible!" Moussa Ibrahim, the announcer at the hotel Rixos Al Nasr in Tripoli, is speaking with a voice that is more excited than normal. We have to be fast. In the parking lot, our usual tourist bus is waiting for us, and the door is already open. We have only enough time to grab our video recorders, microphones and cameras.

We are the several dozen journalists authorized by the regime to cover events in the capital – and we set off for Bab-el Aziza, Muammad Gaddafi's main base, which is just ten minutes away from the hotel.

Very quickly, a rumor spreads about a public announcement by the Libyan leader. It would be the first response from Gaddafi since Thursday's UN Security Council approval of a resolution for a Libyan no-fly zone. At our arrival at his headquarters, the usual supporters of the regime are already gathered in front of the gates. They are waving green flags and pictures of the Colonel. We pass through several checkpoints. The controls are strangely not very strict. We arrive in front a collapsed compound. It is a symbolic place. Gaddafi barely escaped the US air-striking which was carried out here in 1986 in response to a Berlin discotheque bombing that killed American soliders. Gaddafi's adopted daughter, Hannah, was killed.

The ruins were left here as a memorial. In front of it, hundreds of people are gathering. There are men, women, and teenagers. They are, in effect, forming a human shield. Bab-el Aziza is one of the possible targets of foreign air strikes. The crowd is singing pro-regime slogans, like football fans waiting for their team to take the field.

Banners are warning the West. "The people are ready to die for Libya," one reads. "Libya is ready and out of reach," reads another. There are metaphors too: "We are waiting for you and so are the fish." Our guide explains that this is a reference to a US aircraft which was shot down in the sea in the 80s.

A song that sounds like Shakira is playing. Some veiled women move to the music. Listening more carefully to the words, it is possible to recognize Gaddafi's first speech after the start of the popular uprising. On February 22nd, he said he would "cleanse Libya house by house" and "street by street" if necessary. The song, "Zenga Zenga" ("Street by street") is currently one of the most popular viral hits on YouTube. Noy Alooshe, an Israeli musician of Tunisian descent, created it to support Libyan opposition. The regime seems to have decided to adopt it for its own purposes.

Everything is strange tonight, even the full moon. Oddest of all is when I run into the owner of an esthetician center I'd interviewed last week. Instinctively, she hugs me, though she is a discreet opponent of the regime. Why is she attending such a propaganda show? There is no time to ask. The journalists are requested to gather on the ground floor of the collapsed compound. Minutes and hours go by. Gaddafi will keep us waiting, as usual.

All of a sudden, a cell phone rings. "Two missiles fell in East Tripoli," a fellow journalist says. The military action has officially started. There is no more time to waste acting as Gaddafi's propaganda speakers. All the journalists go back to the big bus, to ask for more updates. Once we are back at the hotel, the news is confirmed: US and British forces have fired more than 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libyan defense targets. One hour later, Gaddafi finally appears on the Libyan national television. "The Mediterranean region has become a real battlefield," he says in a audio message recorded at unknown time and place. "Arms depots have been opened, and all the Libyan people are being armed to defend the country against Western forces." Far away, blasts echo in the night.

Read the original article in French

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Geopolitics

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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