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Geopolitics

Meanwhile In Thailand: Junta Clamps Down Since May Coup

Bangkok is no Hong Kong right now. Once considered an Asian model of democracy, Thailand is under strict military rule since the spring, with free speech squashed and fears deepening.

A Bangkok protest in June
A Bangkok protest in June
Harold Thibault

BANGKOKIt was an openly provocative gesture in a kingdom where the army seized power in a May coup d’état to restore order: Students and professors gathered Sept. 18 on Thammasat University's campus near Bangkok to hear a lecture about democracy and the decline of dictatorships in foreign countries.

Four months after the military takeover, this country long lauded as a model of political openness in Southeast Asia is seeing its freedoms alarmingly diminished.

The university gathering lasted no more than 10 minutes because some 30 police officers stormed into the room. In a menacing tone, they ordered the conversation to end, arguing that it "threatened national security," master's degree student Apichat Pongsawat recalls. Four lecturers were taken into custody.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup in May before receiving the king's endorsement to become prime minister on Aug. 25, has since justified the lecture's interruption. He called for putting aside "all criticism, all forum on politics" in a bid to restore unity. Martial law is still in effect.

"Since the coup d’état, we're not allowed to talk about anything," Apichat says. Because the student dared to protest against the coup on May 23, he was detained in a military camp. He was sidelined for a week for what the army called "attitude adjustment," without access to a lawyer and without any contact with the outside. According to Amnesty International, 242 people have been detained since the military takeover.

Apichat is a member of Nitirat, an association of "enlightened jurists" which, as early as 2012, asked the government to change article 112 of the country's penal code concerning the crime of lèse-majesté, which prevents any debate about the monarchy.

Given the reality today, such a reform seems a long way away. On Sept. 12, the prime minister told parliament that he wanted to use new technologies to accuse of lèse-majesté "those who don't pay attention to the words they use, who are arrogant at heart or have ill intents regarding the important institution of the nation."

Since then, everybody has been wondering whether that means their Facebook activity could be considered a violation that could lead them straight to jail. Apichat, who had 5,000 contacts on his former account, felt the need the delete it after he was freed. On his new private profile, he only has about 200 "friends," and he knows he should watch his language. "I'd risk being arrested again," he says.

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Geopolitics

Venezuela-Iran: Maduro And The Axios Of Chaos In The Americas

With the complicity of leftist rulers in Venezuela, Bolivia and even Argentina, Iran's sanction-ridden regime is spreading its tentacles in South America, and could even undermine democracies.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visiting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran, Iran on June 11. Venezuela is one of Iran's closest allies, and both are subject to tough U.S. sanctions.

Julio Borges

-Analysis-

CARACAS —The dangers posed by Venezuela's relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran is something we've warned about before. Though not new, the dangers have changed considerably in recent years.

They began under Venezuela's late leader, Hugo Chávez , when he decided to turn his back on the West and move closer to countries outside our geopolitical sphere. In 2005, Chávez and Iran's then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, signed collaborative agreements in areas beyond the economy, with goals that included challenging the West and spreading Iran's presence in Latin America.

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