Obama Approves Iraq Strikes, Ebola Emergency, Happy Headline

Kiev clashes
Kiev clashes

Friday, August 8, 2014

Marking the most significant intervention in Iraq since American troops were withdrawn in 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama authorized airstrikes against Islamist extremists there and aid to desperate civilians a day after the country’s largest Christian town was seized, forcing thousands to flee.

“Earlier this week, one Iraqi cried that no one is coming to help,” the president said from the White House Thursday night. “Well, today America is coming to help.”

Obama added that the U.S. will not send troops back to the country but that it had already made humanitarian air drops for the Iraqis under threat, including the 50,000 Yazidi people trapped on Mount Sinjar, The Washington Post reports.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, has been gaining ground in the region for the past several months. According to UN figures, around 200,000 Christians are thought to have fled their homes in fear of the terrorist group, and most of them are thought to have gone to the autonomous Kurdistan Region. Read more from The New York Times.

Fresh clashes erupted Thursday in Kiev’s Maidan Square, as police tried and failed to dismantle protester camps.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Friday that the Ebola epidemic that has killed almost 1,000 people in West Africa now constitutes an international health risk and appealed for global aid to help the afflicted countries, Reuters reports. "The outbreak is moving faster than we can control it,” WHO Director General Margaret Chan said after a two-day emergency session in Geneva.

Israel has resumed airstrikes in Gaza in response to Palestinian rocket fire aimed at southern Israel, AP reports. This comes after a three-day truce between Israel and Hamas expired this morning, and signals the failure of talks to extend the ceasefire.

Israel Defense Forces told the BBC that more than 35 rockets had been fired at Israel this morning. The country’s anti-missile defense system Iron Dome reportedly intercepted three rockets, while the others landed in open fields.

An Israeli air strike killed a 10-year-old Gaza City boy, Al Jazeera reports, and at least six others were wounded. Witnesses also reported that thousands of Palestinians are fleeing their homes in eastern Gaza City amid the renewed Israeli attacks.

At least 1,890 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed a month into the conflict. Three civilians in Israel have been killed by Hamas rockets, and at least 64 soldiers died in the fighting.


The Malaysian state investment firm Khazanah Nasional plans to take over Malaysia Airlines in what it characterizes as a “complete overhaul,” The Guardian reports. In recent months, the airline has been hit by two devastating tragedies — the crash of flight MH17 in Ukraine and the disappearance of flight MH370.

As Le Monde’s Martine Picouët writes, the Aeolian Islands — a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily — are not a destination for the average vacationer. “Over the course of just a few years, all of these islands, long ignored by tourists, have become prized little gems, best discovered in the spring or fall,” Picouët writes, describing stunning views of volcanoes that continue to rumble, smoke and spit fire as they have for hundreds of years. Of one of the islands, the journalist writes, “In winter, the blinds are closed and only a couple of hundred inhabitants remain on the island, with no more than a few boats still bringing fresh water and food from the mainland. Houses reopen in April, when the first visitors and sailboats arrive.”
Read the full article, Far Off The Beaten Path, The Aeolian Islands' Stunning Volcanoes.

Ten years after a 4-year-old Indonesian girl was swept to sea in a tsunami and feared dead, she has been found alive and reunited with her family. Read more from The Guardian.

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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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