ISIS Recruits, NY Homelessness Grows, Scary Clowns Ban

A dragon parade marks the start of the Wat Saket temple fair in Bangkok
A dragon parade marks the start of the Wat Saket temple fair in Bangkok

Friday, October 31, 2014

Months-long talks between Moscow, Kiev and Brussels ended with a deal yesterday for Russia to resume supplying gas to Ukraine at least until March 2015, Reuters reports. The agreement is also good news for EU countries that rely on Russian gas because it ensures that gas supplies via Ukraine are secure. CEO of Russia’s Gazprom also said a discount for Ukraine is also nearly finalized, meaning that gas deliveries could resume as soon as Kiev pays $1.45 billion in debt it owes the Russian company. According to the BBC, the total package is worth $4.6 billion, with money coming from the International Monetary Fund and the EU, which will act as a guarantor for Kiev.

Russia’s central bank is expected to raise its key interest rate in an attempt to support the ruble after weeks of weakening against the dollar.

Grim news keeps coming from eastern Ukraine, where sporadic fights continue around Donetsk. Prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic announced this morning that 286 bodies of women aged between 18 and 25 were discovered, adding that another 400 were still missing in a town previously occupied by government forces. Read more from Ria Novosti.

"I don't want her within three feet of anybody," Maine governor LePage said after nurse Kaci Hickox breached her 21-day Ebola quarantine. He said he would "exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law" to keep her away from public places.

Burkina Faso's President Blaise Compaore refused to step down amid protests that saw demonstrators storm the Parliament in the capital Ouagadougou yesterday. The events led the army to declare a state of emergency and create an interim government for the next 12 months. According to the BBC, at least one person was killed in yesterday’s protests, but the main opposition leader claimed that dozens were dead, denouncing a “barbaric escalation of violence” from the country’s security forces. The protests began after Compaore attempted to extend his 27-year rule. He has been accused of killing his close friend and predecessor Thomas Sankara, known as “the African Che Guevara.”

A dragon parade marks the start of the Wat Saket temple fair in Bangkok.

The number of homeless people in New York has risen to 67,810 in 2014, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This contrasts with a general decline of the homeless population across the country, which has dropped by 10% since 2010, when the Obama Administration introduced its "Opening Doors" plan to prevent and end homelesness.

Israeli authorities have reopened the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in response to Arab and U.S. calls for worshippers to be allowed inside the third holiest Muslim site for Friday prayers, Ma’an news agency reports. The decision was also motivated by fears of unrest after Fatah, the political party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, called for a “Day of Rage” to defend the compound, located on the sensitive Jerusalem site known to the Jews as Temple Mount. Afters weeks of escalation in East Jerusalem, AFP reports that Palestinian youths are ready for a new revolt as they feel abandoned, even from Palestinian institutions. “We only have God on our side,” one young man said.


Read the full article, Movember Glory: Meet The Indian Man With A 14-Foot Moustache.

The Burma Parliament is reportedly considering a constitutional change that would allow opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to run in next year’s presidential election, according to AFP. The constitution currently bars anyone whose spouse or children are overseas citizens from becoming president, and her two children, like her late husband, are British citizens. Aung San Suu Kyi also met yesterday with current President Thein Sein for unprecedented talks amid calls from Barack Obama, who will visit Burma in two weeks, for “an inclusive and credible process for conducting the 2015 elections.” Read more from The Guardian.

The scary clown trend, which is believed to have started in California, has spread to Europe in recent days, particularly France, where armed pranksters disguised as evil clowns have been terrorizing and beating people in the run-up to Halloween. A small town in southern France has even imposed an “absolute” ban on clown costumes, and some people have begun anti-clown vigilante groups. Here’s a list of the 10 scariest on-screen clowns.

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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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