Tuesday, November 4, 2014
MIDTERM ELECTION DAY
Americans are voting today in midterm elections that are expected to result in a Republican Senate majority, according to The Washington Post’s election model. USA Today makes the same prediction, explaining that with a net gain of 11 seats, the GOP would win its largest majority since the Truman administration. A minimum of six seats would give them the majority and the Democrats a headache for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency. But there is more to today’s vote than the makeup of the U.S. Congress and state governors. Voters in Arkansas, where 37 dry counties still prohibit the sale of alcohol, will have a say on a ballot initiative to end prohibition.
Robert Hannigan, the new head of the British surveillance agency GCHQ, accused U.S. social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook of becoming "the command-and-control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals.”
U.S. CONSIDERS AL-NUSRA STRIKES
Washington is reportedly considering expanding its current anti-ISIS airstrikes program to target another jihadist group active in northern Syria, the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, The Washington Post reports. The terrorist organization launched a major offensive in the Idlib province, west of Aleppo, this weekend, seizing heavy weaponry and territories previously controlled by Western-backed Syrian rebels. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius calls for increasing support for the “moderate” Syrian rebellion and for the anti-ISIS coalition to “save Aleppo.”
In Iraq, security forces are on alert today as more than one million Shia Muslims are gathering at shrines and mosques for Ashura, the anniversary of the death of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson Husayn Ibn Ali. Read more from Reuters.
The senior half of the “Tappet Brothers” radio duo has died. Tom Magliozzi, who hosted National Public Radio's popular "Car Talk" program with his younger brother Ray for 30 years, died at his home Monday from complications of Alzheimer's disease at age 77.
UKRAINE VOTE THREATENS PEACE
In a televised address, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko denounced Sunday’s elections in rebel-held regions of eastern Ukraine, warning that they could derail the “entire peace process,” the BBC reports. Poroshenko is expected to chair today’s meeting of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, which may repeal a special self-governance law for eastern regions introduced last month as part of the peace process. Russia’s decision to recognize the election of two pro-Russian rebel leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk has attracted criticism from the U.S., with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki saying that it will “only serve to isolate Russia further.” A spokesman for Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel also warned that “it may be necessary to consider intensifying the sanctions” against Moscow.
An Iranian man holds an anti-U.S. placard during a rally marking the 35th anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy on Nov. 4.
As PortalKBR’s Devi Boerema reports, a female-only New Delhi cab company is a response to India's ongoing problems with violence toward women, with benefits being enjoyed by both drivers and passengers. “Over 90% of women in New Delhi still say they don’t feel safe in their own city,” the journalist writes. “And this fear has led to a new niche in the transport industry — women-only services. In New Delhi, Sakha Cabs, a female-only taxi service, has been running since 2008. Their goal is to get women to reclaim public spaces by offering them a safe ride home at any time of the day.”
Read the full article, Take Back The Street: Safety, Empowerment In India's Women-Only Taxis.
LIBERIA ACCUSED OF FIRING ON CIVILIANS
An investigation by the Liberian Independent National Commission on Human Rights found that the country’s security forces fired with “complete disregard for human life” into crowds of people protesting against a blanket Ebola quarantine in August, The New York Times reveals. The report contradicts the security forces’ defense that they had only fired shots into the air. According to the newspaper, the investigation concluded that unless “it was a magic bullet,” a round “shot in the air cannot fall from above and shatter somebody’s legs.” The president of the World Bank group Jim Yong Kim, meanwhile, criticized Asian countries for their lack of action against the virus that has killed nearly 5,000 people, most of them in West Africa. “Many countries in Asia who could help simply are not, especially when it comes to sending health workers,” Kim told a news conference in Seoul.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
PROSECUTORS APPEAL PISTORIUS TRIAL OUTCOME
South African prosecutors have filed an appeal against both the “culpable homicide” conviction and the five-year prison sentence of Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, the South African Press Association reports. They believe that the athlete should have been found guilty of murder instead of manslaughter. If their appeal succeeds, Pistorius could face 15 years in prison, instead of the current sentence that makes him eligible for release into house arrest after 10 months.
SPOTIFY MAPS MUSIC LISTENERS
Have you ever wondered whether someone, somewhere in the world, ever went through their playlist and selected the exact same song at the exact same moment you did? Spotify’s Serendipity reveals just that, with a map showing occurrences of musical synchronicity. But you won’t be able to see Taylor Swift fans as the 24-year-old singer pulled her entire catalogue from the music platform.
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.
"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.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
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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