Geopolitics

New CAR Violence, Thai Protesters Read Orwell, Sterling's Jackpot

Activits in Bangkok read to protest the military coup.
Activits in Bangkok read to protest the military coup.
Worldcrunch

Friday, May 30, 2014

REBELS CLEARED FROM PARTS OF UKRAINE
Ukraine’s Interim Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval said that Ukrainian armed forces would push ahead with military operations in eastern Ukraine until peace and order were restored. They said they had “completely cleared” separatists from the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region and the northern part of the Luhansk region, AFP reported. According to state-backed news channel RT, a children’s hospital and a clinic in Sloviansk were hit by Ukrainian troop shelling, but no injuries or deaths have been reported. The Kyiv Post, meanwhile, published a story alleging that professional Chechen fighters are battling alongside separatists. This comes as EU, Ukrainian and Russian officials are due to meet today in Berlin to resolve the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev.

SNAPSHOT
Protesting against Thailand's military coup, about eight people gathered in Bangkok to silently read George Orwell's 1984 and other books about civil disobedience. The protest was based on the "Standing Man" demonstrations that started in Turkey last summer.

INDIA RAPES/MURDERS DRAW OUTRAGE
Residents of a village in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh protested against police apathy after two teenage girls who went missing earlier this week were gang raped and hanged from a tree, The Indian Express reports. Denouncing police discrimination, the father of one of the victims told the BBC, “When they found out that I came from a low caste, they shooed me away and refused to look for the girls.” According to reports from India, three of the seven accused have been arrested.

VERBATIM
“We’re trying now to be more European and think about it maybe more from a European context,” Google CEO and co-founder Larry Page tells the Financial Times. Though Google had fought Europe's strict privacy statutes that complicate matters for the Internet search company, Page says it is introducing a way for Europeans to request private information be deleted from the search engine. According to The New York Times, half of the requests received after the court decision have come from people convicted of crimes.

CAR’S NEW SURGE IN VIOLENCE
The situation in the Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui is escalating once again after what AFP describes as “an upsurge in violence” this week. According to Radio France Internationale, the capital was “paralyzed” this morning as hundreds of young protesters took to the streets amid gunfire from the army and police to demand the resignation of the interim government, but there were no immediate reports of casualties. The protests come after an attack on a church by Muslim rebels that left 30 people dead Wednesday, and that was followed by the destruction of a mosque by Christian youths.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


ILLEGAL EU MIGRATION ON THE RISE
Figures released by the European Union's border agency show that illegal immigration is eight times higher than last year and is now higher than during the Arab Spring, The Daily Telegraph reports. Between January and April, some 42,000 migrants entered the European Union, more than half of them crossing the Mediterranean from Libya. On Wednesday, the Italian government said that over 39,000 migrants had landed on its shores and called for more resources.
For more on this, we offer this La Stampa/Worldcrunch article, After Lampedusa: African Migrants' Odyssey Continues, Into A Snowstorm.

15,900%
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's $2 billion bid to buy the LA Clippers means disgraced owner Donald Sterling, who has been banned for life from the NBA over racist comments, will net a 15,900% return on investment for the California team.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Syria Deeply’s Gayath Abd Alaziz and Karen Leigh report, a growing number of young Syrian men are opting to avoid the country’s mandatory 18-month military service, even if they have to go into hiding to do so. And now the government is trying to find them. “The numbers are particularly pronounced in rebel-held areas, where army officials — desperately in need of additional manpower — constantly hunt for truants,” the journalists write. “Many choose to leave Syria, escaping to neighboring Lebanon or Turkey. Others hide in their towns and villages, or escape to areas controlled by the Syrian opposition. And some are fighting, but with rebel brigades.”
Read the full article, Syrian Regime Hunts Down Men Dodging Mandatory Army Service.

BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY
Scientists in the Netherlands report that they have for the first time successfully teleported data. If the days of transferring objects and people are still a sci-fi fantasy, the team did manage to transfer “quantum information from one place to another without moving the physical matter to which the information is attached.” Read more from The New York Times.

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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

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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