Medvedev Lashes Out At Russia’s Air Industry After Crash Wipes Out Hockey Team

After hockey powerhouse Lokomotiv Yaroslavl's Yak 42 charter crashed at take off, President Medvedev paid homage to the 43 killed, but launched into a harsh critique of an airline industry that counts too many new, untested carriers, and too few

Video image of the plane's fuselage on fire (typist9837)
Video image of the plane's fuselage on fire (typist9837)
Anna Rosova

YAROSLAVL – A day after a plane crash killed 43, wiping out one of Russia's top hockey teams, President Dmitry Medvedev wasted little time in pointing his finger at the proliferation of airline companies running domestic routes.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl had chartered the Yak 42 aircraft for a match in Minsk, with the local Dinamo side in the Kontinental Hockey league, which unites teams from the post-Soviet republics. The aircraft crashed just after take-off, which along with other accidents this year made Russia the most dangerous in the world in which to travel by air in 2011.

Medvedev, who met with operational staff after the crash, insisted that the results of the investigation into the causes be quickly made public. He said there needed to be a cutback in the number of airlines operating in Russia.

"The situation regarding domestic aviation in Russia must be radically changed," he said.

Medvedev assigned the Ministry of Transport to improve the system for training Russian pilots.

"We need to get rid of those who are not ready to work," he said

Medvedev also said fleets needed to be upgraded. "The problem is the industry and the government will have to make some very tough decisions," Medvedev said. "Of course we need to think about these aspects, but if air companies are not able to make progress quickly enough, we will need to get the technology from abroad."

He made assurances that the report into the causes of the Yak 42 crash would be transparent.

Transportation Minister Igor Levitin promised that controls over the next three days would be carried out on all air companies that use the YAK-42 aircraft. Currently, 16 different Russian air companies operate 57 such aircrafts.

The European Aviation Safety Agency ranked the Yak service as the least safe of the 35 Russian airlines flying to Europe.

A total of 121 people have now been killed in domestic plane crashes in Russia this year, ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had 108 fatalities.

Medvedev visited the site of the crash, where he laid red roses on the Tunoshonka riverbank, opposite fragments of the plane's fuselage. He crossed himself and remained there a while with his head bowed.

Among the dead were natives of Canada, Belarus, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. There were thought to be two survivors, who are still in a critical condition.

Read the original article in Russian

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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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