AMMAN - King Abdullah II of Jordan personally tested one of the hand grenades during the opening ceremony of the brand-new Nashshab factory, built by the Jordan Russian Electronic Systems Co. The factory produces hand-grenades that were specially designed for Jordan by Russian specialists.
Although the opening ceremony was held last week, the factory had already begun production last February. Plans are to turn out up to 20,000 hand-held anti-tank grenades, and increase production incrementally to reach 60,000 per year. According to the terms of the contract, 80% of the grenade components will be provided by Rostehk, an exporter of Russian military goods, and the same military goods exporter will be in charge of controlling the work of local specialists.
According to the head of Rostekh, Sergei Chemezov, interest in Jordan has been growing for Russian flight and armor technology as well as in firearms –including establishing a Jordanian factory that would produce Kalashnikovs. Jordan is a poor country, so it does not have the resources for more major purchases, Chemezov explained.
This first joint project has been made possible by loans from Russia. According to the terms of the contract, Moscow can then decide whether or not to sell the production to Jordan, but Russia owns no less than 80 % of factory, which corresponds approximately to the proportion of the components provided by Russia. The Jordanians would eventually like to be able to control the entire production process, but experts say that that is a process that will take far longer than one year.
“We are interested in promoting our weapons, and we will look for buyers together. Considering the good relationship that the King has with neighboring countries and other Arab countries, it is easier for him to negotiate, than it is for us,” explained Chemezov.
Selling to Syria
That statement shows the real interest for Russians in opening the factory in Jordan – access to other markets. One of the most promising markets that partnership with Jordan will open is in the Persian Gulf, especially Saudi Arabia. Up till now, a military partnership with Saudi Arabia has proved elusive for Russia. But the Gulf countries are interested in Russian hand grenades, according to Basam Isa, the director of the new factory, who added that the Russian grenades has already been tested out there.
Chemezov couldn’t deny that those “tests” might have been done in Syria, one of Jordan’s neighbors, but he stressed that the Russian weapons would not fall into the hands of terrorists. “Russia is controlling who is the end buyer of our weapons and how they are using the military technology,” he said.
But experts that Kommersant spoke to said that if Russia sells grenades to the Gulf countries, it will probably not be totally able to control their use, and the weapons could very well end up in the hands of Islamic radicals or Arab monarchs – the main suppliers of weapons to the opponents of Bashar Assad.
Russian weapons deals in the Middle East have been causing Moscow a fair amount of grief lately. Although Russia has been a staunch supporter of Bashar al-Assad in Syria – one of his only international allies – Moscow was nonetheless uncomfortable with his televised statements that Russian anti-aircraft missile systems were already deployed and ready in Syria, as per a 2010 contract.
That put Russia in a delicate diplomatic situation, and although officials refused to confirm or deny Assad’s statements, one source who wished to remain anonymous said that the six anti-aircraft systems in question will not be delivered until the second quarter of 2014, and that even then it will take another six months to train Syrian personnel to use them.
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.
Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.
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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