Scotland Stays, French ISIS Strikes, IPhone Launch

A Bangladeshi laundry worker during a nationwide strike by the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.
A Bangladeshi laundry worker during a nationwide strike by the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami.

Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom with 55.3% of voters rejecting independence. The results from all 32 council areas show the "No" side won with 2,001,926 votes to the 1,617,989 "Yes" votes. The independence campaign did score four big successes, though, winning 53% in the largest city of Glasgow, 54% in West Dunbartonshire, 57% in Dundee and 51% in North Lanarkshire. Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond spoke shortly before 6 a.m. local time, when he acknowledged the result but called for more power to be given to the Scottish Parliament. Prime Minister David Cameron spoke this morning from London, saying that he wanted "to pay tribute to Yes Scotland for a well-fought campaign and to say to all those who did vote for independence: ‘We hear you.’" Watch The Guardian"s live coverage here, and see the BBC's analysis of how the "No" side won here.

France launched its first airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq this morning, Le Monde reports. The move comes one day after President François Hollande announced at a press conference that France would join the U.S. in carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, but not in Syria. U.S. President Barack Obama, meanwhile, hailed the Senate’s decision to back its $500 million plan to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels, but The Washington Post reports about a widening rift between Obama and military leaders over whether to deploy troops on the ground to fight ISIS. The president has made clear he doesn’t support a ground war.

People in major cities across the world are queuing outside Apple stores as the Cupertino giant’s latest iPhone models go on sale today. A little advice for those trying to get one today: Learn from this early Australian customer and don’t drop it.

The bodies of eight Ebola workers who went missing after traveling to southeast Guinea to raise awareness about the disease were found yesterday, apparently killed in cold blood by angry villagers, Los Angeles Times reports. The UN Security Council described the Ebola outbreak as “a threat to international peace and security,” with 2,622 people from 5,300 reported cases so far this year.

As Die Welt’s Christoph B. Schlitz reports, Greek translator Ioannis Ikonomou may be the European Union’s most accomplished translator, having mastered 32 languages, including a couple of dead ones. “He learned English at age five, German at seven (‘Frau Rosi, a German lady on Crete, taught me’), Italian when he was barely 10 (‘a school friend started to take it, and I wanted to be better than he was’), Russian at 13 (‘I loved Dostoyevsky’), East African Swahili at 14 (‘just for fun’) and Turkish at 16,” the journalist writes. "I didn’t want enemies," Ikonomou told Schlitz. "I wanted to be able to talk to people." Because there were no Turkish textbooks in Greece, "My parents found Mrs. Ayse, an architect who had emigrated from northern Cyprus. She was strict."
Read the full article, Hyper-Polyglot, Greek Translator Speaks 32 Languages.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Twitter that he was promised an extra $1 billion “in financial guaranties” after his meeting with Barack Obama in Washington yesterday when he also given $53 million in assistance, Reuters reports. But Poroshenko was unsuccessful in his bid to obtain lethal arms for the Ukrainian military and special status as a non-NATO ally.

U.S. regulators are investigating perks that Goldman Sachs allegedly offered to Libya’s sovereign wealth fund to win business from the Gaddafi regime before the 2011 uprising, The Wall Street Journal reports. These include the internship the bank offered to the brother of a former fund official. In January, the Libyan Investment Authority sued the Wall Street bank, claiming that it exploited a position of trust in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis by encouraging it to invest $1 billion in derivative trades that ended up being worthless, while Goldman Sachs made a profit of $350 million.

A television personality in India had the misfortune to read the Xi in Chinese President Xi Jinping's name as a roman number. She lost her job.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

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

"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.

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".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!