Latest On Ukraine, U.S. Budget Deal, French Fries Onslaught

Protests in Kiev on Dec. 11, 2013
Protests in Kiev on Dec. 11, 2013


  • Ukrainian riot police forces have withdrawn from Kiev’s Independence Square after clashing with protesters during the night, in an attempt to remove the barricades in and around the City Hall, Reuters reports.

    The Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the Ukrainian ambassador over the use of force by the police during the recent events, news agency ITAR-TASS reports. Poland favors discussions between the government and opponents and had previously denounced the use of violence.

  • Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the country was ready to sign the deal with the European Union if Brussels “minimizes” the losses to the Ukrainian economy that an agreement would cause. According to newswire Interfax, he estimated these at 20 billion euros.

  • For more on one of the leaders of the opposition, former boxer Vitali Klitschko, have a look at this Süddeutsche Zeitung/Worldcrunch piece.

Republican and Democrat negotiators have agreed on a federal budget for the next two years, brushing aside fears of a new government shutdown in January, The Washington Post reports. If passed by the House and the Senate, the deal will translate into spending cuts and a pledge not to raise taxes, according to The Guardian.

Burma has liberated another 44 political prisoners this morning, following a pledge from President Thein Sein to free all prisoners of conscience by the end of the year. But despite being released, some 200 political prisoners are still awaiting trial, AFP reports, citing a member of the country’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

At least 15 people have died in a massive fire that broke out in a food market the Southeastern Chinese town of Shenzhen, Xinhua reports. The cause of the sudden blaze, which burnt an area of 1,000 square meters, is still unknown.

Uruguay senators approved yesterday an historic bill that will make it the first state to control the entire production, distribution and commerce of marijuana, Clarín reports. From April onwards, people over 18 will be able to buy up to 40g of the drug per month in pharmacies. Backers of the bill believe that it will help the fight against drug cartels.
On its front page, national newspaper El País welcomes the news by writing: “Green light to the experiment”.

Government officials in Japan will be served rice from Fukushima for nine days to prove it’s safe for consumption. For more on the decontamination of the nuclear facility, read this Le Monde/Worldcrunch piece: Meet The Underpaid, Overexposed “Liquidators” Of Fukushima.

President Hollande justifies French military intervention in the Central African Republic, hours after two French soldiers were killed in Bangui.

This Frenchman didn’t like having his McDonald’s fries served cold — so he attacked the restaurant with a hatchet.

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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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