Geopolitics

Maliki Says No, Bites And Bets, Mud People Festival

A Filipino devotee is covered in mud and dried leaves during a religious tradition marking the Taong Putik festival in northern Philippines.
A Filipino devotee is covered in mud and dried leaves during a religious tradition marking the Taong Putik festival in northern Philippines.
Worldcrunch

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

UKRAINE CEASEFIRE TEETERS
Following yesterday’s request by President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Senate repealed a law, passed when tensions with Kiev were at their highest, that allowed Putin to use military intervention in Ukraine, RT reports. Despite this step towards a political solution, there are growing doubts over the temporary ceasefire between Ukrainian government troops and separatists in eastern parts of the country, as both sides accuse each other of not respecting the truce. Rebels shot down a military helicopter yesterday, killing nine.

IRAQ PM RULES OUT UNITY GOVERNMENT
In a televised address, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki rejected calls from the U.S. and other Western countries to form a unity government, dismissing them as a “coup against the constitution” that would “eliminate the young democratic process and steal the votes of the voters,” AFP reports. ISIS fighters meanwhile have attacked one of Iraq’s largest air bases, located 90 kilometers north of Baghdad, as the 300 U.S. military advisers arrived in the Iraqi capital. This comes amid reports from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the jihadist organization had “made an oath of loyalty” with the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Syria, ending months of internal fighting between the two groups.

SNAPSHOT
The Philippines celebrates its annual “Mud People” festival.

GENERAL ELECTION IN LIBYA
Libyans are called to the polls today as the country holds its third general election since former leader Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. But amid political chaos and growing violence from jihadist groups who fought in the uprising, only 1.5 million people registered to vote among 3.5 million eligible, AFP reports.

CHINA 1: A CHALLENGE TO WORLD BANK
China is pushing ahead with its plans to establish a global rival of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, which according to the Financial Times Beijing sees as overly influenced by the U.S. and its Asian allies, including Japan. The potential financial institution is said to have drawn interest from 22 Asian and Middle East countries, with Beijing initially seeking to build a 21st century version of the “silk road.”

CHINA 2: BLOWING CASH ON WINE
In other news from China, the state auditor published its annual report, showing that two companies spent $43 million worth of government funds to buy 14 French vineyards instead of overseas technologies.

SOUTH AFRICAN MINERS RETURN TO WORK
Thousands of miners returned to work this morning after five months of protests over wages and work conditions, ending South Africa’s longest strike, Reuters reports. Under the agreement reached by platinum producers and trade unions, the lowest paid workers will see their wage rise by 18% to $750. The President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union said that he still remained committed to push for a minimum wage of $1,200 by 2017. According to newspaper Mail & Guardian, a local company is however planning on future protest movements and has developed a drone designed to “shower pepper spray on unruly crowds.”

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


SPAIN’S PRINCESS CRISTINA CHARGED WITH TAX FRAUD
A Spanish court confirmed charges of tax fraud and money laundering against Princess Cristina, sister of newly-crowned King Felipe VI, and her husband Inaki Urdangarin, accused of embezzling millions of euros of public money. According to El País, the Royal Household reacted to the news saying it “respected the independence of the Judicial power,” but the decision is another blow for the monarchy, which is faced with intense criticism in Spain.
For more on the Spanish Royal family, we offer this Clarín/Worldcrunch piece, King Juan Carlos, Charlie Chaplin And Calling It Quits.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
After the verdict sentencing three Al Jazeera journalists to prison, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Tomas Avenarius writes that it is difficult to consider Egypt’s court system independent: “The verdict is more than just scandalous. Unfortunately, it could be an indication of the way the new Egypt handles freedom of the press. The judge was bent on showing all Egyptians what they could expect where diversity of opinion is concerned. Equally as important is the message Egypt apparently wants to send to its international partners: The regime in Cairo clearly places not the least bit of value on how the outside world reacts to such a huge abuse of national and international legal culture.”
Read the full article here, Al Jazeera Verdict, A Farce Of Egyptian Justice.

$915
A Norwegian man won $915 Tuesday after betting that Luis Suarez would bite someone during the Italy-Uruguay match in the World Cup.

FAREWELL
American actor Eli Wallach, best known for his villainous roles in films such as The Magnificent Seven and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, has died at age 98.

TEA AND TERROR
Wimbledon bans tea flasks, because potential terrorism ...

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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

"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.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

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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