Refugee Resort: As Civil War Rages In Libya, Thousands Flock To Tunisia’s Djerba Island

A popular tourist destination before the North African uprisings, Djerba Island off the coast of Tunisia is now teeming with “five-star” refugees, Gaddafi spies and exiled Libyan revolutionaries.

Cafe goers relaxing on the Tunisian ilsand of Djerba
Cafe goers relaxing on the Tunisian ilsand of Djerba
Domenico Quirico

DJERBA - The Tunisian island of Djerba has for all intents and purposes become a Libyan colony. Since the beginning of the civil war, almost 50,000 Libyans have escaped to Tunisia, and 5,000 of them have flocked to Djerba, a popular tourist destination before the wave of revolts began sweeping through North Africa.

Here, the rifts of the civil war are evident. On the island, Muammar Gaddafi's supporters and rebels live dangerously side-by-side. Spies of the regime pretend to be refugees, while revolutionaries dress up as businessmen. It is a melting pot of rumors, provocations, deep misery and outrageous luxury. The enemies have something in common, though. They are all stuck, waiting to know what will happen to Gaddafi. They all watch Al Jazeera, looking for clues about when and if he will fall.

The "five-star refugees' rule Djerba's cafes and night clubs, which they treat as their own. Djerba is a sort of Florida for rich Libyans. Until three months ago, they used to come here every weekend. Many Libyan men used to find their Dolce Vita in Djerba's luxury hotels, restaurants, casinos and night clubs. The hypocritical Gaddafi regime frowned upon overtly public night life.

Now the rich Libyans are back on Djerba. They sit lazily at the bars. They block the streets with their white luxury cars. Even the airport's parking lot is full of the cars of businessmen who are away in the Middle East and Europe.

"Top oil men and traffickers who were close to the regime have fled Libya with their money. They have found a safe place for their families and now they are regaining control of their businesses," says Farhat Tanfous, the mayor of Midoun, a town on the island.

It is both a blessing and a curse for Djerba. Due to the war, bookings by Europeans have dropped by half. The millionaire refugees have picked up the slack, occupying the island's luxury hotels and villas. The beautiful houses hidden between the olive trees are sold out.

Many of them are open supporters of Gaddafi. Two large men sitting at the restaurant El Maluf and staring at the girls on the street are among them. "Why are we here? Because NATO is killing people in Tripoli. That's why! Libya was a paradise before the arrival of these murderers from Cyrenaica who dope themselves before the fight. Watch Libyan television to see the truth! Even in Benghazi the majority of people support Gaddafi, but they cannot protest," they say. The men refuse to identify themselves other than to say they are oil engineers.

Among Djerba's Libyans, there are many agents of the political police, Kataeb el Amn. They disguise themselves as refugees in order to monitor the rebels on the island. They spread rumors that Libyan women are forced to prostitute themselves to feed their children. They try to split Libyans and Tunisians. They swear that Gaddafi will forgive everyone. They smile and they threaten. Fear is spreading among the poor refugees who are afraid to be captured by Gaddafi and his police.

Some of Djerba's refugees just sit in the middle. They wait in front of the television to see who will win. They're eager to know when they will be able to get back to business and take advantage of their tribal relations, which will be even more useful in the future than under Gaddafi's regime.

Finally, there are the other refugees, the poor ones, still bewildered and shocked by the bombings. Many of them haven't made it to Djerba. Instead they are stuck in Tunisian villages close to the border with Libya. Only Tunisian generosity is saving them. Tunisians have opened their houses and stadiums to the Libyan refugees. They are even organizing classes for the children.

In the end, that is what's keeping these refugees going: Tunisian solidarity and compassion. "With all our oil, we would have never been able to do all this," said Ala, a Libyan refugee. These words express the final damnation of a 40-year regime.

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - sky#walker

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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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